Lord Skanda-Murugan

Objectives and Scope of the Second International Conference on Murukan Study and Worship (Mauritius) 24-28 April 2001

Speech delivered at the Inaugural Function by Conference Chairman Dr. G. John Samuel

It gives me immense pleasure to stand before you in this august function which aims at inaugurating the Second International Conference on Lord Murukan in this beautiful, serene and lovely country Mauritius, a country that is going to receive in abundance the blessings of Lord Murukan, a metaphor for valour, piety, youthful vigour, beauty and above all a powerful unifying symbol of the Tamil community scattered all over the world. The traces for the origin of this powerful cult or faith are discernible in the Indus Valley civilization, a great culture of the Dravidian ethnic group, which flourished 6,000 years ago and which was invaded and destroyed by the nomads who are believed to be the Aryans and who pushed the Dravidians from North to far more southern part of the Indian peninsula.

The earliest extant Tamil literature, popularly known as Cankam literature, describes Lord Murukan as the god of the hilly tribes known as the people of Kurinci. This is expressed in Tolkappiyam as Ceyon mey maivarai ulakam. This simple worship of the hilly tribes gradually started spreading in the length and breath of Tamilnadu and thus a regional worship became a Tamil national cult by about the second or third century AD when the six abodes of Lord Murukan were defined and enumerated and temples were built for him in conformity with the codes specified in the agamas.

The Kurinci Murukan was the beloved bridegroom of the beautiful damsel or the hilly tribe namely Valli and he was described as the son of Korravai or Kali which is obvious from the attributions korravaic ciruva and palaiyol in ancient Tamil classics. He has no father or a brother as long as he was restricted in the Tamil soil only to the Kurinci land. His archenemy was Cur, a destructive power that has grown up in the mythology to a gigantic proportion to become Curapatman portrayed in a larger scale as a cosmic antagonist, an embodiment of cosmic evil in Murukan literature. The Kurinci Murukan belongs to the little tradition and he was worshipped with the frenzied dance of his priest velan with a lance in hand and he is appeased with the sacrifice of animals in his Veriyatukkalam.

The other form of Murukan worship with a Sanskritised tinge became popular in the urban areas of Tamilnadu and this belongs to a bigger tradition interwoven with lot of mythical and philosophical backgrounds where this culture hero is depicted as the husband of two women, Valli and Teyvayanai.

The fascinating deity of Murukan, the God of war, is the God of Tamil language also and his association with Tamil language, literature and culture has been depicted powerfully by various bards of the corpus of Tamil Murukan literature. In fact, Murukan is a metaphor for the Tamil community and a unifying symbol of the Tamil population spread all over the world. He is a part of the superstructure of the Tamil ethos and his life story is nothing but the history of the Tamil society. Consequently, any research in depth on Murukan will lead to an intensive study of Tamil society itself. Murukan's whole mythology can be divided into two broad categories on the basis of its theme namely the Akam and Puram by which the ancient Tamil literary tradition is divided. The entire Valli episode is completely in harmony with the akam tradition whereas Murukan's confrontation with Cur confine to the Puram tradition. Consequently, any study on Murukan will be nothing but the study of the Tamil ethos and the deity Murukan is a crystallized form of the ideals of the Tamil community who accepted him as their culture hero from time immemorial.

The regional Murukan worship spread into the urban areas in the period of Paripatal and Tirumurukarrupatai and in course of time has become a Tamil national worship. With the growing interaction of the Tamil community with the North Indian society there was a happy commingling of the cult of Skanda-Karttikeya and even with the Greek Dionysus with the Tamil Murukan cult and thus it has grown to the level of a faith that has a wider Indian national perspective, and became a pan-Indian worship. Now it has become an international cult, thanks to the migration of our people to various countries coupled with the efforts of globalization that has converted the entire universe into a small global village with the advent of the greatest developments in the field of information technology.
Institute of Asian Studies
Institute of Asian Studies, Chennai, venue of the First International Conference Seminar on Skanda-Murukan in 1998

But, for the past 6,000 years, from the faint origin of this cult in the Indus valley civilization to its tremendous growth in our era of computer technology, no attempts have been made to pool together all Murukan scholars and devotees in one place and to promote the Kaumara studies at the international level. When my student and friend Mr. Patrick Harrigan, from the United States of America, our late Prof. M. Shanmugam Pillai of the Institute of Asian Studies and myself sat and discussed about this mission continuously days and months together, we were thrilled to learn that we were entering into a magnificent project on a fascinating deity and his complex cult. Our loud thinking blossomed full into a fragrant flower when we organised the First International Seminar Conference on Murukan-Skanda in Chennai where more than 130 delegates representing 23 countries of the five continents of the world gathered in the campus of the Institute of Asian Studies accepting my invitation for a healthy discussion and dialogue on all aspects of this fascinating deity.

It was indeed a thrilling experience to see together the devotees and the scholars belonging to various ethnic groups and various countries gathered together in our campus and discussed on all aspects of this Tamil deity in an enchanting location conducive for academic research. At the concluding day, the devotees and scholars gathered together with a sense of universal fraternity and overwhelmingly voted for the creation of an International Centre for the Study of Murukan-Skanda, a centre that is organising the present conference seminar and all the future conferences.

It was the wish of our late Honorable Thondaman, the Minister of Sri Lanka to have the Second Conference in Colombo; but his unfortunate demise and the political situation in Sri Lanka compelled us to explore another venue to host this mega event. I am happy that his grandson Honorable Arumugan Thondaman is with us today to see the hosting of the Second Conference in Mauritius and am sure that with his cooperation we will host one of our future conferences in Sri Lanka in due course.

When I visited Reunion and Mauritius last February, I was able to meet a number of it enthusiastic Tamil youths of this land who are very proud of their hoary cultural past showing keen interest in hosting the Second Conference at Mauritius. I am grateful to all of them including my respected friends Mr. Maga Ramasamy, Mr. Vijeyen Moorghen, Mr. Kesavan Sornum and others for their active interest and Dr. Nilamegame of Reunion who was instrumental for having organised this conference in Mauritius, a land where we see the presence of Lord Murukan in all her wonderful high heavens, the deep valleys, the fascinating woods, the ever green sugarcane fields and the rippling waves of the attractive and enchanting ocean. We are sure that this conference will be organised in all the 23 countries in due course where the Tamil community live in abundance and this will be a powerful and potential tool in bringing together the scattered Tamil diaspora and promote solidarity among them.

The main message of the Murukan faith or Murukan cult is still relevant to the modern age of science and technology, an age which is witnessing innumerable achievements in the field of information technology. The Curasamhara, which is a very significant episode of the Murukan mythology, is still relevant today. Cur, the metaphor of cosmic chaos, is not only slain by the protagonist Murukan but also converted into a rooster which has become an object of worship to the devotees along with Lord Murukan himself. Any power in nature cannot be destroyed but can be sublimated into another power. Here, the destructive power of Cur is sublimated into an amiable force by the Lord and thus the evil force, after sublimation, has also become an object of worship in the form of a rooster, the presence of which can be seen in the flag of this deity. This may be treated as a good message of the entire corpus of Murukan literature for which a powerful artistic form was given by the Tamil poet Kacciyappar, the author of Kantapuranam, a story that blossomed in the Tamil ethos. In this sense the God of war has become a God of peace, God of protection, and God of love and compassion, a symbol of universal peace. The fight or conflict here is between darkness and light, wisdom and ignorance and in a way between good and evil in which the evil in converted into an amiable creative power.

Now, it is our duty to strengthen the International Centre for the study of Murukan-Skanda newly established in the Tamil city of Chennai. This centre has been registered as a non-profit public limited company under the Indian Companies Registration Act. You can help the academic activities of this centre by your generous donations or outright purchase of shares. This will help the organisation to take up more and more projects, which aim at promoting Murukan studies at the international level and foster a symbiotic relationship among the Tamil community.

May this second conference help us to revive and strengthen our social and ethnic identity, an identity that need not embrace narrow-minded parochialism, but can be broader in its outlook. Secular countries like India and Mauritius are characterised by their complex and variety of ethnic groups. Unity in diversity is the strength of our countries. By establishing our own identity namely the Tamil identity, we can also learn how to value and respect the cultural identities of the other communities. Respect on one's own community and identification of one's own ethnic origin will help to respect the ethnic identities of others. This attitude will help us to build up a stronger India or a stronger Mauritius. It should not pave the way for cultural dichotomy but should show the way to promote cultural harmony and solidarity and in this respect conferences of this kind will help to strengthen the unity in our countries.

Contact the author:

Dr. G. John Samuel
E-mail: homelanḍxlweb.com

Message of the Mauritius National Organising Committee
Murukan Conference home page
More research articles about Skanda-Murukan