SUBRAHMANYA (KAARTIKEYA; MURUGAN)
Saktim vajram asim trisoolabhyam
Ketam dhanush chakram
Paasam kukkutam amkusam cha
Sadaa Dhyaayet eepsita siddhidam
Sivasutam skandam suraraadhitam
Pray to the six faced Skanda, son of Lord Siva, with his mount as the peacock, and worshipped by all divinities for the fulfillment of their desires. Meditate upon him who is three eyed and decorated in unique attire, holding in his hands the Sakti, Vajram, the sword, Trisoola (Vel), the shield, the bow, the Wheel (Chakra) the noose and the banner of the cock, with one hand offering security (abhaya) from all evil and the other granting boons to the devotees (varada hasta).
Lord Subrahmanya is the son of Siva, the other sons being Ganesha and Andhaka. If Ganesha was created by Parvati, Kaartikeya was the creation of Siva, both being Ayonijas--not womb born. Ganapati is universally revered by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains in many parts of the world, including countries of South East Asia, China, Japan and Afghanisthan. Subrahmanya, his brother, remained mostly confined to South India. Among the Tamil speaking people he is better known as Murugan. In the North he is mostly unknown; but he is worshipped in the East, especially in Bengal, where women pray to him for worthy sons.
Historically speaking, he is a much older deity, being mentioned in stone inscriptions and was once well known in North India. He is said to have been married to a tribal woman Valli. The peacock is his carrier mount. He was a sylvan deity connected with serpent worship and tree worship and hence was more popular among hill tribes and lower strata in the society. Images of Subrahmanya (Skanda) are frequently found in serpentine shape either entirely or as half man and half serpent. The icon worshipped in the Subrahmanya Temple in the coastal region of Karnataka is a serpent sitting in the shape of a Linga looked from back and front. Sivalingam speaks of the anthill as the mountain and the serpent with its hood whipped up as tree. The Linga is the mountain and the seven hooded serpent behind covering the Linga is the tree. Mountains, trees and the anthills were worshipped with reverence by the tribal even before the Vedic influence.
Mr. Vincent A. Smith in The Oxford History of India says: "When the Brahmanas succeeded in making their way into the kingdoms of the peninsula, including the realms of the Andhras, Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas, they found a civilized society, not merely a collection of rude barbarian tribes. The Dravidian religion and social customs differed widely from those of the northern India. Caste was unknown, as it is now in Burma, and the religion was centered on the ecstatic and often orgiastic worship of chthonic deities, the chief of whom was the hill god, Murugan…….Early Indian history as a whole cannot be viewed in true perspective until the non-Aryan institutions of the south receive adequate treatment. Hitherto most historians of ancient India have written as if the South did not exist". Now, however, all sections of Hinduism have accepted Subrahmanya as their Ishtadevata (desired divinity). Jagadguru Sankaracharya has also promoted Kaumaara worship among the six schools of worship recommended by him (Shanmata Sthaapanam)—Saiva, Vaishnava, Sakta, Saura, Ganpatya and Kaumaara). This shows the popularity of Subrahmanya worship even before Sankara's period which is now thought to be around 500 B.C.
Lord Subrahmanya has sixteen names:
- Agnigarbha: Having been conceived by Agni, the fire god.
- Bahuleya: Offspring of many Krittikas.
- Brahmachaari: One who is a bachelor
- Guha: Protector of armies from enemy weapons; the secret one; Indweller of the human hearts.
- Jnaanasaktyaatma: One who is embrasive of Jnaana and Sakti –Knowledge and Power.
- Gaangeya: One who has been contained by Mother Ganges.
- Kaartikeya: Son of Krittikas (Pleiades).
- Kumaara: One of eternal youth
- Kraunchaadri: Pounder of the Krauncha Mountain.
- Saravanabhava: One born in reed thicket.
- Shanmukha:One who has six faces.
- Senaani (Devasenaapati): Commander of divine forces.
- Skanda: One having taken shape by the shedding (skanam) of the generative energy of Siva; One who has accumulated the power of chastity.
14. Subrahmanya: One who tends spiritual growth; one who likes holy people, Brahmanas.
- Taarakaari: Slayer of Taaraka.
- Swaaminaatha: The preceptor of his own father Siva.
The story of Subrahmanya is found in the Mahabharata, in the Shiva, Skanda and Brahmaanda Puraanas and in the Ramayana. The Tamil version of Skanda Purana Samhita is popular amongst his ardent devotees.
In ancient times, the Devas and Asuras were forever at war and often it was the devas who were victorious at the end. After one crushing defeat, an asura king named Akhirsen, went to his daughter Maaya, a sorceress for help. She assured him that she will teach devas a lesson. Taking the form of a beautiful woman, Maaya went to the forest and bewitched the sage Kaasyapa with her beauty. They got married and in course of time, three sons were born to them—Surapadma, Simhamukha and Taaraka. When the boys came of age Kaasyapa went away for penance leaving the boys to the care of their mother and wanted them to lead a virtuous life and devoted to the Lord. Maaya had other plans. She wanted them to conquer devas and make them the slaves to asuras. The virtuous sage of course was ignorant of Maaya's designs, when he left. At the command of their mother the three sons propitiated Lord Shiva by severe penances to obtain boons which would make them invincible. When Surapadman was about to jump into the fire, unsuccessful to obtain his wish, the merciful Siva appeared and granted them their boons but not immortality. Intoxicated with triumph they routed devas in a fierce battle and kept even Indra's son under captivity. They made Indra and Vaayu, their slaves. Viswakarma was forced to build a beautiful city called Mahendrapuri, which they made their capital.
Humiliated for long, the Devas approached Lord Brahma for help. He pleaded his helplessness but accompanied them to Lord Siva, who was the only one who could help them also. Siva was just then married to Parvati and was in a happy mood to listen to them. Siva assured them that their miseries will soon end. Then Siva assumed a form with six faces from which six divine sparks shot forth. He assured the Devas that a child born out of these sparks will slay the Asuras. Siva then assumed his original form. Agni carried these sparks to Ganga. She carried them to Saravana, the reed forest in Udaya Mountain. As soon as Ganga brought them into the Saravana forest, the sparks turned into six babies.
Just then six celestial nymphs called the Krittikas, who happened to pass by, began to cuddle the babies. The Devas came to the scene a little later and then came Siva and Parvati. As Parvati stepped closer, the six babies merged into one. Soon all started quarrelling over the possession of the baby and naming him. Siva intervened and settled the issue—as Parvati's son he was named Skanda; as the son of the Goddess of the forest of the reeds, he was named Saravanabhava; as Krittikas' son, he was named Kaartikeya; as Agni's son, he was named Mahaasena; as Siva's son, he was named Guha.
The next minute Kartikeya of six faces was like any other child. Siva took him to his own abode and presented him with a spear (Vel) and commanded him to lead Devas to victory, crush Asuras and liberate Devas. Subrahmanya killed the Asura Krauncha (who attacked him in the form of a mountain), Taaraka, Simhamukaha and Surapadma. Simhamukha fell shattered of his ego, and begged for Lord's blessings before his death. Subrahmanya blessed him to serve as the vehicle for Kali, the lion. So was also Surapadma. Surapadma assumed two forms after his death—one of a peacock to serve as a vehicle to the Lord and the other as a cock to adorn Kartikeya's flag-post Subrahmanya is invariably seen in icons with his Vel, peacock and flag-post carrying the cock. He is seen as "Murugan", a young boy who got rid of six faces and twelve hands, to become the darling son of Parvati.
Another legend runs as follows: When Indra fought Vrittraasura and killed him one of Vrittraasura's ministers, Nammoochi was also accidentally killed. Taaraka, Namoochi's son became very angry and swore vengeance. To wreck his vengeance, he needed strength. He went on a penance invoking Lord Brahma. Brahma was pleased but refused immortality which Taaraka sought but granted invincibility. Having acquired such powers, he began harassing Devas who appealed to Brahma to end his menace. They then approached Lord Siva along with Brahma.
Lord Siva was in wedlock with Parvati, the daughter of Himavaan and Menaka. The Devas were afraid that earth will not be able to bear an issue born to them. Siva and Parvati then withheld their energies, but by that period some of the energy fluid had trickled down into Mother Earth. It then covered the entire world, which frightened the Devas, who requested Agni to consume it as it might destroy the world too. Agni, with the help of Vaayu entered into the energy and there arose Saravana, a thicket of reeds with the brilliance of the Sun.
Partvati, being deprived by Devas of an issue, cursed that none of them will have any progeny and for the part played by Mother Earth, she was cursed to become the wives of the various kings.
Agni could not bear the power of Siva's 'Tejas' and as advised by Brahma, decided to drop it into Mother Ganges who appeared as a woman of extraordinary charm and Agni transferred the energy into her. Having been permeated, she was afraid that it would consume her and sought Agni's help. On Agni's suggestion, the energy was dropped into Mother Earth. Mother earth passed it on to Saravana. Thus Saravana gave rise to Kumara that is Lord Subrahmanya.
This beautiful child was seen by six Krittikas, who because they were unchaste wives, were forsaken by their husbands, who were all sages. Compelled by mothers' instincts, each wanted to feed the baby. The child developed six faces and so everyone fondled it. Being six faced he was called Shanmukha or Shadaanana. Having been fed by Krittikas he was called Kaartikeya. Because of his emergence from the dropping out i.e. "skannam" of the energy fluid, he was called Skanda. Lord Siva and Parvati came to see the wonder-child of resplendent beauty later who turned himself to be a normal child as before.
Sage Narada, the globe trotter and the trouble maker visited Kailasa and gave a luscious fruit to Lord Siva. Both Ganesha and Subrahmanya wanted the same. Siva then decided that he who goes round the world first will win the fruit. Skanda mounted his peacock and started, but the wise Ganapati simply went round his parents, whom he claimed as the world to him and won the fruit. While he was enjoying it, Kumara came, who being deprived of the prize became angry. Shaving off his head, he left for the South and settled on "Palani Hills". He was soon followed by Parvati, who cajoled him saying that he was the Fruit of Wisdom, "Jnaanppazham" and hence need not be sorry for losing the other fruit. Having settled at Palani, he is there as Dandaayudhapaani (one carrying the rod in his hand), granting boons to all worshippers.
Lord Subrahmanya has an ancient and very picturesque temple atop of hill in the town of Palani in Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu. The Temple at Palani was built in the 12th century by Chola kings. The 405 feet to the summit is covered by 900 broad and well laid out steps. It is interesting to note that Muslims too offer prayers to Murugan at this place, though not at the sanctum sanctorum as the Hindus do to the idol of Lord Subhramanya. The Muslims offer their special prayers at a special niche set in the wall at the back of the sanctum sanctorum. Muslims call the Lord as Palani Baba. The idol at Palani is said to be made of wood from nine basic herbal plants of great medicinal value found in the surrounding hills. The milk used in the Abhishekam gets medicinal value, when poured over the idol. The devotees take a portion of this milk as it comes out of the sanctum sanctorum via the granite channel (gomukham) draining the liquid from the base of the idol.
Devas became jealous of the power of Kartikeya and informed Indra that he might even displace him and seize his throne. Indra was enraged and sent Sapta Matrikas, to kill the child prodigy. Subrahmanya turned them into Baalagrahas. Indra then hurled his Vajraayudha at him which just caused a minor bruise. Vanquished and ashamed Indra fell at the feet of the child. Subrahmanya forgave him and made him commander of the army of Devas—Devasenaani. Indra, as a good gesture, gave his foster daughter Devasena in marriage to Kartikeya. Her name was changed to Vallidevi after marriage.
According to another puraanic version, in the "going-round-the world" competition Ganesha was declared the winner. Parvati could not decide which one of her sons should be married first—Kartikeya or Ganesha? Therefore Shiva proposed the above competition: "Let us celebrate the marriage of one, who returns first after going round the world" Shiva said. The two daughters of the Prajapati, Visvaroopa, Siddhi and Buddhi goddesses of success and intelligence became consorts of Ganesha, after the competition, reinforcing his position as the Lord of Wit, Wisdom and victory. The event upset Kartikeya. He left Kailasa and moved southwards. When Krauncha Hills tried to block his path, he simply hurled his lance and carved a path right through them. Upset by his parents' apparent favoritism, Kartikeya moved to Southern hills and lived amongst the tribes there. The locals called him Murugan, the divine youth. He remained lonely and miserable. Indra, king of Devas, gave his daughter Devayaani in marriage. She was also called Sena. Some time later Kartik, while wandering in the dense jungles of Tamil lands, came across Valli, a beautiful tribal girl. The two got married by natural rites, inspired by love and in the presence of elements.
Siva once gave a discourse on Yoga. Every creature in the cosmos—Devas, sages, sorcerers, kings, merchants, priests, laborers—rushed to Kailasa to hear him. As a result of this mass exodus, the world started to tilt to one side. Wisdom, knowledge, civilization, skill, all these had come to the North; there was nothing left in the South. Brahma exclaimed that balance of the cosmos was totally lost. Siva sent sage Agastya, his wisest disciple to South with all the knowledge he had taught him—science, medicine, philosophy, art, music, agriculture, science of warfare, sacred lore, the essentials of sacrifice etc. Agastya wished to carry with him two great hills from Kailasa as remembrance. The demon Etumba offered to carry them in a "Kaavadi", so popular with Murugan worshippers. At Palani, in Tamil Nadu, Etumba placed the hills on the ground and went to a river nearby to refresh himself. When he returned he could not pick them again. There appeared a boy on the scene who was holding on to these mountains. A fight ensued and in the meantime Agastya appeared on the scene. Introducing himself as the son of Siva, the young boy wanted to stay on the top of the hills permanently, as it reminded him of Kailasa Mountains where he once lived. Agastya agreed to move to the plains, while Kumaran settled on the top the hills. It is believed each year Siva and Parvati visit their son at his abode in the South, having reconciled their differences.
Once, Brahma visited Lord Murugan. Murugan requested Brahma to enlighten him about the mystic "Omkara" or "Pranavaartha". Brahma told him that He, Brahma himself was the "Omkara". This made Murugan angry. Putting Brahma in bondage, he took himself the role of creator. For this purpose, he took his abode in Tirumalai Hills as Lord Venkatachalapati. At the request of his father, he released Brahma, heeding to the prayers of the Devas.
Kumaran has also manifested at Swaamimalai in the Cauvery basin as Lord Swaaminathan. He annihilated Surapadma at Tiruchendur in Tamil Nadu, where a temple is built for him. People worship him for removal of obstacles. At Tiruppuramkundram in Madurai district, he is seen with his consort Devasena, where he is worshipped for begetting good progeny and prosperity. At Tiruttani in Chittoor District in Andhra Pradesh he is worshipped as Shantamoorti, where he is seen with both of his consorts Valli and Devasena. He redeems all who pray for him.
Subrahmanya represents the highest state to which a spiritual aspirant can evolve. Dattaatreya taught his Avadhuta Gita to Lord Subrahmanya. Etymologically Subrahmanya means 'one who tends to spiritual growth of aspirants'. His six heads represent the five sense organs and the mind, which coordinates the activities. When these are controlled, refined and sublimated man becomes a superman. According to Yoga psychology, there are six centers of psychic energy. They are Moolaadhaara(at the anus), Svaadhishthaana (at the root of the sex organ), Manipoora (at the navel), Anaahata ( at the region of the heart), Visuddha (at the throat), Aajnaa (between the eye brows), and Sahasraara (at the top of the head) which is the destination for this energy. When the yogi successfully raises his psychic energy to this top-most center he has a vision of Sivasakti. In a perfect being the energy that flows through all these six centers is so refined and uniform, that practically all the centers have been elevated to the highest level. The six heads indicate that he is the source of the four Vedas, Vedanga and six schools of philosophy. Lord Subrahmanya is ray-born, of the Consciousness of Siva. The six heads represent the six rays or attributes, namely, wisdom, dispassion, strength, fame, wealth meaning wisdom and divine powers.
Subrahmanya represents the perfect state of Consciousness. The combination of six heads and twelve hands teaches us that the ideal humanity is the perfect being who is not only a perfect yogi but also a great worker. His two consorts are the daughter of a humble chieftain and the other daughter of Indra, the king of Gods. He loves both of them equally. This is just to show that god does not make any distinction between the humble folk and the elite. The two wives indicate God's Kriya-sakti and Jnaana-sakti i.e. power of action and power of knowledge.
The dazzling lance in his hand stands for knowledge and wisdom with which all the ugly demons of ignorance can be destroyed. The peacock is shown as belaboring a snake with one of its legs. The snake stands for time. The peacock that kills it stands for what is opposed to it. By riding the peacock he is showing that he is beyond what is within and outside it. He is beyond all dualities. If snake represents lust, the peacock signifies the power of celibacy. As Skanda, he is the very personification of the power of chastity. The beautiful plumaged peacock represents pride or ego which has to be kept down and forms the mount or vehicle of Lord Murugan. The peacock, with its beautiful plumage, represents creation in all its glory. Hence, he that rides it is The Supreme Lord, the master of Creation.
Tamil poets, saints and Naayanmars have glorified Murugan, a pre-vedic deity as Supreme Lord of Consciousness. Lord Murugan embodies Hindu ideal god immanent in all things in the universe. Lord Krishna says in Bhagavadgeeta: "….among army generals I am Skanda".
Skand shashthi falls in November on the sixth day of the bright half of the Tamil month of Aippasi. It is the day on which Lord Subrahmanya defeated the demon Taaraka. Great festivities are held on this day with pomp and grandeur.
Every Friday or Krittikaa Nakshatra day on every month or the 6th day of bright fortnight are considered as auspicious days by Murugan's devotees. Kaavadi festival is also observed with all reverence to Lord Murugan. People take a vow of silence to offer the Kaavadi for the sake of tiding over great calamity. Kaavadi containing rice, milk, and other articles are offered to the Lord. This is done by bhikshaatana (begging) till the Kaavadi is full, walking all through on bare foot. Kaavadi bearers observe celibacy and lock their tongues by a piercing needle to keep strict vow of silence during the period. Some even offer Agni Kaavadi. The devotee walks through a pit of burning coal at the final stage before offering the Kaavadi to the Lord.
This lecture has been prepared by N.R.Srinivasan for the Vedanta Class at Sri Ganesha Temple at Nashville TN from the following literature sources by suitably extracting, abridging and editing:
- Pradeep Bhattacharya & Meera Ugra, Kaartikeya, Amar Chitra Katha, India Publishing House, Mumbai 400059, India.
- Mukundan T, A Concept of Hinduism, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
- Prof Ramachandra Rao S K, Early Indian Thoughts, Kalpatharu Research Academy, Sankarmutt, Bangalore, India.
- Devdutt Pattanaik, Shiva, Vakils, Feffer and Simon Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai 400001, India.
- Swami Sivananda, Hindu Fasts and Festivals, The Divine Life Society, Shivannda Nagar, India.
- Swami Harshananda, Hindu Gods and Goddesses, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai 600004, India.
- Vincent A Smith, Oxford Indian History, Oxford University Press, Delhi, India.
Legend has it that a demon called Tarakasuran (tArakAsuran) had enslaved and tormented the Devas (dEva – demigod). He had acquired a boon from Brahma that he should be destroyed only by a power equal to Shiva and not even by Shiva himself. Tarakasuran believed that he had outsmarted God and had obtained immortality by asking such a boon for there is none equal to Shiva.
Tarakasuran still had his doubts. He asked Brahma who could be equal to Shiva. Brahma stated that a son born to Shiva would be equal to Shiva in all aspects and that he would destroy Tarakasuran. Shiva had become a recluse after the loss of Sati and Taraksuran was deluded into thinking that a son would never be born to Shiva. It was a shock to Tarakasuran when Shiva married Parvati, who was Sati reborn.
However, there was a curse on Parvati. Rati is the wife of Manmadan, who was burned down by Shiva when at the request of the Devas he had tried to induce lust in Shiva’s mind for Parvati while she was serving him as a devotee. In her grief at the loss of her beloved, Rati had cursed Parvati that she would never be able to bear Shiva’s child even if she eventually won Shiva and married him. Once again Tarakasuran was deluded into thinking that a son would never be born to Shiva.
Tarakasuran had to be destroyed. Rati’s curse also had to materialize and come true. How could a child then be born to Parvati if she could not physically bear the child of Shiva? The all-knowing Shiva found a way. The five faced (panca vaktra) Shiva acquired a sixth face that looked (with concern and kindness) in the downward direction (adho mukha) at the suffering Devas and became Shanmukha (the six faced lord).
Six sparks emerged from the forehead of each of the six faces of Shiva and were carried by Agni (the god of fire) and Vayu (the wind god) to river Ganga. Six of the wives of the Sapta rishis (seven holy sages) held them in their wombs before depositing them on six lotus flowers at the shara vana (the forest of reeds). Six babies then emerged from the sparks that were nurtured by the six Karthigai ladies (a constellation of six stars). These six babies then became Shamukha – the six faced lord who is considered as the son of Shiva and Parvati. Shanmukha is also known as Muruga in the Tamil language. murugu in Tamil means handsome or beautiful and murugA means one who is very handsome. Muruga destroyed Tarakasura and his 2 brothers Simhamukha and Surapadma and freed the Devas.
The logical mind now starts wondering. How could it have been possible for a child to be born without the physical union of a male and a female? What is the logic behind this legend? Considering the scientific knowledge we have today we know that the physical union of a male and a female is not essential to produce a child.
The ovum of the female can be fertilized with the sperm of the male in an artificial environment – Test tube baby. Usually multiple (more than one) embryos are produced in this way. The embryos thus produced need the correct temperature (agni), vital air (vAyu) and fluids (The river Ganga) to survive. If the female who provided the ova, is unable to bear the embryos in her womb the embryos are placed in another female’s womb – Surrogate mother (the wives of the sapta rishis). If the babies are born prematurely the babies are nurtured in an incubator (shara vana) in a very warm environment (agni), with vital air (Oxygen – vAyu), fluids (the river Ganga) and nutrition (mother earth). The nurses in the neonatal ICU now care for this baby (Karthigai ladies). Even the breast milk for these babies can be provided by any other female other its own mother.
From a psychological standpoint Muruga can be considered as an alter ego of Shiva. In Latin, alter ego literally means the “second I”. According to the English dictionary, alter ego can also be thought of as a person’s clone or a second self. Alter ego can also refer to the second, hidden side of one’s own self, or a person vicariously liable for another. Sometimes parents liver their dreams through their children. They present to their children opportunities that they did not have. They attain joy a when their children achieve what they could not achieve. What Shiva could not achieve, he achieved through Muruga.
Why is this logic not presented to us in the first place? Why are we told the legends? Well, how can this logic be explained to a six year old? Would it even make sense to a six year old? Hence we need legends. We need to keep believing in them and if we keep contemplating on the legends, one day the logic will fall into place.
The handsome Muruga is know by six names – guhA (cave), for he is the secret that lives in the cave of Shiva’s heart, Kumara (the son of Parvati), Skanda – spilling – such as the seminal fluid or seed, as he was carried by Agni and Vayu, Gangeya as he was carried by river Ganga, Sharavana as he was nurtured in the shara vana – the forest of reeds and Karthikeya as he was raised by the 6 Karthigai ladies.