Lord Skanda-Murugan

Synopsis: "The legitimisation of a North Indian form of Skanda worship in the UK: the transmigration of Baba Balaknath from rural Punjab to urban centres of Britain"

Ron Geaves and Catherine Barnes

The regional cult of Bababalaknath arrived in Britain from the Jalandhar Doab in the Punjab with migration from that region. Traditionally the followers of the deity have been drawn from both Hindu and Sikh communities in the Punjab and they demonstrate the informal and eclectic religious life associated with the region. The increasing attempts to place Baba Balaknath at the heart of Sanatana Dharma provide a case study to illustrate the processes whereby a rural 'folk' tradition seeks access to a perceived orthodoxy represented by several traditions within contemporary Hinduism. The dominant tradition associated with Baba Balaknath is that he is an incarnation of the son of Shiva usually known as Skanda or Kartak. Visual depictions of Baba Balaknath are very similar to South Indian visualisations of Murukan.

The article explores the regional folk cult of Baba Balaknath as it moves from its major centre of worship in the Himalayan foothills of Himachal Pradesh down to the plains of the Punjab and then to on to several cities of the West Midlands in Britain. At each location the cult picks up practices and beliefs which are dominant in the religion of the new locality but retains the dominant motif of Skanda worship.

On its arrival in Britain, the priests of the cult have adopted a variety of strategies that legitimise the folk tradition and aid it in adapting to the new environment. These strategies fall into the category of universalisation or sanskritisation. Study of the transmigration of the worship of Baba Balaknath from the Punjab to Britain provides a unique insight into the transformation of a regional Hindu folk cult as it attempts to legitimise itself through moving closer to the 'Great Tradition' in Hinduism or adopting an eclectic universalism.


Ron Geaves is Head of the Study of Religions at University College Chichester. He has published several articles on a variety of faith communities that have successfully transmigrated to Britain from the subcontinent. His last book was entitled The Sufis of Britain and was published in 2000. He has traveled extensively in Northern India and last year completed a tirath yajna in Himachal Pradesh accompanying a group of devotees of Baba Balaknath.

Catherine Barnes is a secondary teacher of religious education who completed her degree in Religious Studies at the University of Leeds. Her interest in Baba Balaknath arose from her studies of Hinduism in Britain. She collaborated on the article after a visit to the guffar of Baba Balaknath in Himachal Pradesh.

See also Dr. Geaves' related article "Baba Balaknath: an exploration of religious identity" delivered to the British Association for the Study of Religions' Annual Conference September 16th - 19th 1996 at University College of St. Martin, Lancaster.

Dr. R. A. Geaves
University of Wolverhampton, UK
Religious Studies Division
Walsall Campus, Gorway Road
Walsall, WS1 3BD
England UK

Tel: +44(0)1902 323280
Fax: +44(0)1902 323177
e-mail: R.A.Geaves@wlv.ac.uk