Murugan Bhakti: A User's Manual
by Patrick Harrigan
Muruga bhakti enjoys growing global popularity in the 21st Century. And yet few, even among Tamils, truly understand or appreciate Muruga bhakti. In this article, an American bhakta explores the origins, history, typology, and applications of Muruga bhakti in terms of his own experiences since the early 1970's.
From 9-12 August 2012, Malaysia hosts the 2012 International Conference on Muruga Bhakti. This is the conclusion of conference participant Patrick Harrigan's contribution, an Introduction to Murugan Bhakti.
The best way to cultivate the bhāvas, I find, is simply to talk. Not to others necessarily, but directly to Lord Murugan Himself. Or, if He seems not to be listening for some reason, then say it to oneself, as though He is present and hearing every word—indeed, hearing every thought! Say it in different ways, even in different languages, if you can. Rehearse until you could say it perfectly, if He ever decided to appear suddenly before you, rather as you might rehearse asking your boss for a salary raise. (Of course, Murugan bhaktars get no salary, or very little, but the benefits alone make it worthwhile. And the pension plan is out of this world.)
Once I had worked up the courage to speak to Lord Murugan as if to my Boss—regardless of whether He chose to speak to me, or not—I found that the sakhya bhāvaor attitude of a friend was manifesting itself. Now I could address Him on familiar terms, take Him wherever I went, share little jokes with Him, and maybe even tease Him about old allegations that He is a thief and a rogue and so on. This is a relaxed bhāva in which one can ‘hang out’ with the Lord as one’s closest friend. Of course, it also entails being temporarily forgetful of exactly Whom one is conversing with. But even forgetfulness may be put to good use in bhakti yoga.
With vātsalya bhāva or the attitude of a mother towards her child, the application to yoga is of course easier if one happens to be a woman who can picture Murugan as her own child. Alternatively, as in my case, one may see Him in His aspect as the playful divine Child, and reciprocate. That is, if Murugan or Skanda Kumāra likes to relate to me as a child, then let us relate to one another as children do, by talking and playing together as children do.
The challenge here, as many bhaktars can testify, is twofold. Firstly, if Kumāra is a child, then He is one very precocious and powerful child. He likes to play ‘hard ball’, so playing with Him can be bruising. So if you sign up to play with Him, be prepared for some hard knocks.
The other challenge is that, if we wish to play with Him, then we have to play His games by His rules. And of course, there is no rulebook, for the games that He and the other devas (angelic beings) play are utterly beyond human comprehension.
Fortunately for us, Bāla Murugan is also very kind and patient when introducing us to His mysterious play activities. So although we stand no chance of ever beating Him at His own game, He knows this and is constantly making it easy for us by offering clues, hints, and encouragement that draw us ever deeper into His divine play.
Of course, He also has His favorite playgrounds, like Kathirkāmam, Palani, and so on, which are laid out like game boards for His playmates to explore. But His favorite most game of hide-and-seek is played out in the innermost recesses of one’s own heart, where He is Guha, the Secret One dwelling in the cave hidden deep within His bhaktars’ hearts.
Regarding madhura bhāva or the attitude of a person towards his/her lover, I am not in a position to expound on its application from my own experience. Certainly Vaḷḷi and Teyvānai Amman would know very well, and a very select few blessed bhaktars who have achieved that level of bhāva samādhi. I salute those bhaktars, and confess my own ignorance.
To Be Continued