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Murugan slaying the demon SurapadmanSati, the consort of Shiva immolated herself at the Daksha Yagna, which was later destroyed by Shiva. Sati was reborn as Uma, or Parvati the daughter of the mountain king Himavaan (the Himalayas). Shiva withdrew himself from the universe and engaged himself in yogic meditation in the Himalayas.

In the meanwhile, the demon Surapadman ravaged the earth and tormented its beings. It was realized by the gods that only the son born of Shiva could lead the gods to victory over Tarakasuran, Surapadman and their demon companions. They plotted with Kamadeva, to shoot a flower arrow at Shiva, as he sat in meditation, so as to make him fall in love with Parvati. When Kama aimed his arrow at Shiva, he opened his third eye and burned him to ashes instantly.

The sparks of the fiery seed of Shiva were unbearable; even the fire God Agni could not bear them; this fire was then transported by the river Ganga into the Sara Vana forest into a pond called Sara Vana Poigai(located at mouths of river Ganga), where the sparks became six children.They were raised by the six Krittika or Kartika - the stars that make up the Pleiades, earning the name Karthikeya. Parvati combined these six babies into one with six faces, ie. Shanmukha. Since he was born in the Sara Vana he was also called Sara Vana Bhavan. Murugan became the supreme general of the devas 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 (circa the 3rd century CE)

In the Hindu epics

The first elaborate account of Karthikeya's origin occurs in the Mahabharata. In a complicated story, he 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 lies probably in the punning of 'Deva-sena-pati'.It can mean either lord of Devasena or Lord of the army(sena) of Devas.

Early mention in Sangam literature

Classical Tamil representation of Murugan with Deivanai and ValliTamil Sangam Literature (early centuries CE) mentions Murugu as a nature spirit worshipped 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.

The Sangam era works in Tamil that refer to Murugan in detail include the Tiru-murukaarupadai, the Tolkapiyam - the earliest Tamil grammar, the Paripadal, the Ahanaanooru and the Puranaanooru.

One poem in the Paripadal describes the veneration of Murugan thus:

"We implore thee not for boons of enjoyment or wealth, But for thy grace beatific, love and virtuous deeds".

Architectural findings of pottery in several places in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere had ideographic inscriptions of this name as far back as 3rd century BCE.[5] 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.

Murugan and the Tamil liturgy

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 worshipped 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 or 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 Worship of Kartikeya through ages

Six-headed Karttikeya on a Yaudheyas coin. British Museum.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), in the middle of the battlefied "Kurukshetra", Krishna explaining his omnipresence and revealing the most perfect being, mortal or divine, in each category, says - "Of generals I am Skanda, the lord of war."

His 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 the Sanskrit works like the Katha-Saritsagara. The great Sanskrit poet, Kalidasa chose his birth as the subject of one of his epics - Kumaarasambhavam.

In ancient India, he was also regarded as the patron deity of thieves, as can be seen in famed Sanskrit play of Shudraka - Mrichchakatikam (the little clay cart) and the medieval collection of tales,Vetala-panchvimshati. This association is linked to the fact that Kartikeya had dug through the Krauncha mountain to kill the demon Taraka and his brothers. (In Mrichchakatikam, Sarivilaka prays to him before tunnelling into the hero's house)

However, his popularity in North India saw a great erosion from the Middle Ages. He slowly vanished from the scene and is today virtually unknown in these areas. The last vestiges can be seen in Bengal where he is worshipped during the Durga Puja along with Durga or at Achaleshwar, near Batala in Punjab. There is a temple of Skanda on top of the Parvati hill in Pune.

Popularity in Tamil Nadu

In North India, the popularity of Skanda has receded. In South India, Muruga continues 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.

He is married to two deities, Valli, a daughter of a tribal chief and Devasena. However, other Hindu legends state that He is unmarried, and call Him 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. The Vel 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, Shoorapadman 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.

Lord Subramanya is the major deity among the Thiyyas of northern Kerala.

Lord Subramanya is worshipped with utmost devotion in districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi in the state of Karnataka. Rituals like nagaradhane are unique to this region.

Differences in Northern and Southern traditions
The North Indian and South Indian traditions differ with respect to Murugan.

Order of birth

The Sanskrit epics and Puranas seem to indicate that he was the eldest son of Shiva, as the tale of Shiva's marriage to Parvati indicates. In the Shiva Purana, he is seen helping Shiva fight the newly born Ganesha, Shiva's other son, when Ganesha stopped Shiva from entering his home in Kailasa. In the Brahmavaivarta Puranam in the Ganapathi Khandam, Karthikeya is technically the first born from Shiva, and Ganesha is born next.

The south has all along maintained that he was 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.

Marital status In the north, he is generally seen as a bachelor, even a misogynist. The southern tradition has him married to two wives.


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