Lord Skanda-Murugan

Murukan in Cankam Literature:
Veriyattu Tribal Worship

M. Shanmugam Pillai

Text of M. Shanmugam Pillai's paper written for the First International Conference Seminar on Skanda-Murukan in Chennai, Dec. 28-30, 1998. This article first appeared in the September 1999 issue of The Journal of the Institute of Asian Studies.


  1. Tribal Worship
  2. Brahminical worship
  3. Birth of Murukan
  4. Marriage of Murukan
  5. Where Murukan has temples
  6. Stages in the evolution of Murukan worship

The Kurava people of the Cankam Age, living on the mountains, believed that the touch of Murukan on their virgin girls troubled them (Kurinci: 174-175, Nar 288:10, Aka. 98:9-10) and to get rid of it, they should celebrate Veriyattu. This is referred to in literature as Anankutai Murukan (Puram: 299:6); girls having ananku, Netuvel anankuru makalir (Kurincip: 174-175) and in other expressions similar to these. Such celebrations to Murukan are referred to as Muruku Arruppatuttal (Aka. 22:11); Muruku ayartal (Kurunci: 362:1); Veri (Ain. 243:2; Nar. 273:4-5; Pari. 5:15); Veriyayartal (Aka. 182:17-18); Veriyattu (Tol. 63,109). In Ainkurunuru, one of the decads of ten stanzas out of the one hundred stanzas is on Veriyattu. References to this and to the Velan who celebrates this are found in Narrinai, Kuruntokai, Akananuru, Murukarruppatai etc., of Cankam classics.

In Veriyattu, the pucari is called Velan, as he carries with him Murukan's Vel. Naccinarkkiniyar, the commentator says "since he carries with him the Vel of Pillaiyar as his symbol, he is called Velan". Wearing a garland of green leaves, narai, forest mallikai and ventalai (white leaves), he dances possessed by Murukan. His chest is smeared with sandal paste (Muruku. 190-193). He is also called Patimattan and the place where the function celebrated is called Veriyayarkkalam (Muruku. 222; Kurunci 53:3; 360:1; Aka. 98:18-19;114: 1-2). This festival in celebrated at midnight, mostly at the murram (the open space inside the house) of the house where fine sand manal is spread out and beautifully decorated. C Aka. 138:10; Narr. 268:8-9). On one side of it, the cock-flag is planted, decorated with flowers and garlands, and spread with sweet smelling smoke with which god Murukan is invited to be seated. His Katampu seat and vehicle, the elephant, are sung with musical instruments - katampu amar netuvel (Perum.75), pulavarai ariyata pukal putta katampu amarntu (Pari. 19.2).

A goat is hung in a tree, sliced and its blood mixed with red tinai (millet) spread as the Pali - offering of meat. Reciting the names of Murukan, they praise him with vocal music and instruments. They throw mixed flowers and pray to him (Narr. 47:9-10: 173:1-4;322:10-12; Aka. 22:8-11; 98:18-19114:1-3; 138:7-13; 187:17-18).

Murukarruppatai describes in greater detail the Veriyattu performed by Kurava girls. In addition to the details given above, it gives more information. The performance is celebrated in a fearful place. Inviting Murukan, the place is beautifully decorated, served with different kinds of food, different kinds of musical instruments are played and prayers conducted. The cock-flag is raised ceremoniously in a proper manner and ghee and white small gingili are pasted there and the mantras for prayer are recited melodiously, throwing flowers. Each wears two different coloured cloths, one over the other. They tie red threads (kappu) round their wrists. With the blood of strong and sturdy-legged goats, they mix fresh white rice and offer it as Pali. Different kinds of cooked rice in different baskets are offered. Along with the solution of green tamarind, they sprinkle fragrant sandal paste. Garlands of cool cevvari flower and other fragrant flowers are hung around. They pray that all villages of the mountain region should have no hunger, no disease, and no enmity and should have plenty of rain and fertility. The waterfalls on one side make musical sounds and, in consonance with it, many musical instruments are played. They praise also the mighty pinimukam, His elephant, the vehicle and also His peacock.

Velan dances also along with the Kuravars and their girls, under the venkai tree, holding their hands together, drinking toddy and praying to Murukan. In this dance men hold the hands of the girls and dance to the beating the tontaka parai (Muruku. 197). Kuravai dance is mentioned in many places (Muruku. 190-197; Malaipatu. 318-322; Narri. 276:8-10; Puram.129:1-3). Murukan enjoys dancing with girls upon the boulders (Muruku.190-217).

The dances described above seem to be a way of worshipping Murukan by the hill people. He was also worshipped by the people of other regions too. They offer tinai rice with flowers, sacrificing goats, raising cock-flag and offering them to Murukan.

Brahminical worship: Process of Sanskritization

Brahmins pray to Murukan with wet clothes while bathing, with their arms raised above their heads and palms folded together, reciting the six-lettered mantras and offering sweet smelling flowers (Muruku. 184-189). At Tirupparankunram His temple is as high as Mount Meru, where the Pantiya king and his kinsmen and others come and worship. Murukan's temple is also called kottam - Murukan Kottam (Puram. 299:6).

Those who go to Parankunram for worship from Maturai carry with them the necessary materials for pucai - offering: sandal, materials for incense, lights which would not be put out by the breeze, sweet smelling flowers, mulavam, bells, strings, peacock, Kotari, pinimukam etc. (Paripatal.17:1-8). The seventeenth stanza in Paripatal refers to people praying to the tree katampu, the seat of Murukan (Kurinci. 176-177).

The sweet smelling smoke, mixing with the breeze, spreads all over the place where Murukan resides (Paripatal.14:19-20; 18:52-53; 21:50-51). The devotees pray to Him praising the greatness of His avatars, referring to His valorous achievements. They pray to Him, raising their folded palms above their heads, prostrating at his feet and touching them for blessing, praising his fame variously. The mantras praising him are listed in Murukarruppatai (253-276).

Not all are devotees of Murukan, though many may go to His temple and pray to Him. The angry ones, the evil minded ones, those who do not follow the righteous path, those who are concerned only with the pleasures in this world, and believe not in the next world will not attain His feet. The real devotees desire only his blessings and devotion to him.

Birth of Murukan

Cankam literature has a few very short references to the birth of Murukan. Paripatal is the only text which gives detailed description about the birth of Murukan (Paripatal. 5:21-54). During Śiva's union with Umai, the semen which came out was split into six, due to the intervention of Intiran, and each entered into the soul of six sages and stayed into the karpam - wombs of their six wives and they delivered them on six lotus flowers in a pond on the top of the Himalayas. This incident of Murukan's avatar is mentioned elsewhere in Cankam literature in a few places (Muruku. 253-255; Puram. 458-459; Kali. 81-9).

On the day Murukan was born, Intiran became his enemy and tried to destroy him with his Vaccirayutam Halics (vajrayudha). The six at once became one with six faces and twelve hands. The devas each gave Him an instrument, separated from their bodies, to fight against Intiran: The goat, peacock, cock, bow, maran, sword, spear, kotari, malu, kanali, garland and bells. He holds them in His twelve hands and appears majestic with them (Paripatal.5:55-70).

Murukan the chief of the devas, destroyed all the avunars who were giving the devas troubles and relieved them from the avunars (Kurun.1-2; Muruku. 59-60; Paripatal.1:25-28;5:7). Among the avunars that Murukan destroyed, Curan whom he destroyed is very much celebrated. Curan in the form of a mango tree hid himself in the ocean and fought with Murukan, who entered into the sea, cut its base and smashed him. (Muruku.45-46; 50-60; 275).

The destruction of Curan is mentioned in Puram. (23:3-7), Patirruppattu (11:56), Perumpanarruppatai (456-460), Kuruntokai (1:2); Kalittokai (27:15-16; 93:25-27; 104:13-14), Paripatal (1:5; 9:70; 14:18; 18:3-4; 19:101; 21:8;28-29).

Next to be mentioned is his smashing of Mount Krauncam by hurling his Vel (Muruku. 266; Paripatal.8:29; 19:29; 19:26, 102-103). In those days, mountains were flying and roaming about and this mount was on the north Navalantivu. He pierced it with His vel and brought it down.

Marriage of Murukan

Intiran gave his daughter Tevayanai in marriage to Murukan who had destroyed Curan and Krauncam who troubled the devas, and saved them. (Muruku. 6,175; Paripatal. 9.9, 58). She is also referred to as Tevacenai and hence Murukan is referred to as maruvilkarpin vanutal kanavan (Muruku. 6). Then, at Parankunram he also marries Vallinacciyar (Muruku. 101-102; Paripatal. 8:69; 9:67; 14:21-22; 19:95). The two are two different types of marriages. The first is an arranged marriage, perhaps a Sanskritized form, and the second one is in the ancient Tamil tradition of love - kalavu and karpu. Does it indicate the transition to arranged marriage from kalavu and karpu, among the Tamils? The kalavu form here is a little bit different, in the details as described in Cankam classics. It is said that Tevacenai didn't agree for this marriage and the tears she shed then rained like rain all over Parankunram (Paripatal. 9:8-11).

Places where Murukan has temples

Cankam literature also mentions a few important places where Murukan has temples: Tirupparankunram, Tirucciralaivay, Tiruvavinankuti, Tiruverakam, Kunrutoratal and Palamutircolai - the celebrated Pataivitus for Murukan mentioned in Murukarruppatai. Of these six, Kunrutoratal and Palamutircolai do not refer to any particular place. They refer to all the boulders and forest groves where Murukan is supposed to be seated. These are his places everywhere; katum kavum is the expression used in this context (Muruku.223). These are places where Murukan dances kuravai with girls in Veriyattu, to the tune of the waterfalls in the mountains. Muruku amar mamalai (Ain. 306:4); Ceykunram (kurun.1-3); Piranku malai mimicaik katuvul (Kurinci. 208-209). These are places where Murukan resides forever.

Apart from Murukarruppatai, Tirupparankunram and Tirucciralaivay are mentioned elsewhere in Cankam literature. Paripatal refers to Tirupparankunram and the temple there along with its festivals and other features. (Paripatal. 6:69-75; 95; 8:11-16; 21:15; Paritirattu 17:1-2;) Nallantuvanar, the author, celebrates the greatness of this mountain in this text (Paripatal. 6, 8, 11 ,20).

Maturai Marutanilanakanar refers to it as, in his poem in Akan. 59: 10-12,

curmarunku artta cutarilai netuvel
cinammiku murukan tanparan kunrattu
antuvan patiya cantu kelu netuvarai.

Akananuru (59: 10-12) and Kalittokai (Kalittokai. 27:16) refers to it as Vellon kunru.

Tirucciralaivay is referred to in Akananuru (Akam.266:20-21) and in Purananuru (Puram.55:17-21),

The city Velur is named after the Vel of Murukan as reported in Cirupanarruppatai.
tiral vel nutiyil keni
viral vel venri velur

"with flower in the pond
like the mighty spear-head
velur, of the valiant spear and victory"
(Cirupanarruppatai: 172-173)

Its commentator Naccinarkiniyar in his commentary reports a folktale how the city obtained this name.

murukan kaiyil valiyinaiyutaittakiya velinnuti
pole keni pukkappatta verriyaiyutaiya
velale verriyaiyutaiya velur enratu;
nalliyakkotan tan pakaimikutikku anci murukanai
valippattavali avan ikkeniyir puvai vankip
pakaivarai eri enru kanarirkuri, atirpuvaittan
velaka nirumittatoru katai kurirru itanale
velur enru peyarayirru.

"The words, 'With a pond flowering like the tip of the nighty spear of Murukan Velur, the victorious town of the victorious spear', refer to the following story: Once Nalliakkotan overwhelmed by his enemies prayed to Murukan for succor. The god appeared to him in his dream and told him to pluck a flower from a pond and use it as a weapon and destroy his enemies. The flower was Murukan's own spear and this was how the town of Velur got its name." (Note: Vel + Ur = Spear + town).

Three stages in the evolution of Murukan worship

Murukan worship in Cankam literature seems to have had three stages of development in chronological order, the earliest form being Veriyattu. Here Murukan is mostly referred to as Velan and was a non-vegetarian god. Tinai, mixed with the blood of sacrificed goats, was offered to Him. He had no temple or permanent abode. Veriyattu was almost a family worship among the Kurava community living in the mountains and vicinities, (Kunru and Palamutircolai) to relieve the ananku which possessed virgin Kurava girls. In the second stage in the evolution of temples, permanent abodes for Murukan called pataivitus and their co-existence with Veriyattu are described in Tirumurukarruppatai. Temple worship introduced Brahminical influence and threw open the worship of Murukan to all people, local as well as from distant places. The third stage is the Paripatal type when there is no reference to Veriyattu but is a completely sanskritized form of worship of a vegetarian Murukan.

Remnants of the pattern of Veriyattu can be found even now in the annual Kotai festivals for village deities in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. While Veriyattu was a family festival, this is a village festival by groups of people in big villages, each caste having different deities. As most of these deities are non-vegetarian, usually goats and cocks are sacrificed. Goat's blood is mixed with cooked rice and offered. The deity is luxuriously decorated. There will be big pantals in front of the deities and they are beautifully decorated with colored clothes and with palm leaves brought from nearby mountains, with garlands etc., resembling the descriptions of Veriyattu. Each deity has a special instrument, the main deity having usually a Vel or a Tiricul. The komarttati when he gets possessed puts on a special dress kaccai and kalal tied with small bells (Muruku. 208: Kaccinan kalalinan). The komarttati (corresponding to the Velan), when he gets possessed has the Vel or Tiricul in his hands and dances to the accompaniment of group singing and drumming, which go on continuously throughout and blesses the young and old, male and female, and diseased and troubled with - tiruniru holy ash.

The second rite as described in Tirumurukarruppatai is of a different pattern. Nakkirar the author of this text, introduced through Murukan a new Tamil literary genre, arruppatai-Tirumurukarruppatai. Arruppatai is a literary genre where people are helped and directed to reach the places they want to reach - here the six places or Arruppatais of Murukan, for worship. Of the six mentioned only four are places of permanent residence for Murukan, in temples-Tirupparankunram, Tirucciralaivay, Tiruvavinankuti and Tiruverakam. Kunrutoratal and Palamutircolai are places of Veriyattu spread out in all the boulders and their vicinities--malaiyum malaicarnta itamum. Scholars have been trying to identify these expressions with specific places. The expression means dancing on every boulder and in the forest adjacent to them, rich with fruits. Murukan here is referred to as Velan in Tirumurukarruppatai but not while referring to the other four Pataivitus. These two refer to places of Veriyattu spread out in these portions of lands - malaiyum malaicarnta itamum. The description of Murukan worship here is Veriyattu, more elaborate than in any other Cankam texts.

The third stage of Murukan worship described in Paripatal is a completely Sanskritized form of worship. Murukan saved and protected the devas from the tortures of the asuras by killing Curan and the flying mountain Krauncam, by smashing it with his Vel. Intiran gave his daughter Teyvayanai in marriage to Murukan in recognition of His help in saving the devas, which in fact completed the process of Sanskritization of Murukan worship. Even Valli was introduced only later. Teyvayanai didn't like Valli's marriage and that too, a Kurava girl, and the tears she shed at that time rained all over Parankunram. There is no description or even a reference either, to Veriyattu in Paripatal. The Tamils did not give importance to the marriage of Teyvayanai. But Valli Tirumanam - the marriage of Valli and Murukan following the ancient Tamil tradition of kalavu and karpu became very popular among the Tamils through its dramatic form given by Cankaratas cuvamikal, staged through out Tamilnadu even today. But the kalavu form in Valli Tirumanam didn't follow strictly the ancient form described in Cankam literature.

Other articles from the First International Conference on Skanda-Murukan