The God Tamilians Revere - Vishwas Govindrajan

A smiling ‌and youthful countenance is the first imprint that comes to mind when one thinks about Lord Muruga. The affable and serene warmth that this child God emanates endears him to all. But there is a deep and wide chasm between his benevolence and his angry manifestation. Pauranic legend, folklore, stories & sometimes erstwhile socio-politico propaganda have rushed in to fill this chasm with fantastic tales, self-serving, subverted truths and mostly fiction. Lord Muruga is a dichotomous God. But it is in this dichotomy that Tarakasura lost his dominion and life. It is this dichotomy that defines this Tamil God. It is this very dichotomy that revelers, devotees and even the Gods revere. Swaminatha, Vela, Kumara, Karthikeya, Raudra, Vasudevapriya… the appellations go on and so, does the story of this “Devasenapati”, the General of the armies of the Devas.

While we are not strangers to having multiple versions of an event from a multitude of sources (the Vedas, itihaasas, pauranic legends or plain and simple embellishment of erstwhile kavis), the story of Vela’s birth is an enigma. Like a beetel leaf that hides it’s choicest additions within it’s leafy folds, fiction and folklore have added layers upon layers of paradoxical information that are sometimes impossible to peel off or open. The Adi Parva of the epic Mahabharata has one shloka in it that references Muruga’s parentage.

Agneyah Krttikaputro Raudro Gangeya ityapi 
sruyate bhagavan devah sarvahuhyamayo Guhah

Loosely translated it means that “He is known as the son of Agni, Krittikas, Rudra, Ganga. Guha, whose composition is of many Gods / Deities is of an unknown lineage.”

One version states that Muruga was born from the combined cosmic energies of Shiva and Shakti as they meditated. Agni was sent to hold this cosmic energy ( which was in the form of a ball of fire ) but the heat was unbearable even to the God of Fire himself and he was advised to hand it over to the Goddess Ganga but when she too couldn’t bear the heat, Brahma directed her to deposit the ball of fire into a lake in a forest of reeds. Goddess Parvati then took the form of the water body for she alone could bear the heat from the fireball radiating with cosmic energies of the celestial duo. Finally, the ball of fire transformed into a baby with six heads. Hence, he is called Shanmukha ( Six Faced ). He was cared for by six Krittika maidens and that’s how he got the name Karthikeya. ( A popular version also states that since Lord Muruga was born in the Hindu month of Kartika, he is named Karthikeya ). Since he was born in the forest / lake of reeds he is also called Saravana. Another version of his birth states that the Devas couldn’t bear the atrocities of the Demon Tarakasura and appealed to Lord Shiva. Shiva opened his third eye and from it emerged six rays of light which were directed into a forest of reeds by Agni and Shanmukha was born.  There are a few more less popular versions of Muruga’s birth but a persistent theme that repeats itself in the numerous versions is that Shiva, Parvathi, Agni, Ganga and the Krittika maidens, all have a role in Shanmukha’s birth. Therefore, Subrahmanya, as a son of Shiva and Shakti is not far from fact.

Another interesting story is about the coronation of the child Shanmukha. The birth of Shanmukha saw all the Devas and rishis came to look at the child and they asked Shiva to crown Skanda as the “ Senapati ” of the army of the Devas. Skanda was crowned as the General of the armies of the Devas on the banks of the Saraswati river in Kurukshetra. Shiva and Vishnu performed the consecration ceremony for Skanda with the waters from the seven seas. 

 

The reason for Lord Muruga’s manifestation is to kill the demon Tarakasura. The great Sage Kashyapa ( Kashyapa Prajapati ) had a son Vajranga from his wife Danu. Vajranga married a girl called Varangi. Vajranga wanted to shed his asura qualities and undertook severe penance. After his finished his penance he sought out his wife who was missing. While wandering through a forest he came upon her crying under a tree and he asked her about it. She told him that while he was in penance for a thousand years, Indra Deva troubled her. Indra appeared as a monkey and threw away the vessels she used for her prayer, the second time he took the form of a lion and scared her and the third time he became a snake and bit her. Vajranga was angry at the Indra Deva for these transgressions and he undertook a more severe penance. Finally, Lord Brahma appeared before him and asked him for his desire. Vajranga asked for a boon to be blessed with a son who would be more powerful than Indra and the devas. Brahma granted him his wish and twelve months after Brahma’s blessing, Varangi gave birth to a son. His was named Tarakasura. Tarakasura took to penance at the very early age and Brahma appeared before him and granted him a boon that his death could be brought about only by a child not more than seven days old. Having secured this boon of virtual invulnerability, Tarakasura conquered the three realms and his reign atrocities steadily grew to become unbearable. It was during this time that Skanda was declared as the General of the armies of the Devas and the war between the Devas and Asuras resumed with renewed vigor. It was during this furious battle that Skanda killed Tarakasura and wiped out the armies of the Asuras. Skanda Purana also states that the Lord Muruga slew another asura Soorapadman with the “Vel” (spear) that he got from Goddess Parvathi.

Lord Muruga has two wives; Valli and Devasena ( Devayani ). Legend has it that Lord Mahavishnu had two daughters Amritavalli ( Amudavalli )  and Sundaravalli. In his manifestation as Trivikrama, Lord Mahavishnu shed tears of joy and legend has it that these two girls were born from them to Sriman Narayana. These two celestial maidens were besotted with Lord Muruga and wanted to marry him. They prayed to him and undertook severe penance to please him and be granted the boon of being his consorts. Lord Muruga was pleased with them and granted their wish to be his consorts. He decreed that Amritavalli be born as Devasena in Indraloka under the patronage of Indra deva and Sundaravalli be born on earth in a hunter tribe. She was found amongst the creepers by the Chief of the hunter tribe King Nambiraja and he took her in as his own daughter and named her Valli. After the victory of the Devas over the Asuras in the war led by Lord Skanda as the Senapati, Indra Deva acknowledged Skanda’s valor and contribution and gave his daughter Devasena in marriage to Lord Muruga. The marriage took place in Tirupparankundram near Madurai. The story of Lord Muruga’s marriage to Valli is more interesting as he played a few tricks on Valli including one with the help of his brother Ganesha and then he married her.   

There are many interesting stories and anecdotes about Lord Muruga. He is believed to have earned the name Swaminatha after having preached the ‘Pranava Mantra’ to his father Lord Shiva. Legends state that he created the Tamil language and taught it to Sage Agastya. He also taught the sage Kundalini yoga and the martial arts of Kalaripayattu and Silambam. The Siddha medicine knowledge is also believed to be passed down to Agastya from Lord Muruga.

Lord Muruga is also a war god. In fact, he is the patron deity for all the army generals. He has commanded the respect and reverence of entire kingdoms and dynasties. Notably the Gupta dynasty and the Pandya dynasties show recorded allegiance to Lord Muruga. In the Ramayana, Queen Kausalya prays to Lord Muruga before Rama sets out on his mission with Sage Vishwamitra. In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna, “I’m Skanda among all the commanders.”

Present day Muruga worship is prominent in the South, especially in Tamil Nadu and in areas around the world where Tamil speaking Hindus reside. Eg: Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa. But Lord Muruga is one the ancient Vedic Gods and references to him can be found in Rig Veda itself. Some scholars argue that Lord Muruga was worshipped by the Indus valley civilization. Early Sangam era literature ( of south India ) also refer to Lord Muruga as ‘Velan’ (He who wields the spear) as a God worshipped by the hilly folk people. So, he has been worshipped by people across the entire sub-continent. From Emperors, Kings and Generals to common folks. In fact, in the Mahabharata, apart from Mahavishnu and Shiva, no other God has more verses dedicated to them than Lord Muruga.   

For Hindu Tamilians irrespective of their caste or creed, Murugan worship is a way of life. His benevolence, love and compassion for his devotees is omniscient. When one looks at ancient India, the cultural significance of the word ‘Tamil’ is vast. It was used to refer to a language and a people but the entire peninsula of the Indian sub-continent was referred to as ‘Tamilagam’. While Agastya is a cultural icon since the early Sangam era, Lord Muruga is the foundation stone of the Tamil culture, its race and its history. Through the ages, the two are so intricately intertwined that Lord Muruga came to be known as the “Tamizh Kadavul”, the “God of the Tamils”.

As he smiles down indulgently, the ever-youthful face of this paradoxical God is at once heartwarming and reassuring. The message is clear. “Yaam Irrukka Bhayam Yaen?” ( colloquial Tamil phrase which translates to Why fear when I’m here? ) 


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