Lord Skanda-Murugan

Muruga -- The Ever-Merciful Lord

Skanda Kumara with nimbus

- by SRS Ayyar

Extracted from Chapter One of the book Grandeur of Thiruppugazh: The Hallowed Hymns of Arunagirinatha (Bombay: Bharata Vidya Bhavan, 1996) with the author's permission. [For information on how to order this book, go to Skanda Publications page.]

"The fiery Mass That stood as Brahman
That hasth no beginning
Assuming a form from formless,
From several unto One,
Thus rose a Tirumuruga
With six merciful faces and twelve eyes,
For the universe to get rescued."

-Kanta Puranam by Kacciyappa Sivachariyar 1

In the Holy Pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses, Muruga has been given pride of place. 2 This is particularly discernible in the southern parts of India and some countries in the Far East where Tamil-speaking people form a significant segment of the population. Lord Muruga is considered essentially as the Tamil God (Tamizh Kadavul). He is the repository of Jñana (Knowledge) and the very fountainhead of the three branches of Tamil literature -- prose (iyal), verse (icai) and theatre (natakam). Great sages like Agasthya had worshipped Him and secured His grace.

The dwarfish Agasthya, according to legends, had gone to Podiyamalai in the South and maintained the earth's equilibrium at Lord Siva's command. The occasion was Siva's marriage with Parvati when large multitudes of sages and devotees flocked to Kailasa, causing sinkage of the earth's north side (Himalayas) and upturn of the southern portion.3 Nakkeerar, Poyya Mozhi, Auvvaiyar, Kacciyappa Sivachariyar, Kumara Gurupara and Arunagirinatha are the other names instantly coming to one's mind; they were all close to Muruga's heart and who composed priceless and soul-stirring devotional gems in Tamil.

Deva Senadhipati

Muruga's glory and pre-eminence arise due to three reasons: He 'arrived' on this planet as the son of Lord Siva, as the younger brother of Lord Ganesa and as the nephew of Lord Narayana. He is venerated as Kaliyuga Varada, the God who blesses and protects those who ardently seek His grace (in this Age of Quarrel).4 Kausalya, Lord Rama's mother invoked the blessings of Skanda when Rama took leave of her prior to his departure to the forest as per King Dasaratha's wish.5 And in the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna declares that among all commanders, He is Skanda.6 Muruga contains in Himself the three divine eternal functions -- creation (sristi), protection (sthithi) and destruction (samhara) as evidenced by the three first letters in His name: MU -- Mukundan (Vishnu), RU -- Rudra (Siva) and KA -- Kamalan (Brahma).

The three integral elements of Muruga's personality are spear (vel) in His hand, peacock as His mount and cock adorning His banner. Vel signifies jñanasakti (power of wisdom); this was given to Muruga by His Divine Mother. Parvati wishing Him victory over asuras (titans) led by the tyrannous Surapadma. The glittering spear of Muruga is venerated by devotees as Sakti Vel or Veera Vel signifying its extraordinary power and strength. Cock and peacock represent nada and bindu. The peacock displays the divine shape of Omkara when it spreads its magnificent plumes into a full-blown circular form, while the cock proclaims loudly the Pranava sound OM. Muruga shines as the very essence of the Vedas and mantras.7

Muruku in Tamil denotes divineness, handsomeness, youthfulness, happiness, fragrance and sweetness. The Lord is the very manifestation of handsomeness, robust youthfulness, masculinity, fragrance and unmatched valour and the abode of happiness. One would be endowed with everlasting youthfulness only when he or she is not getting old. Human beings take birth in this earth, pass through different stages such as childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age and ultimately met with the inevitable death. They are again born in this world not necessarily in the same form as they were in their previous births.8 This process goes on endlessly.9 Muruga, on the other hand, has neither a beginning nor an end; He is not born nor dead.10 Age does not wither Him away. This explains His evergreen youthfulness. The sun is not visible to us temporarily at night; for this reason one cannot conclude that the sun has ceased to exist, for when darkness engulfs a part of the globe, the sun is shining bright somewhere else. We come to know of its existence when it rises again in the morning. Muruga's 'appearance' on this planet is analogous to this eternal phenomenon.11


The epic Skanda Purana, one of the eighteen puranas created by Veda Vyasa, vividly narrates the circumstances which led to the divine 'appearance' of Muruga, His glory and heroic achievements.12 He 'rose' to protect gods who were subject to extreme tormentation and cruelty by demon Surapadma. They all appealed collectively to Lord Siva to come to their rescue. Moved by their plight, Siva willed to bring forth a powerful divine personality, an element of Himself, but yet distinct from Him, Who would have unparalleled bravery and Who alone would be able to slay Surapadma and his clan.

The extremely powerful spark which emanated from His third eye was carried by the Fire God (Agni) and was deposited in Saravana ('stand of reeds') Lake; there arose six cute tiny tots who were looked after by six Krittika maidens; the six forms later united to become a single Six-Faced Child with resplendent beauty. Added to Siva's five faces Sadhyojata, Vamadeva, Aghora, Tatpurusa and Ishana was Adhomurka; thus He became Shanmukha. He is known as Saravanabhava as He emerged out of Saravana Lake, and Karttikeya since six Krittika maidens took the six babies in their arms and showered affection on them.


Brahma, the Creator, happened to slight the young Muruga during one of his visits to Kailasa. Muruga wished to teach a lesson to the Creator for his act of imprudence. He asked the four-faced Creator the meaning of the Pranava. When he could not explain satisfactorily, Muruga taunted Brahma and not content with that imprisoned him too. He concluded that Brahma was not fit to perform the assigned job. He then assumed the role of the Creator! Muruga freed Brahma from prison when Siva, Vishnu and Indra prayed at His lotus Feet and requested for the release of the Creator.13

Muruga turned a guru or teacher when He explained the essence of Pranava to His Father who received the upadesa in all humility as a disciple. He thus came to be known as Swaminatha.14

Another interesting anecdote links Muruga's taking a full round of the universe mounted on His mighty peacock. the legend has it that sage Narada once visited Kailasa, the abode of Siva, and presented Him with a divine pomegranate fruit. As is usually the case with fathers, Siva wanted to give it to His children Ganesa and Muruga rather than consuming it Himself. In this process, He hatched a plot as a prelude to an eventful drama. He would not allow the fruit to be shared by two brothers. Instead, He announced that the fruit would be given to either of the two who returned first after taking a round of the universe.

No sooner had Siva said this than young Muruga started off riding on the back of His peacock. His elder brother Ganesa acted in a different manner. To Him, His eternal Parents Siva and Parvati represented the world and circumambulating them would be equivalent to circling the world. With this well-reasoned thought fixed in His mind, He took a round of His Parents and instantly annexed the prized fruit. Muruga, on return from His whirlwind trip around the universe, learnt that His elder brother had already won the competition.

A disappointed Muruga left Kailasa and proceeded straight to Palani Hill in South India. The name Palani is in fact the derivative of Pazahm Nee (Thou art the Fruit of Jñana) as addressed by His Parents who rushed to Palani to soothe the enraged Muruga.

Surapadma, who had the temerity to confront Muruga despite being forewarned, became prey to His powerful Vel (spear) after a stiff fight. Muruga acted as Supreme Commander (Deva Senapati) and freed the gods from their captivity. The ever-compassionate Lord converted the two portions of His slain enemy as an integral part of Himself -- one becoming Peacock, His mount and the other the Cock adorning His banner.

Kalyana Murugan

Muruga's consorts are Valli and Devayanai. They represent Inch Sakti and Krill Sakti. They were in reality Sundaravalli and Amudavalli, who were born out of the tears of joy of Narayana when He incarnated as Trivikrama. Both the celestials damsels did intense penance with the object of attaining the exalted status as Muruga's consorts. Pleased with their prayers, Muruga appeared before them and ordained that Amudavalli would be born in Devaloka as Indra's daughter, while Sundaravalli would take birth on the earth in a hunter tribe.15 The Lord promised to marry both Valli and Devayanai.

The marriage of Muruga and Devayanai took place at Tirupparankundram attendant with full Vedic rites. Devayanai was in fact gifted to Muruga by Devendra in grateful acknowledgment of heroism and valour displayed by Muruga as the Supreme Commander of divine forces and His triumph over the deadly race of titans.16 Deva Senapati (General of the Gods) thus became Devasena Pati (Husband of Devasena).

Muruga's wedding with Valli is replete with many interesting interludes. Muruga chose to engage in a few frolics before accepting Valli as His Consort. King Nambi Rajah of Chittoor, the head of the hunter tribe, had seven sons and he was aspiring to have a daughter. He was deeply devoted to Muruga. The sage Sivamuni, who was doing tapasya in the forest, chanced to see a female deer and his mere sight resulted in the animal becoming pregnant.17 The animal delivered a beautiful baby girl and left the place. King Nambi, who had gone to the forest with his sons to hunt, saw the bewitching babe and brought it home and began to foster the child as his own daughter. As the girl was found among valli creepers, she was named Valli.18

Valli ceaselessly nurtured the thought of Muruga even from her tender age and was determined to have Him as her Husband and none else. When she became of marriageable age, Nambi Rajah, in tune with the hunter tribe custom, sent her to 'tinaippunam' (field growing tinai [millet]). She was to keep vigil perched on a high rise rostrum and protect the crop from wandering birds until the crop was ready to harvest.

It was at this time that Valli got guru diksha from sage Narada who met her and said to her that Muruga would be the ideal match for her. The words of the sage pleased Valli highly. She was in fact having this very thought for years! Narada went to nearby Tiruttani where the Lord was in repose mood after the fierce battle with Surapadma. The sage reminded Muruga about His assurance to marry the two maidens and told that one girl remaining to be wed, Valli, was yearning intensely and persistently for Him.

Muruga's leela began now.19 He first appeared as a hunter and did not find any positive response from Valli to His clever approaches. He turned into a giant venkai tree when Valli's father suddenly appeared on the scene. Thereafter, He took the form of a trembling old man and ate millet flour and honey mixture offered by Valli feigning that He was feeling very hungry. He proposed to wed her, much to the chagrin of Valli. Finally, Muruga invoked the blessings of His elder brother Ganesa for success of His mission. On the fervent appeal of His younger brother, Ganesa appeared as a wild elephant in the forest and began to chase Valli. Terrified by the mighty pachyderm's menacing advance, Valli ran for protection and came straight into the arms of Muruga.20

Old Man Murugan 'saves' Valli from rogue elephant Ganapati
At that moment, Murugan invoked the help of his brother Vināyaka who appeared behind Valli in the shape of a frightening elephant. The terror-stricken girl rushed into the arms of the elderly ascetic for protection. Painting from Tiruttani Devasthanam.

Muruga's abodes are countless. He resides mostly at hilltops.21 Among His holy abodes, six are prominent and these are known as Aaru Padai Veedugal. A vivid portrayal of these six sacred places is found in the opera Tirumurugatruppadai composed by Nakkeerar, the famed poet. The six holy abodes of Muruga are: Tirupparankundram, Tiruchendur, Tiruvavinankudi (Palani), Tiruverakam, Kundrutorādal (Tiruttani and several other hills) and Pazhamutircolai.

In this Kali Yuga, chanting of Muruga's Name acts as a panacea to all sufferings.22 Those who display love to one and all, devoid of hatred, jealousy, passion, anger and avarice and are steadfast in devotion to Muruga, invariably get mental tranquility and everlasting bliss. They do not even fear death.23 The pious saints who lived amidst us and who got Muruga's infinite grace had in fact been in direct communion with Muruga and their experiences with the ever-merciful Lord have found expression in their devotional outpourings. They have attained immortality and serve as a medium for the worldly-minded who are after ephemeral pleasures to become seekers of perpetual spiritual bliss.


1. "Aruvamum uruvamāki anādiyai palavai onrai
Brahmanai ninra jotip pizhampador meniyāki
Karunai koor mugangal ārum karamadu
Pannirandum konde
Oru tiru Murugan vandu ānku vudittanan vulakamuyya"

2. Also known as Subrahmanya, Karttikeya, Visakha, Shanmukha, Kumara, Skanda, Guha and Saravanabhava.

3. Arunagirinatha recalls this happening in his Tiruppukazh hymn "Ayilappu" sung at Kanchipuram.

4. "Skandasya kiirtimatulām Kalikalmasha nāshiniim" (Skanda's sacred story removes all sins and bestows fame and name). - Skanda Purana

5. Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kānda, Sarga 25, stanzas 11-12.

6. Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 10 (Vibhuti Vistara Yoga), stanza 24.

7. A Vedic intonation on Muruga ends thus: "Subrahmanyoham, Subrahmanyoham, Subramanyoham." The repetition of Muruga's name thrice implies the reigning supremacy of the Lord.

8. Arunagirinatha says in one of his Chidambaram Tiruppukazh hymns Yezzhu kadal manalai ('Number of distressful life forms have I assumed over several births would exceed the sands of seven seas.").

9. "Births and deaths by turn do I face,
In mother's womb lie I again and again.
Ocean of life this, impassable and boundless is.
Oh Murari, have mercy and protect me!
-Adi Shankara in Bhaja Govindam

10. Stanza 12 of Kandar Anubhuti declares this truth in unequivocal terms.

11. Note the title of Kalidasa's masterly literary piece on Muruga. He calls it Kumara Sambhavam ('The appearance of Kumara') and not Kumara Jananam ('The birth of Kumara').

12. The credit for translating this magnum opus into Tamil, and that at the command of Muruga, goes to Kachiyappa Sivachariar, who lived in Kanchipuram and was the priest in the temple of Kumarakottam. It is believed that his sacred book has the stamp of approval of the Lord.

13. "Piqued at his ignorance (of the substance of Pranava)
Once did Thou dishevel the tuft of the Four-faced Brahma in the twink of an eye;
The Threesome beseeching Thee at Thy twin feet
Did Thou set free Brahma from captivity..."
-Tiru Ezhukkootrirukkai (Arunagirinatha)

14. Gurunatha Who preached upadesa mantra into the two ears of Siva to His heart's content" (Sivanār Manam Kulira) from Tiruvavinankudi (Palani) Tiruppukazh.

15. A different version the author happened to hear is that she was the daughter of Upendra, younger brother of Indra. However, the Ashtothara Satha Namavali dedicated to Davayanai refers to her among other names as Vajri Sutā (daughter of Vajrapani [Indra] which contradicts this version. That Devayanai was the daughter of Indra is confirmed by Arunagirinatha when he refers to Devayanai as Vajrapanik-kumari in his Bhuta Vetala Vakuppu and to Muruga's wedding to "Indra's daughter" in Tiruchendur Tiruppukazh 'Padar Buviyin'.

16. Asurar Kulantaka (Yama to the Asura race), so eulogizes Arunagirinatha in one of his compositions.

17. Sage Sivamuni and the deer were none other than Lord Visnu and Śrī Lakshmi; sage Kanva had cursed them to take these births.

18. A thick, sweet and edible tuberous root.

19. It is seen from the Tiruppukazh song Talai Mayi Kokkukku... (Pazhamutircolai) that Muruga proceeded to wed Valli without the knowledge of Devayanai.

20. "Lord who came as elephant and blessed young Muruga to marry that hunter girl (Valli) that very moment" runs a Tiruppukazh song in praise of Vinayaka (Kaitala Niraikani)

21. Devotees call Muruga as Kundrutor Aadum Kumaran, 'Kumara who resides on every hill'.

22. Muruga Himself is said to have told Narada, "Those who have sought refuge in Me have no fear, they won't be left with any wants; those who are devoted to Me have no enemies, they have no diseases..."

23. Arunagirinatha in the concluding verse of his Kandar Alankaram says:
Never shall I fear Yama who follows (me) holding soola and whipping his rope.
Hath I the true help of Vel and the holy Hands of the Six-faced God,
The offspring of the Lord Who consumed the venom that gushed out of the ocean."