Lord Skanda-Murugan

The Iconography of Goddess Kaumārī or Kanyā Kumārī

Kaumari or Kanya Kumari
Kaumārī, the ever-youthful deity, represents the ever-present force of aspiration of the evolving soul. She is Guru Guhā (Guru Guha being one of the names of Kumāra or Skanda whose energy she is) the guru (guide, teacher) in the 'guhā' (the cave of the heart, the intellect)."

According to the Matsya Purāna1 the Kaumārī image should have peacock as the vahana; she should be clad in the red cloth and must have śakti and śūla as her weapons.

Kumārarūpā Kaumarī mayūravaravāhanā |
raktavastradharā tad vacchūlaśaktidharā mata2

The Devi Purāna3 describes Kaumārī thus:

Kumārarūpadhāri ca Kumāra-jananī tathā |
Kumāraripuhantri ca Kaumārī tena sā smrtā

In the well-known Taittirīya Aranyaka (10th Book) passage Durgā is addressed as Kanyā Kumārī.4 She was regarded as a member of the family of ‘seven Mothers' all of whom were looked upon as the different aspects of the goddess Śakti or Durgā, the spouse of Mahādeva. In course of time this goddess (Kaumārī) was made Kārttikeya's wife and came also to be known as Kumārī or Kārttikeyāni.5

The name Kumārī instinctively reminds us of the term ‘Kanyā Kumārī' applied to Durgā in the well-known Taittiriya Aranyaka passage, referred to above. There is reason to believe that Kumārī is a shorter form of the term ‘Kanyākumāri' which is both the name of a place (the southernmost point of the Indian peninsula) and that of a goddess.

The Matsya Purāna6 describes her as the daughter of Lalitā and mentions Māyipuri as a place sacred to her, Māyāpuryām Kumāri tu santāne Lalitā tathā; she is also mentioned in the Brahmānda, IV.26-73-117 where her military skill has been eulogised. According to this account the goddess Kumārī killed all the sons of the demon Bhanda.

Reference to the worship of the goddess Kaumārī or Kumārī at Cape Comorin is found in the famous Periplus7, written by an unknown Greek sailor in the second half of the 1st century A.D.

The earliest Kaumārī sculpture goes back to the Gupta period. Her image along with those of other ‘Mothers' is found near Eran.8 Her icon is also to be noticed in the Ele­phanta Cave (as has been noted above), where she is distinctly called Kārttikeyānī. The goddess here has two arms and she is seen seated upon the peacock. A four-armed Kāumāri image (Fig. 29) was found at Bheraghat (Jabalpur, M.P.). It was assigned to the Kusāna period by R.D. Banerji9 ; the writer in J.A.S.B. (Letters), Vol. XXII. pp. 237 ff., however, places this image in the second half of the 7th century A.D.10 The image is headless with all the hands broken. Another 7th-century Kaumārī sculpture is found in the Gwalior museum; the image is two-armed and has śakti and lotus as the attributes.11 A number of 8th-century sculptures of the ‘seven Mothers' including that of Kaumārī were recovered from the river Vaitarani "where they were tossed by the Mughuls on their shrines being destroyed"12. Plate 1, fig. 4 of the M.A S.L, No. 44 is a huge four-armed image of the goddess Kaumārī (Fig. 30) with a pot-bellied child seated on the left knee. The deity has an unaffected smile on her lips. The goddess is very boldly executed with peacock, carved on the base; much prominence has been given to the two breasts. Plate IX, fig. 1 (ibid) is another Kaumārī image found from Puri (Fig. 31); this image is more sophisticated than the Jajpur icon and is perhaps of somewhat later date.


  1. 261.27.
  2. Cf. Devimāhātmya,VIII. 17.
  3. 307.85.
  4. Kātyāyanyā vidmahe Kanyākumārī dhīmahi, tan no Durgā pracodayāt.
  5. The latter name is found on the pedestal of the image of the goddess in the Elephanta Cave No. I (See R.D. Bannerji's Eastern Indian School of Mediaeval Sculpture. Plate LXIIIa, where the name is spelt as ‘Kārttikāinī').
  6. 13.34.
  7. Page 46, para 58 of Schoff's edition ; see also Imperial Gazetteer of India, Vol. X, p. 36; we reproduce below the original passage from the Periplus, "Beyond this there is another place called Comari at which are the cape of Comari and a harbour; hither come those men who wish to Consecrate themselves for the rest of their lives, and bathe and dwell in celibacy; and women also do the same ; for it is told that a goddess once dwelt here and bathed."
  8. See E.L, Vol. XXVI, p. 117 (fn. 2).
  9. M.A.S.I., No. XXIII, p. 78.
  10. For the fig. see J.A.S.B. (Letters) Vol. XXII, Plate IB.
  11. Sec ibid., Plate IIC.
  12. See M.A.S.I., No. 44 Exploration in Orissa, p. 3; also Chandraśekhar Banerjee's article ‘An account of the antiquity of Jajpur in Orissa' in J.A.S.B., XL, part I, p. 153.


  1. Banerji, R.D. Eastern Indian School of Mediaeval Sculpture. Delhi, 1933.
  2. Schoff, W.H. Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. London, 1912.
  3. Exploration in Orissa (M.A.S.I., No. 3).

From Chatterjee, Asim Kumar. The Cult of Skanda-Karttikeya in Ancient India (Calcutta: Punthi Pustak, 1970) pp. 139-141.

Other research articles on Skanda-Murukan

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  • "Significance of Kaumara Icons"
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  • "Vallakkottai Murukan Temple"
  • "Karttikeya Images of Ancient Java"
  • "Skanda Images in Ancient Cambodia"
  • "17 Iconographical Aspects of Subrahmanya"
  • 19th Century Bengali Watercolor of Karttikeya
  • Skanda upon Peacock, 11th-12th Cent Chola Granite
  • Galleries of Kaumara Iconography

  • Gallery One: Tiruvavaduthurai Adheenam
  • Gallery Two: 1920's - 40's collection
  • Gallery Three: early to late 20th century
  • Gallery Four: 1930-50 lithographs
  • Aru Padai Veedu paintings
  • Paintings of famous temple moolavars