Lord Skanda-Murugan

Synopsis: "Murukan, the Tamil Ideal of Beauty as Divinity: A comparison with Dionysus"

by K. Chellappan

In Murukan, the Tamil ideal of beauty as divinity, we find the syncretic evolution of a religio-aesthetic symbol, from a hill god of the folk of a region into a 'national god' of Tamils and then a spiritual-aesthetic symbol uniting all humanity.

Though Patrick Harrigan connects Murukan, particularly Kataragama, with Dionysus and refers to the cult of Pattini an mystery cult of Mother Goddess of West Asia originally who migrated via Kerala to southern Sri Lanka, he does not connect it with Kannaki in Cilappatikaram. In this paper it is proposed to trace the evolution from Cilappatikaram from the ecstatic dance of the folk to the mystic experience of Arunakirinathar and also examine the affinity with Dionysus.

In Cilapatikaram Murukan is the deity of the hunters of hills and we find a synthesis of Pattini cult, Mother Goddess and Velan when Kannaki standing under the venkai tree is identified with Valli and she is said to bring fertility to the land. The apotheosis of Kannaki synchronises with the destruction of her spiritual pride and there is a link between the sublime serenity of Kannaki and the ecstatic Dionysiac dance of the hunters.

Ilango's description of Kannaki is very much like that of Oedipus at Colonus and the ecstatic dance of the folk is also like the dance associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of drama. The ancient Tamil folk seem to enact a catharsis of terror and love similar to the experience of Greek tragedy.

From Tirumurukarruppatai to Tiruppukal we see the evolution of Murukan as a symbol of 'human love divine' as well as beauty as divinity. Though he acquires certain metaphysical dimensions due to accretion from Sanskrit myths, the naturalistic and aesthetic core is still retained. He becomes the symbol of the sixth element, siddha becoming one with five elements.

Here is a parallel with Shiva also, but in Shiva the Apollonian element subsumes the Dionysian element. Murukan embodies the Siddhanta view of human soul experiencing God as an extension of the Akam experience. The Tamil god of love merging with the northern version of warrior god becomes a symbol of silent wisdom in the curve of the soul. Nature images are transformed into metaphysical concepts of malas and mythical asuras but all the time the light piercing the hill or the sea is maintained.

Like Dionysus (and the dancing Shiva) Muruga is also a reconciler of oppositers, aesthetic and spiritual. Arunakiri's Tiruppukal (Eru Mayil) illustrates this. The myth of his origin in relation to Krttika nymphs shows a parallel with that of Dionysus, but this is only the attribute of Karttikeya and not Murukan. But both Dionysus and Murukan are linked with beauty and truth, fire and water, the two kinds of play -- lila and art, eroticism and spirituality, the sublime and the simple, love of man for God and love of God for Man.