Hindu pantheon is filled with innumerable gods and goddesses, including principal deities and sub-deities. The main deities are Siva, Sakti, Vishnu, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganapati and Skanda (Murukan). Folk deities like Ayyanar, Mari Amman, Munisvaran, and Madurai Viran are worshipped mainly in villages. Among these, Murukan is considered to be the favorite god of the Tamils and he is also known as Tamizh Katavul.
The early culture is tribal in character and the Tamil country was divided into five major geographical divisions such as Kurinci, Mullai, Marutam, Neytal and Palai. Kurinci consists of hilly tracts and Murukan is worshipped as the god of Kurinci. He was known as Ceyon or Korravaichelvan in Cankam literature. This tribal god turned to be a popular god not only in Tamilnadu but in all other parts of India with Sanskrit names such as Kārttikeya, Skanda, Subrahmanya, etc. It has become a common practice to have his abodes in hills as he is accepted as the god of hilly regions.
To a devotee, Murukan is a great god, but to a researcher, he is more than that. An in-depth study of the available sources prove that Murukan is unique because he has multiple facets. This paper is a humble attempt to reveal that He is the:
The sources are primary and secondary in character. Published works and articles in various journals form the secondary sources. Various Cankam literature such as Tirumurukarruppadai, Paripatal, Kuruntokai and Cilappatikaram, Tirumantiram, Tiruppukal, Kanda Sasti Kavacam, Kandarankaram, Kandaranuputi, Kandarantati, Shanmukakavacam, Muttukumarasamipillaitamizh, Sri Subrahmanya Bhujankam, Tanikaipuranam, and Kumara Sambhavam various sthalapuranas of Murukan temples and many other works form the primary sources. The Arupadai Vitu and other abodes of Murukan also are useful to the study.
Worthy son of Siva
All puranas and works referring to Murukan authentically state that Siva and Muruka are one and the same. The light of Siva in the form of six circles gave way to six-faced Murukan also known as Kanda. He and Siva are one and the same. (Tirumantiram: Enthaipiranukku Irumunru Vattamai) Siva has six faces and as Kanda also has six, both are same, though they are named differently (Tirumantiram Arumukathil Atipati) Lord Siva created Murukan at the request of the devas who were tortured by Surapadma and the asuras. It is quite interesting to note that from his own six third eyes Siva brought out six fire sparks which were handed over to god Vayu who in turn gave to Agni who deposited the same in Ganges, who in turn took the fire to the Saravana tank near Himalayas. The six fire sparks became six babies taken care by six Krittikai maidens. Siva and Parvati reached the tank and the six babies taken in one embrace by Sakti became Arumuka (six faced) with six heads twelve eyes and hands and one body. He became the worthy son of Siva by defeating the asuras, gracing the devotees, and becoming very knowledgeable. All the five natural elements are associated with the birth of Murukan. Siva himself is the controller of all the five elements.
Favorite son of Sakti
Sakti also known as Parvati, Uma, Korravai, etc is a powerful goddess. She is said to be the greatest creator and she is very righteous and even fought with Siva to uphold justice. Her cosmic dance with Siva gives answer to various questions of philosophers and sages. Sakti gave her powerful spear to Skanda when he started his expedition against Surapadma, a powerful Asura king. To subdue him, Murukan had to use the Saktivel which parted the mango tree into peacock and cock. In Cankam literature, Murukan is referred to as Ceyon ('red one' or 'bright one') and Korravai Celvan (son of Korravai). Even puranas state Sakti’s love for Skanda and her concern to pacify him when he lost the mango to his brother and left for Palani in anger.
Foster son of Krittikai maidens
Lord Siva, knowing the avatar tattva, created Arumuka who was left with the six Krittikai maidens at the command of Tirumal, the elder brother of Sakti. Kanta Puranam and other literary works give a detailed account of the way in which the foster mothers took the utmost care of the six children. Muruka got his name Kārttikeya for the simple reason that he was fostered by six divine Krittikā nymphs. The month of Karttikai (Nov–Dec) is associated with Muruka and every month there are special pujas in Murukan temples on the day of Karttikai star.
Affectionate younger brother of Ganesa
Lord Vignesvara also known as Ganesa or Ganapati is the elephant headed god and elder brother of Murukan. Though there is reference to the competition between two brothers to possess the mango given by Narada, it is well known that only with the help of Ganesa, Muruka was able to win over Valli and married her at Tiruttani. This episode clearly proves the power of Vignesvara whose grace is very essential to start and finish any action successfully without any obstacle. All obstacles will be cleared if the devotees pray to him sincerely. Though Murukan himself is omnipotent, he needed the assistance of Ganesa, who fulfilled the desire of his beloved brother.
Commander in chief of the army of the devas and destroyer of asuras
The purpose of the birth of Lord Muruka was to end the domination of Surapadman who imprisoned even Indra’s son Jayanta and other devas and ill treated them. Surapadma’s brothers Taraka and Singhamukhan, and sister Ajamukhi also ill treated the devas. As he was born out of the third eye of Siva and was gifted with Saktivel from Parvati, Murukan became the fitting commander of the forces of the devas. He was well assisted by Veerabahu and his eight brothers who were born to the Nava Saktis from the anklet of Sakti. One lakh of soldiers were also the outcome of the grace of the Nava saktis. With the blessings and grace of his parents, Murukan started his expedition against the asuras. The nine heroes and one lakh of soldiers accompanied Murukan to the battlefield.
As he knew the codes to be followed in warfare, Muruka sent Veerabahu to Surupadma to release the devas, but Surapadma refused to do so and insulted Murukan so Veerabahu escaped from the place and reached Muruka and conveyed the information. Immediately Muruka started his campaign and had his first camp at modern Katirkāmam and proceeded to Tirucentur. The war continued for ten days and Suran followed various tactics; at last when he and his forces were defeated and he hid himself in the form of mango tree in the sea, Murukan used the Saktivel to part the tree into two which became a peacock and cock. The talented and the powerful commander was able to win over the asuras in a systematic way. In the Hindu pantheon, Muruka is associated with power, strength, victory and so on. The powerful Devasenapati destroyed the asuras with his might and redeemed the devas from the prison of Surapadma.
Husband of Devasena
Skanda, the great redeemer of the devas from the clutches of Surapadma was well rewarded. Kanda Puranam gives a vivid picture of the scene of marriage of Murukan and Devasena. Jayanta and other devas were released from imprisonment and resumed their original position. From Tirucentur where he completed Surasamhara, Murukan went to Tirupparankunram where Indra came with the Brahma, Vishnu and all devas and requested Murukan to marry Devasena. The auspicious time of marriage was fixed by Brahma and in the presence of his parents and all others, Skanda tied the sacred thread to Devasena. Skanda Purana gives a detailed account of the ritualistic marriage which is followed till the present day in Hindu Orthodox families and the practice of offering the daughter as a donation, to the groom by the parent. The marriage of Karttikeya with Devasena is an example of arranged marriage of royal and sophisticated style, while that with Valli denotes the significance of Kalavumanam or love marriage, inter-caste in nature. Both Murukan and Devasena are gifted Murukan is the powerful god of youth and beauty, destroyer and evil forces and savior of the devas; similarly Devasena is a well groomed, dignified, sophisticated, and obedient person with all high qualities.
Beloved spouse of Valli
The greater commander in chief of the devas proved to be a different type of wooer to get the hand of Valli, the tribal beauty. His union with Valli shows that the omnipotent god does not have any caste or creed discrimination, and love only matters to him. Valli, brought up by the hunter king Nambi Rajan fascinated Murukan and to win over her, he came in the guise of a hunter (Vetan), tree (venkai) and old man (vrutan) and at last Velan. He was unable to win her hand until he realised that he failed to invoke Ganesa and get his blessings. His elder brother took the elephant form and made Valli accept Murukan. Though the family deity of the hunters was Murukan, they did not know that the lover of Valli was Velan and so attacked Karttikeya, who was able to win over them. The hunters realised their folly and offered Valli in marriage to Murukan. Tiruttani was the place of marriage. Murukan has Valli and Devasena on his right and left respectively. As his right eye in sun and left eye in moon, lotus in Valli’s hand and lily in Devasena’s left hand never wither. The union of Murukan with the two divine women stands testimony to Lord’s acceptance of arranged and love marriages. All the poets and devotees make special mention about the influence of Valli on Murukan.
Lord of Hills
Murukan is the god of the Kurinci region. In almost all the hillocks there are abodes of Murukan. Special mention is to be made about Arupadai Vitu – six famous abodes of Murukan - Tirupparankunram where he married Devasena; Tiruchchiralaivai where he won over Surapadma; Tiru Avinankudi, where he renounced and became Palani Andavar; Tiruverakam where he pronounced the meaning of Pranava mantra (Om) to his divine father Siva; Kunrutoratal, denoting many hill abodes; and Palamutircolai, where he is seen with both Valli and Devasena. Literature on Arupadai Vitu and other hill abodes of Murukan give interesting details and heroic deeds of the Lord. Verses from Ahananuru, Purananuru, Kalittogai, Narrinai, Tolkappiyam, Kurincipattu, Malaipatukatam etc make mention of Murukan as the lord of the hills. The devotees make it a practice to climb on the hills on auspicious days with Kavadi, symbolizing folk art related to Muruka bhakti and other ceremonial and ritualistic ways. On Taippucam, Krittikai, Vaikaci Vicakam, Pankuni Uttiram, special offerings are made to Velan. In modern times, as devotees go to Sabarimalai to have darshan of Ayappa, Murukan devotees also take up to fasting etc for forty days and make pada yatra (pilgrimage by foot) to the hill temples and make their offerings. Kavadi also becomes part of their travel. In Tirumurukārruppadai and Tiruppukal, there are plenty of references to various hill abodes of Murukan. The Lord of Kurinci is well worshipped in many hill temples.
Gurunatha of Siva
Murukan is known as Takappancami (Swami to his own father) and Swami Nathan (Swami to Siva). Swamimalai one of the hill abodes of Murukan is named after an incident. Brahma ignored Skanda when he went to Kailasa. To teach him a lesson, Murukan asked him to give the meaning of Om or Pranava mantra (Kantapuranam) which the former was unable to pronounce. So the latter hit Brahma on the head and imprisoned him, not for his ignorance but for his ego and pride. (Adi Sankara, Sri Subrahmanya Bhujankam, Sloka 12). As there was no creation, Siva himself interfered and requested him to tell him the meaning of ‘Om’. Murukan asked him to take the position of a disciple, he himself became the Guru and pronounced the meaning. (Kumaraguruparar, Kandarkali Venba 90 –98). Hence he is Swāmi Nāthan and Guru Nāthan and the hillock in which the incident is said to have taken place is Swamimalai or Tiruverakam. (Arunagirinathar, Tiruppukal). Siva, the omnipotent was submissive before his son. This denotes the simple fact that even the powerful could submit before true knowledge and one should not be judged by outer stature. Arunagirinathar goes one step further to denote that Murukan himself is Pranava mantra and it is a divine pleasure to be taught by him though he knows he and Murukan are one and the same. (Kandaralankaram, v. 55 Kandaranuputi v. 36) Murukan, the Jñānapandita (Tiruppukal 100) proves that humility is virtue, and knowledge with vanity would definitely cause destruction.
Renouncer of Desire
Sage Narada is said to have taken a mango to Kailasa and caused a conflict between Ganesa and Muruka (Palani sthalapuranam). As the latter lost the deal, he left Kailasa renouncing all his riches and royalty and reached Tiru Avinankudi or Palani where he is depicted as a great renouncer. He stands with a single piece of dress, rudraksha, and a danda. (Tiruppugazh, 117). He is the Gnanapandita and he himself is the fruit of wisdom (gnanapazham). This incident clearly visualizes that pride and ego would lead to failure; and humility and forethought would lead to victory. Humble and obedient Ganesa is shown as the winner. The renouncement of anger is to be realized. Though it may look that Murukan created a big scene for a simple mango, the later action of Muruka in the form of Dandayudhapani proves that hasty and desirous thought and action may lead to renouncement.
Lord of Tamil and Head of the Tamil Cankam
Murukan is known as Tamizh Katuvul (Lord of Tamil) and head of the second Cankam. He was a member of the first Tamil Cankam. Though Agastya was the head of the first Tamil Cankam, Murukan only taught Tamil to Agastya. This shows the greatness and divinity of the Tamil language itself. As scholars of excellence only were the members of the Tamil Cankam, the quality of the works was also good. Tamil language was always associated with Murukan.
Embodiment of beauty and youth
The word Murukan denotes youth, fragrance, divinity and beauty; Kumaran also means youth. Beauty purifies heart, youth eliminates sickness or ill health; fragrance makes the environment enjoyable; and divine grace brings eternal pleasure and everlasting peace. (N.P. Shanmukam, Murukan Religion – Its Relevance to Modern Man, 1998, Chennai). He has the name Murukan, Azhakan, Kumaran to denote beauty and youth. Cankam literature have ample evidences to show these characteristics of Karttikeya.
Great benefactor of His devotees
Murukan, the graceful lord is a great benefactor. He shows his concern to his devotees starting from Agastya to an ordinary person of modern times, Murukan showered his grace to his devotes. Agastya, the great sage and head of the first Cankam is said to have been the disciple of Murukan who taught him Tamil when the former came from the north to the South
(Arunagirinathar, Ceval Viruttam, ll 14 – 16). Murukan was a great preacher and teacher of Agastya (Tottikalai Subrahmanya Munivar - Tanikai Tiruviruttam).
When Nakkirar and nine hundred and ninety nine poets were imprisoned and to be eaten by the ghost Karkimuki, Nakkirar sang Tirumurukarruppatai in praise of Murukan who came to his rescue by killing the ghost and releasing the thousand poets. But for the grace of Arumukam all the poets would have been killed by the ghost.
It is true to note that to a great devotee, god will help in any form. When sage Cikanti was in Kathirkāmam, a great Murukan center, a wild elephant came to attack him, but the fearless Murukan devotee plucked the top steam of the betel leaf and threw it on the direction of the elephant. It became the spear of Muruka and killed the elephant. The faith and devotion on Murukan had saved Cikanti from death.
He was a great devotee of Murukan and married the daughter of Veerabahu. Muchukuntar won over the asuras, for which he sought the idol of Somaskanda, worshipped by Indra. This shows the great devotion he had for both Siva and Murukan.
Sankara, the pronouncer of Advaita was a great Saivite philosopher. Abhinava Gupta, an opponent of Sankara, caused him physical illness which troubled Sankara. Siva came in his dream and directed him to go to Jayantipuram (Tirucentur) and pray to Murukan. When he reached Jayantipuram and worshipped Skanda, he saw Adisesha worshipping at the feet of Muruka. Immediately he chanted the Shanmukha Bhujankam (the verses which go like snake in praise of Shanmukha). He was cured of his disease. It is believed that by chanting the Shanmukha Bhujankam and smearing the sacred ashes, anyone would be cured of any sickness.