Murugan - the Hindu God of Tamils
Worship of Subramanya (or Shiva Kumar, the son of Lord Shiva) was in fact one of the formal religious sects recognized and sanctified by Shri Shankaracharya and this sect was known as Koumaram. As Shri Sankaracharya hails from Kerala, it is quite obvious that he was quite familiar with the tradition of worship of Muruga, existing all along in the Hindu culture of the south.
The word Murugan means one who is handsome. In India, naming children with popular names of God is very widely practiced. The name Murugan and his numerous other names like Velmurugan, Saravanan, Karthigeyan, Senthil, Arumugam, Subramaniyan, Subbaiah, Swaminathan, Velan, Kadirvel, Kandan, Kandaswamy, Kadamban, Kumar, Kumaraswamy, Shivakumar, Shanmukham, Palani (it is actually the name of one of his abodes), Palaniswamy, Muthu Kumaran, Muthukumaraswamy etc are widely used in naming children and a vast majority in the above names are quite typical to Tamils.
The birth of Murugan
Murugan is actually Subramanya, the son of lord Shiva. According to mythology, Murugan was born out of the fire that emanated from Lord Shiva's third eye - his eye at the middle of his forehead, when he opened it to burn Manmata (a lord of love and romance) who tried to disturb Shiva's meditation and turn his mind towards romance. The very purpose of birth of Muruga was to annihilate the two demons Tarakasura and Surapadma. Elaborate details of this mythology can be obtained from "Skanda Puranam". The tamil poetic version of this mythology is also available, known as "Kanda Puranam" written by the poet Kacchiappa Sivachariyar (1350-1420).
Realizing the highest truth of the Atman (and its oneness with the Brahman) is called gnyana (true knowledge) in Hinduism. Attaining this knowledge is also known as the opening of the "third eye" in a person. Lord Murugan, who was born on account of the opening of the third eye of Lord Shiva is a knower of the supreme truth and is therefore referred to as "Gyana Panditan" (An exponent of Supreme knowledge).
The holy Hindu syllable "Om" is said to encapsulate the Supreme knowledge; one who knows the profoundest meaning of Om is indeed a Gyani who knows the Supreme Truth. According to mythology, Murugan, even as a little boy was aware the meaning of Om.
Once lord Brahma, the creator of the Universe, out of egotism, failed to show due respect to Lord Murugan, who was then a little boy. Murugan cornered Lord Brahma to expound the meaning of Om to him and the later could not do it. Murugan imprisoned him citing his incompetence.
Lord Shiva who came to the rescue of Brahma, questioned his little son's authority to imprison the God of creation; he wondered whether Murugan knew anything about Om. Murugan, the little master was bold enough to tease his father that if Lord Shiva too didn't know the meaning of Om, he could very well learn from him, provided he came to him very politely, like an earnest student who wants to learn from his master.
Lord Shiva agreed at once. Like an obedient student, he sat low in front of his son, with one hand close to his chest and the other hand closing his mouth (this is a traditional way of showing respect to Guru and Saints). Murugan then expounded the secret behind Om secretly in the ears of Lord Shiva.
Since Murugan thus became a saint who taught to the very lord of the universe, he was called Swaminathan. In Tamil, he is hailed as "Thagappan Sami" - one who became a Guru to his own father.
Ramana Maharishi, of Tiruvennamalai, a very famous Gyani par excellence, is considered by his ardent devotees to be an incarnation of Lord Muruga. Though he has not written any hymns about Muruga, his cryptic poems are a source of treasure which contains the essence of his philosophical teachings.
A very famous temple of Swaminathan (i.e. Murugan), situated at Swamimalai (near Kumbakonam at Tamil Nadu, India) is associated with the above mythological story. Swamimalai, is incidentally one of the "Arupadai Veedu"s (6 great abodes of Lord Murugan, situated in Tamil nadu).
The other 5 "padai veedu"s are : Thiruttani, Palani, PazhamudirSolai, Thirupparankundram and Thiruchendur. "Thirumurugatruppadai" is a famous and ancient Tamil literature written by poet Nakkirar which contains the stories of the wondrous divine play of Lord Murugan in all these 6 main abodes.
Several Tamil saints have had the divine vision of Lord Muruga. A couple of them have been initiated to writing poetry by the lord himself. "Thiruppugazh" by the saint Arunagirinathar is a wonderful piece of Tamil poetry containing poems pregnant with devotion on Muruga and they overflow with beauty, rhyme and rhythm. Kumaragurupara Swamigal is another poet, who's "Kandar Kali Venba" and "Muthukumaraswami Pillai Thamizh" are wonderful pieces of devotion and literary content. "Kanda sashti Kavacham" is another very popular hymn known to most of the devotees of Muruga, written by by Devaraya Swamigal.
"Muththaiththiru" Lord Muruga gave this word and Arunagiriyar started singing...
Murugan is worshiped by Tamils at many occasions specially considered conducive to his worship right through a year. "Thaipusam" is one important festival, celebrated in the Tamil month "Thai" (January-February). The significance of the day is that it was on this occassion he was given a "Vel" (lance) by his mother Parvati to destroy the demons (Surapadma and Tarakasura).
"Skanda Shasti" is another auspicious period of six days coming in the Tamil Month "Aippasi" (October-November). This period is spent doing fast and prayer on Muruga. "Vaikasi Visakam" or the full moon of the Tamil month of Vaikasi (May-June) is Murugan's birth day.
Tamils and Murugan - a global phenomenon
Across the globe, wherever Tamil community is settled in large numbers, temples have come up for worship of Lord Muruga. In Srilanka, The Kadirkama Skanda temple in Kadirkamam and the Nallur Kandaswamy temple in Jaffna are very famous. So also are the Murugan Temple at Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur (Malasia), Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road, Singapore, Highgate Hill Murugan temple at United Kingdom and the Sydney Murugan temple in Parramatta (Mays Hill)at Australia.
Lord Muruga and His Six Abodes in Tamil Nadu, India
There is a great story telling about the incarnation of Lord Muruga. In legend it is told that once Devas had been ill-treated and imprisoned by the demon Soora Padman and his brothers. And the demons had been the challenge to the Devas as no one from their side had power to kill them. So, all of them went to Lord Shiva's home for praying Him to get the solution. On hearing their problem Lord Shiva decided to find a solution. In Hinduism it is well known that Lord Shiva has another important eye on His forehead. He opened His forehead eye and used His all power to create Six Great Fire Sparks emitting heat energy. Now once again Devas started to be suffering from the heat energy came from that fire sparks. So all of them ran again to Lord Shiva to get His grace. Lord Shiva called Lord Agni(God of Fire) and Lord Vayu(God of Air) to carry those great fire sparks. But, fire sparks were so powerful that those Gods could not get near them. God Shiva gave power to carry them and ordered to drop them in the holy river Ganges. After dropping the sparks, the whole river Ganges shrank to a small stream. Then the fire sparks had been cooled down and changed to six beautiful babies and they were lying on six beautiful lotus flowers. Lord Shiva arranged six beautiful maidens called 'Karthigai Pengal'(Women of Karthiga) to look after the babies. When the babies attained a certain age Lord Shiva blessed them and made them as one person (i.e.) God Muruga. Then Lord Shiva asked His son Lord Muruga to proceed to the world of Devas on His mission of subduing the demons and freeing the Devas from their cruel bondage with the demons. Devi Parvathi presented His son the weapon called Gnan and Sakthi Vel before starting the war against the demons. Lord Shiva arranged another person called Veera Bhagu to assist Lord Muruga in that war. In the war Lord Muruga killed all the demons and saved the Devas from them.
Lord Muruga has six famous abodes in Tamil Nadu which are collectively known as 'Arupadai Veedu'. In tamil 'Aru' means six and 'Veedu' means home. Every abode of Lord Muruga commemorating an event mentioned in the puranas(old stories). Thiruparankundram, Thiruchendur, Palani, Swamimalai, Thiruthani and Palamuthircholai are His six abodes.
Lord Thiruparankundram Murugan
This is the first abode of Lord Muruga lying on the outskirts of the city Madurai in Tamil Nadu. God here is worshipped as Lord Subramanyam and this is where He wedded Shri Deivanai, daughter of Deivendiran, the leader of Devas, in the presence of Sun and Moon. In legend it is told that after having won the demons, the Lord was honoured and celebrated by offering Deivanai as His consort. This was to thank the Lord to save them from cruel bondage with the demons.
The temple is situated at the foot of 700 foot high rock and it has separate shrines for Lord Ganapathy, Lord Shiva, Devi Durga and Lord Vishnu. The Entrance of temple is having 48 Nayakkar period pillars with artistic cravings engraved on them. The speciality of Thiruparankundram is that the innermost shrine has been craved from a single rock. Another interesting fact is the presence of subsidiary cave shrines excavated in the rock. Thiruparankundram is also celebrated as an auspicious place for conducting marriages.
On the left side of the temple we can find 'Saravana Poigai' a holy water tank from where water will be brought by the elephant for 'Abhisekam'(Pouring water or any other holy thing on the idol of the God)
Lord Thiruchendur Murugan
Tiruchendur is said to have second importance among Lord's six abodes. Here He is worshipped in various names such as Lord Senthi Andavar, Lord Senthil Nathan and Lord Senthil Kumar. This is unique abode of Lord Muruga which is situated on the seashore whereas other abodes are on the top of hills.
This is believed that the temple was built by Thesigamoorthy Swamigal belonging Thiruvaduthurai Adeenam about 300 years ago. The main tower is 137 foot high and is 90 ft by 65 ft at base. It has 9 levels to indicate 9 kalasams which are placed on the top of the tower. There are two corridors in the temple where we can see various deities. After circumambulating two corridors we can reach Mahamandapam from where you can enter inner area lying infront of the sanctum from where you can see main deity Lord Senthi Nathan.
This shrine is famous for the festival 'Kantha Sashti' which is cordially celebrated every year. On that day thousands of devotees assembled on the sea shore to see the climax of the festival in which Lord kills the demons Soora Padman and his brothers.
Lord Palani Murugan
This is the third abode of Lord Muruga where He stands on the top of 150 m high rock. Here He gets the name Shri Dhandayuthapani Swami, the lord is having staff in His hand. The deity at the sanctum is made out of an amalgam of nine important minerals called as 'Nava Bashana'. The deity is in bald head and standing position. He is only wearing loin cloth on His hip. He has look of the person who has renounced all worldly pomp. The deity here also called as Lord Palani Andavar, Lord Palani Appan and Lord Andiappan.
There is a legend telling how Lord Muruga came to this sacred shrine. Shri Narada Muni, a sage, once brought a golden mango to the home of Lord Shiva when He is seated with His consort and children Lord Vinayaka and Lord Muruga. Narada Muni gave the fruit to Lord Shiva and prayed Him to eat it since it was rare and fruit of Gnan(fruit of wisdom). As a loving husband the Lord gave it to his consort and asked her to eat it. But, She liked to gave that to their children. Only problem here is that was to be eaten wholly to get the total benefits. Since it was the fruit of wisdom Lord Shiva announced a contest and said that the winner would be given the fruit. He said whoever completes one round of the globe first would get Gnan Fruit. Lord Muruga immediately mounted on His vehicle peacock to go around the world. But, Lord Vinayaka started to think deeply as He has no suitable vehicle as Lord Muruga is having. After some time Lord Vinayaka circumambulated His parents, symbolising the world and got the fruit. On return, Lord Muruga found that He was cheated. In anger, He renounced His family and came to this spot to settle for ever. Lord Shiva and Devi Parvathi came to pacify Him. They named the abode as 'Palani' which means 'you are fruit'.
'Thaipoosam' is cordially celebrated every year here. On those days thousands of pilgrims came here to pay their homage to the Lord. The temple is very spacious with beautiful mandapams and carved pillars. Throughout the year there is an endless stream of devotees to this shrine. Golden Chariot is the speciality of this shrine. Since 1966 a haulage winch transports the pilgrims to the temple. These days rope cars are also driven to transport the pilgrims up and down. There are two other ways to reach the temple on the top of the hill. One goes straigt with somewhat steepy stone steps, but, safe with a lot of Mandapams that have been built on the way so as to facilitate pilgrims taking rest. The other way is called Elephant Path which lies on the left side of the hill. The path is not so steep and would be easy climb up. We can aslo find many small temples and beautiful statues on this way.
Lord Swamimalai Murugan
It is the fourth abode of Lord Muruga. Here our Lord gets the name 'Swami Nathan' as He expounded the the meaning of pranava manthra 'Om' to His father Lord Shiva. The temple is about 5 km away from Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu, on the bank of River Cauveri. In legend it is told that saint Bhrugu before commencing an arduous tavam or penance, got the boon any body disturbing his meditation will forget all his knowledge. Such was the power of the penance the sacred fire emanating from the head of the saint reached up to the heavens and the frightened Devas surrendered to Lord Shiva praying for His grace. The Lord extinguished the sacred fire by covering the saint's head by hand. With saint's penance thus disturbed the Lord became oblivious of all His knowledge and is said to have regained them by learning pranava manthra from Lord Muruga at this shrine.
Once when Brahma, the Lord of all creations was proceeding to Kailash, the child Lord Muruga asked Him for the meaning of pranava manthra, 'Om'. When Brahma admitted His ignorance, the Lord imprisoned Him. With Brahma imprisoned, all creations came to a stand still and the Devas prayed to Lord Shiva to get Brahma released. When Muruga insisted that the imprisonment was a just punishment for the ignorance of Brahma, Lord Shiva asked Him whether He Himself know the meaning of 'Om'. Lord Muruga said that He knew the meaning of 'Om' and can expound the meaning of it only if the latter accept Him as a Guru and listen to the exposition as a devoted desciple. As Lord Shiva acceded to the request of Muruga and heared the exposition of 'Om' as a desciple. The temple is built on an artificial hillock of about 60 foot height with beautiful laid stone steps representing the Hindu cycle of sixty Tamil years leading to the Lord. In the ground floor there are temples dedicated to Lord Sundareswarar and Goddess Meenakshi. Every year Chitra Pournami is celebrated in this shrine.
Lord Thiruthani Murugan
According to puranas Lord Muruga married Shri Valli in this shrine. The shrine is situated at about 50 km north of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, at 250 m high mountain. Thiruthani is famous for Adi Krithikai festival which comes every year between the months of July and August. On this festival thousands of devotees came here from far and near and offer flower kavadi to Lord Muruga. The sight of devotees who carry them, uttering 'Haro Hara' as they march and dance in long rows touches the very core of of devotees hearts and makes them spellbound. Kantha Sashti is another festival celebrated here in the months of October and November.
The great saint Arunagirinathar praised this as worthy one for prolonged tapas and it compared to the Home of Lord Shiva, Shiva Lokam. On worshipping the Lord Muruga at Thiruthani, the king of snakes Vasuki got his wounds healed which had been caused during the churnning process in the Milky Ocean to get Amrita held by Devas and Demons. It is also told in legend that Lord Brahma propitiated the Lord here at holy spring known as Brahma sonai after his imprisonment by our Lord for His failure to explain the pranava manthra 'OM'
Lord Palamuthircholai Murugan
Lord Maruthamali Murugan
Lord Batu Cave Murugan
This is the sixth abode of Lord Muruga which lies about 19 km away from Madurai, Tamil Nadu. Lord Muruga stands on the top of the hill which can be reached by the motarable road. This is the most beautiful shrine which has been surrounded by green woods, shrubs and hills. At the foot of hills we can see the temple, 'Alakar Kovil' which is one of the important ones of Lord Vishnu. Palamuthircholai is the abode where Lord Muruga stands with her both consorts shri Valli and Shri Deivanai. Though the temple is the simplest of all, it is the most beautiful one with natural scenaries!
Other important temples of Lord Muruga
Maruthamalai Murugan Temple
The shrine is at about 13 km north-west of industrial city of Tamil Nadu Coimbatore. God is standing on the top of the hills called Marutha Malai. We can reach the temple either by climbing up 700 steps or traveling by car or bus through the ghat road leading to he shrine. However we can see the idols and small temples when we climb up the hill through the stone steps. Most of the steps are slant and very easy to pass through them. The story behind the temple is that a thirsty saint was walking through the forest and took refuge under a Marutha tree. To quench his thirst he prayed to Lord Muruga who answered his prayers and water sprang from the Marutha tree. Hence, Lord Muruga has been hailed the lord of Marutha.
Batu cave Murugan Temple
This is very popular Murugan Temple in Malaysia. Every year 'Thaipusam' will be celebrated here. On that day lacs of His devotees from inland and other countries came here to pay their homage to the Lord. This is the premier Hindu pilgrimage site in Malaysia where we need to climb about 272 steps to get dharsan of God. The other speciality of the shrine is 130 foot high Lord Muruga statue.
Kurunji Andavar Temple
Taking the name of flower Kurunji which blooms once in every 12 years in this area God here gets the name Kurunji Andavar. Perhaps it is the most elevated Lord Muruga Temple of the world situated at an altitude of 2,250 m from msl. It was built by an European lady who on coming to India got faith on Lord. The temple is under the control of Lord Dhandayuthapani Swamy temple, Palani. This is where we can enjoy the natural beauty as the shrine is surrounded by deep valleys on three sides.