Murugan, also known as Kārttikeya ("son of Krittika"), Shanmukha ("one with six faces"), Kumāra ("child or son"), Skanda ("attacker") among other names, is both the youthful God of war and the patron deity of Tamil Nadu in South India. He is very a popular Hindu deity among Tamil Hindus, and is worshiped primarily in areas with Tamil influence, including Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and southern India.
Murugan became the supreme general of the demi-gods and led the army of the devas to victory against the demons. The six sites at which Karthikeya sojourned while leading his armies against Surapadman are Tiruttanikai, Swamimalai, Tiruvavinankudi (Palani), Pazhamudirsolai, Tirupparamkunram and Tiruchendur. All these sites have ancient temples glorified by the Tamil poems of Tirumurugaatruppadai of the Sangam period (c. the third century C.E.). These six sites collectively came to be known as "Arupadai Veedu" meaning the six battle camps of the Lord.
In many Hindu stories, Murugan is seen as a bachelor. Most of the major events in Murugan's life take place during his youth, and legends surrounding his birth are popular. Consequently, Murugan is often worshiped as a child-God, very similar to the worship of the Krishna in north India. Other Hindu myths have him married to two wives, Valli and Devayani. The worship of Murugan as a youth (Kumara) was one of the six principal sects of Hinduism at the time of Adi Shankara. The Shanmata system propagated by Shankara included this sect thereby illustrating its historical importance.
Historically, Kartikeya enjoyed immense popularity in the Indian subcontinent. One of the major Puranas, the Skanda Purana is dedicated to him. In the Bhagavad Gita (Ch.10, Verse 24), Krishna, while explaining his omnipresence, names the most perfect being, mortal or divine, in each of several categories. While doing so, he says: "Among generals, I am Skanda, the lord of war."
Kartikeya's presence in the religious and cultural sphere can be seen at least from the Gupta age. Two of the Gupta kings, Kumaragupta and Skandagupta, were named after him. He is seen in the Gupta sculptures and in the temples of Ellora and Elephanta. As the commander of the divine armies, he became the patron of the ruling classes. His youth, beauty, and bravery was much celebrated in Sanskrit works like the Kathasaritsagara. Kalidasa made the birth of Kumara the subject of a lyrical epic, the Kumaarasambhavam.
The Kushana, who governed from what is today Peshawar, and the Yaudheyas, a republican clan in the Punjab, struck coins bearing the image of Skanda. The deity was venerated also by the Ikshvakus, an Andhra dynasty, and the Guptas.
In ancient India, Kartikeya was also regarded as the patron deity of thieves, as may be inferred from the Mrichchakatikam, a Sanskrit play by Shudraka, and in the Vetala-panchvimshati, a medieval collection of tales. This association is linked to the fact that Kartikeya had dug through the Krauncha mountain to kill the demon Taraka and his brothers. In the Mrichchakatikam, Sarivilaka prays to him before tunneling into the hero's house.
However, Kartikeya's popularity in North India receded from the Middle Ages onwards, and his worship is today virtually unknown except in parts of Haryana. There is a very famous temple dedicated to Him in the town of Pehowa in Haryana and this temple is very well-known in the adjoining areas, especially because of the fact that women are not allowed anywhere close to it because this shrine celebrates the Brahmachari form of Kartikeya. Reminders of former devotions to him include a temple at Achaleshwar, near Batala in Punjab, and another temple of Skanda atop the Parvati hill in Pune, Maharashtra. Another vestige of his former popularity can be seen in Bengal, where he is worshiped during the Durga Puja festivities alongside Durga.
In South India, Muruga has continued to be popular with all classes of society right since the Sangam age. This has led to more elaborate accounts of his mythology in the Tamil language, culminating in the Tamil version of Skanda Purana, called Kandha Purānam, written by Kacchiappa Sivachariyar (1350-1420 C.E.) of Kumara Kottam in the city of Kanchipuram. (He was a scholar in Tamil and Sanskrit literature, and a votary of the Shaiva Siddhanta philosophy.)
He is married to two deities, Valli, a daughter of a tribal chief and Devayani (also called Devasena), the daughter of Indra. During His bachelorhood, He was also regarded as Kumaraswami (or Bachelor God), Kumara meaning a bachelor and Swami meaning God. Muruga rides a peacock and wields a bow in battle. The lance (called Vel in Tamil) is a weapon closely associated with him. It was given to him by his mother, Parvati, and embodies her energy and power. The flag of his army depicts a rooster. In the war, the demon Soorapadman was split into two, and each half was granted a boon by Murugan. The halves, thus turned into the peacock (his mount) and the rooster.
As Muruga is worshipped predominantly in South India, many of his names are of Tamil origin. These include Senthil, the red or formidable one; Arumuga, the six-faced one; Guha and Maal-Marugan, the nephew of Vishnu.
Murugan is venerated through out the Tamil year. There is a six day period of fast and prayer in the Tamil month of Aippasi known as the Skanda Shasti. He is worshiped at Thaipusam, celebrated by Tamil communities worldwide near the full moon of the Tamil month Thai. This commemorates the day he was given a Vel (lance) by his mother in order to vanquish the demons. Vaikasi Visakam or the full moon of the Tamil month of Vaikasi signifies his birth. Each Tuesday of the Tamil month of Adi is also dedicated to the worship of Murugan. Tuesday in the Hindu tradition connotes Mangala, the god of planet Mars and war. This reveals the link between Skanda and Kujan (Mangala).
The references to Murugan in Sanskrit literature can be traced back to the first millennium B.C.E. There are references to Subrahmanya in Kautilya's Arthashastra, in the works of Patanjali, in Kalidasa's epic poem the Kumarasambhavam and in the Sanskrit drama Mricchakatika.
The Atharva Veda describes Kumaran as 'Agnibhuh' or son of Agni, the fire god. The Satapatha Brahmana refers to him as the son of Rudra and the ninth form of Agni. The Taittiriya Aranyaka contains the Gayatri mantra for Shanmukha. The Chandogya Upanishad refers to Skanda as the "way that leads to wisdom." The Baudhayana Dharmasutra mentions Skanda as "Mahasena" and "Subrahmanya." The Aranya Parva canto of the Mahabharata relates the legend of Kartikeya Skanda in considerable detail. The Skanda Purana is devoted to the narrative of Kartikeya.
The first elaborate account of Karthikeya's origin occurs in the Mahabharata where Murugan is said to have been born from Agni and Svaha, after the latter impersonated the six of the seven wives of the Saptarishi (Seven Sages). The actual wives then become the Pleiades. Karthikeya is said to have been born to destroy the Asura Mahisha. (In later mythology, Mahisha became the adversary of Durga.) Indra attacks Karthikeya as he sees the latter as a threat, until Shiva intervenes and makes Karthikeya the commander-in-chief of the army of the Devas. He is also married to Devasena, Indra's daughter. The origin of this marriage probably lies in the punning of "Deva-sena-pati." It can mean either lord of Devasena or Lord of the army (sena) of Devas.
The Ramayana version is closer to the stories told in the Puranas discussed below.
Though slightly varying versions occur in the Puranas, they broadly follow the same pattern. By this period, the identification of Shiva/Rudra with Agni, that can be traced back to the Vedas and Brahmanas, had clearly made Karthikeya the son of Shiva.
The Skanda Purana narrates that Shiva first wed Dakshayani (also named Sati), the granddaughter of Brahma, and the daughter of Daksha. Daksha never liked Shiva, who, symbolizing destruction and detachment, begs for food, dances in a graveyard smeared with ashes, and has no possessions, not even good clothes for himself. Daksha publicly insults Shiva in a Yajna ceremony, and Dakshayani immolates herself. The Yajna is destroyed although protected by all the other Gods and the rishis. Taraka believed that, because Shiva is an ascetic and his earlier marriage was conducted with great difficulty, his remarriage was out of the question, hence his boon of being killed by Shiva's son alone would give him invincibility.
The Devas manage to get Shiva married to Parvati (who was Dakshayani, reborn), by making Manmatha (also known as Kama), the God of love, awaken him from his penance, but Manmatha incurred the Lord's wrath indicated by the opening of his third eye—"Netri Kann," and being destroyed and resurrected. Shiva hands over his effulgence of the third eye used to destroy Manmatha to Agni, as he alone is capable of handling it until it becomes the desired offspring. Even Agni, tortured by its heat, hands it over to Ganga, who in turn deposits it in a lake in a forest of reeds (shara). The child is finally born in this forest with six faces. He is first spotted and cared for by six women representing the Pleiades—Kritika, in Sanskrit. He thus gets named Karthikeya. As a young lad, he destroys Taraka. He is also called Kumara (Sanskrit for "youth")
Given that legends related to Murugan are recounted separately in several Hindu epics, some anamolies between the various versions are observed. Some Sanskrit epics and puranas indicate that he was the elder son of Shiva. This is suggested by the legend connected to his birth; the wedding of Shiva and Parvati being necessary for the birth of a child who would vanquish the demon Taraka. Also, Kartikeya is seen helping Shiva fight the newborn Ganesha, Shiva's other son, in the Shiva Purana. In the Ganapati Khandam of the Brahma Vaivarta Purana, he is seen as the elder son of Shiva and Ganesha as the younger. In South India, it is believed that he is the younger of the two. A Puranic story has Ganesha obtain a divine mango of knowledge from Narada winning a contest with Murugan. While Murugan speeds around the world thrice to win the contest for the mango, Ganesha circumambulates Shiva and Parvati thrice as an equivalent and is given the mango. After winning it, he offers to give the mango to his upset brother. After this event, Ganesha was considered the elder brother owing as a tribute to his wisdom.
Tamil Sangam Literature (early centuries C.E.) mentions Murugu as a nature spirit worshiped with animal sacrifices and associated with a non-Brahmanical priest known as a Velan, a name later used to refer to the deity himself. The worship of Murugu often occurred in the woods or in an open field, with no particular associated structure. The rituals practiced included the Veriyaattu, a form of ritual-trance-dancing, which is still a common part of Murugan worship in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Malaysia. Murugu was believed to hold power over the chaotic and could be appeased by sacrifices and Veriyaattu to bring order and prosperity.
Tolkappiyam, possibly the most ancient of the extant Sangam works, glorified Murugan, "the red god seated on the blue peacock, who is ever young and resplendent," as " the favoured god of the Tamils." The Sangam poetry divided space and Tamil land into five allegorical areas and according to the Tirumurugarruppatai (c. 400-450 C.E.) attributed to the great Sangam poet Nakkiirar, Murugan was the presiding diety the Kurinci region (hilly area).
The other Sangam era works in Tamil that refer to Murugan in detail include the Paripaatal, the Akananuru, and the Purananuru.
Architectural findings of pottery in several places in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere had ideographic inscriptions of this name as far back as third century B.C.E. According to noted epigraphist Iravatham Mahadevan, the ideographs signify a brave warrior capable of killing evil demons to save the devoted.
Lord Muruga was worshipped for giving the meaning of the Pranava Mantra (OM) to Lord Shiva himself.
The main temples of Murugan are located in Southern Tamil Nadu. They include the Aru Padaiveedu (six houses—rather, military camps in his campaign against demon)—Thiruchendur, Swamimalai Pazhamudircholai, Thirupparangunram, Palani (Pazhani), Thiruthani—and other important shrines like Mayilam, Sikkal, Marudamalai, Kundrathur, Vadapalani, Kandakottam, Vallakottai, Vayalur, Thirumalaikoil, and Kukke Subramanya. Malai Mandir, a prominent and popular temple complex in Delhi, is one of the few dedicated to Murugan in all of North India apart from the famous Pehowa temple in Haryana.
The key temples in Sri Lanka include the sylvan shrine in Kataragama/(Kadirgamam), or Kathirkamam in the deep south, the temple in Tirukovil in the east, the shrine in Embekke in the Kandyan region and the famed Nallur Kandaswamy temple in Jaffna.
There are several temples dedicated to Murugan in Malaysia, the most famous being the Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur. There is a 42.7 m high statue of Lord Murugan at the entrance to the Batu Caves, which is the largest Murugan statue in the world.
Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road, Singapore is a major Hindu temple where each year the Thaipusam festival takes place with devotees of Lord Muruga carry Kavadis seeking penance and blessings of the Lord.
In the United kingdom, Highgate Hill Murugan temple is one of the oldest and most famous. Queen Elizabeth II of Britain paid her first visit to this temple on July 6, 2002, as part of Golden Jubilee celebrations.
Kartikeya or Murugan is adored by both Tamil Hindus and Sinhalese Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Numerous temples exist throughout the island. He is a favorite deity of the common folk everywhere and it is said he never hesitates to come to the aid of a devotee when called upon.
In the deeply Sinhalese south of Sri Lanka, Kartikeya is worshipped at the temple in Kataragama (Kathirkamam), where he is known as Katragama Deviyo (Lord of Katragama) or Kathiravel. This temple is next to an old Buddhist place of worship. Local legend holds that Lord Murugan alighted in Kataragama and was smitten by Valli, one of the local aboriginal deities. After a courtship, they were married. This event is taken to signify that Lord Murugan is accessible to all who worship and love him, regardless of their birth or heritage.
The Nallur Kandaswamy temple, the Maviddapuram temple and the Sella channithy temple near Valvettiturai are the three foremost Murukan temples in Jaffna. The Chitravelautha temple in Verukal on the border between Trincomalee and Batticaloa is also noteworthy as is the Mandur Kandaswamy temple in Batticaloa. The late medieval-era temple of the tooth in Kandy, dedicated to the tooth relic of the Buddha, has a Kataragama deiyo shrine adjacent to it dedicated to the veneration of Skanda in the Sinhalese tradition.
In Sri Lanka, Hindus as well as Buddhists worshipping him together, a highly sacred Buddhist and Hindu shrine Katharagama temple (also in Sinhala "Katharagama Devalaya") dedicated to him and situated deep south in the country.
Kartikeya symbolism includes many weapons:
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