God Murukan as viewed by the ancient Tamils
by P. Thiagarajan
The socio-cultural and religious life of the ancient Tamils was intimately connected with Murukan worship. It is to be noted that iron representation of Vel and rooster have been found in Aticcanallur graves, an extensive and important prehistoric burial place in Tamil Nadu.1 Prof. P.T. Srinivasa Iyengar, an authority on the history of the ancient Tamils, has established that Aticcanallur excavation dates back roughly 7,000 years, and the learned author observes that "there is no evidence of cremation at the place; this assumes greater antiquity of the remains, for the custom of burning corpses spread in South India along with the Aryan cult from North India."2 Right from early pre-historic times, Vel worship was prevalent in ancient Tamil society and the ancient Tamils had great fascination for the worship of God Murukan. There are concrete evidences in. Tolkappiyam, Pattuppattu and Ettuttokai to establish that Murukan culture was the pivot on which the social, cultural, and religious life of the ancient Tamils was revolving round.
Indomitable War God
Tolkappiyam is the first written record available to us to assess the views of the ancient Tamils regarding Murukan worship. It refers to Murukan as Ceyon3. In Cankam literature God Murukan has been denoted as cutarpuncey, vel porccey and piympuncey. The ancient Tamils held the view that radiant light shining from the body of Murukan is reddish in colour; Murukan's clothes, ornaments and garlands are all red in colour and they even considered vel (spear) he holds in his hand to be red. In Tirumurukarruppatai also, it is stated that God Murukan's colour is red and He wears red clothes.4 It may be well assumed that the ancient Tamils considered the red colour as symbolic of Lord Murukan's vigour and anger in suppressing the enemies and evil forces for the benefit of mankind. The ancient Tamils viewed God Murukan as the greatest of war gods with indomitable valour and heroic deeds. God Murukan has been denoted as aruntiRalkaTavuL -- the God of extraordinary valour and heroic deeds.
It is also noted that the ancient Tamils worshipped the Goddess of War by name Korravai; Korravai in Tamil means victory in war. In Tolkappiyam, the worship of Korravai is mentioned as Korravai Nilai and God Murukan was considered as flue son of the war Goddess, Korravai by the ancient Tamils.6 There is a reference in Perumpanarruppatai that God Murukan is the son of Korrvai.7 Tirumurukarruppatai also refers to Murukan as the son of Korravai.8 To quote Kamil Zvelibil, "The original Tamil Murukan was the son of Korrvai, the mother Goddess of War and Victory. Indeed he has no father."8a It is also to be noted that according to Sanskrit sources, Skanda was not born to any mother"8b Akananuru refers to God Murukan as an indomitable war god with extraordinary fame who annihilated the enemies who did not surrender to him.9
A great Cola king by name Illavantikaitunciya Nanmaram (the great Cola king who died in the royal park) has been compared with God Murukan as the greatest hero who could accomplish everything successfully as he desired and planned.10
According to the greatest Cankam poet Kapilar, Vel Pari of Parampu Hills, a renowned chieftain of Cankam age, was like God Murukan in driving his enemies to run away from the battlefield. He thought that it was a great dishonour to his prestige as a true hero to chase fleeing enemies.11
There is also another valid reference in Maturaikkanci, a famous Cankam poem singing the valour and glory of the greatest Pandiyan king by name Talaiyalankanattuc Ceruvenra Pantiyan Netunceliyan. The poet compares this greatest Pantiyan king of Cankam age to God Murukan in waging a war upon his enemies, suppressing them, capturing their forts, destroying their supporters and causing injury to their name and fame.12
In Maliapatukatam (‘sounds issuing from mountains'), another famous idyll of Cankam age, the hero is compared to God Murukan in valour and heroic deeds.13
In Kurincippattu, Kapilar speaks highly of God Murukan's vel, comparing its brightness to the lightning of the cloud and its power to destroy the enemies.14
During the Cankam age, not only kings and warriors, but also the head of the family is compared to God Murukan for his valour and anger.15
Suppression of Evil Forces
Cankam poets highlight the indomitable valour of Lord Murukan when they speak about his heroic deeds in suppressing the evil forces of Cur or Curapadman and his associates. There are number of references in Cankam literature in this regard.16
It may be assumed that the ancient Tamils considered Cur and his associates as the personification of evil forces and that their annihilation by Murukan, the supreme God, is essential for the survival of humanity at large. Just as the farmer removes and destroys the weeds from his fields, similarly a hero of the first order has the same essential duty to society. It may justly be cited here the salient advice of the poet Tiruvalluvar to a king:
"When the king imposes the severest penalty on a cruel murderer, it is like weeding the field to protect the crops."17
Personification of Natural Beauty: Muruku and Murukan
Even though there are many words and phrases in Tamil to denote God Murukan, the ancient Tamils have specially chosen two pure Tamil words muruku and Murukan. The word muruku has various shades of meaning such as tenderness, youth, beauty, young man, god Murukan, ornament with helix of the ear, fragrance, the priest of God Murukan(velan).18 Centan Tivakaram, a famous Tamil Nikantu has given twenty-seven different names for the God.19 The words muruku and Murukan were current in use in Cankam classics. The words muruku and Murukan are of special significance in so far as they clearly reveal the ancient Tamils who led a simple living in tune with the nature, and had high thinking relating to God Murukan. They viewed God Murukan as the personification of natural beauty with youthful radiance, energy and virility. They thought Murukan is par excellence a god of dazzling beauty, of splendid fragrance and of extraordinary grace.
The great Tamil scholar V. Kalyanasundaranar observes that "this natural beauty with youthfulness, fragrance and qualities of Godhead was denoted and appreciated as muruku. The word muruku is pregnant with meaning. He who possesses all the qualities of the word muruku is called Murukan.22
It is to be noted here that the God Murukan is being compared to a rising sun in Tirumurukarruppatai where Nakkirar describes the radiance emerges from the body of the God Murukan as being like the sparkling brightness of the sun rising on the sea.23 This also confirms the view of the ancient Tamils that God Murukan is the personification of natural beauty with youthful radiance and extraordinary virility.
Ancient Tamils view of veriyatal
Velan Veriyatal, the ritual dancing and offerings associated with the worship of God Murukan, is of great social and cultural significance to the ancient Tamils. Veriyatal is found performed by the priest velan both in akam and puram. As Prof P.T. Srinivasa Iyangar writes, "Love and war respectively called akam and puram, the inner life which one cannot share with men and the outer life of action which other man can appreciate and admire."24 Both in the inner life (akam) and in the outer life (puram) of the ancient Tamils, God Murukan played a vital part. According to them God Murukan is essentially and finally responsible for the psychological and physiological problems which caused anxiety and stress to adolescent girls in premartial union of love. They sought the help of Murukan's velan priests for solution of personal problems. Usually the velan priest was a man of ripe experience. The ancient Tamils firmly believed that the velan would be able to diagnose the cause as well as the solution for emotional and psychological problems. Indeed, the velan's words were considered as none other than the voice of God Murukan.
There is a specific reference to velan veriyatal in Tolkappiyam, the most ancient and anthoritative grammar in Tamil.25 Though velan veriyatal is applicable to both akam and puram, in Kurinci (premanital union), he usually wears the garlands made of kunrinci flowers.26 The ritual dance takes place in a specially decorated stage called atukalam full of flowers and garlands. Offerings of many coloured cooked rice and meat are made during veriyatal. The velan holds the same vel supposed to have been possessed by the greatest war god Murukan. The priest was respected and adored by the ancient Tamils as if he was the incarnation of God Murukan Himself. There are a number of references in Ettutokai and Pattupattu relating to the this ritual dance or veriyatal.27
In puram theme, veriyatal is performed by the velan to predict the outcom in the proposed battlefield (vettci). Here the difference is the priest wears the garlands of kandal flowers instead of kurinci garland. Warriors worship God Murukan and willingly accept the velan's predictions.
It is to be carefully noted that velan veriyatal in akam has a special significance in so far as the velan pronounces the causes and solutions of the psychological and physiological problems concerning the adolescent girls in pre-martial union of love. The foster-mothers are much worried and seeking the guidance and help of the velan for the solution of their personal problems. The ancient Tamils thought that the grace of God Murugan will solve the emotional and personal problems of the inner life (akam) of the individuals.
Embodiment of pre-martial Love Union
God Murukan was considered as not only an indomitable war God but also an embodiment of love. The ancient Tamils viewed Murukan as a hero of pre-martial union of love based on the actual customs prevailed in those days. There is a valid reference to the effect in Narrinai 82 in which it is cleanly stated that God Murugan had made courtship with Valli in pre-mantal union.28 It is pertinent to quote here the famous medical authority on courtship. "Courtship, and often prolonged courtship, is required before she is either psychologically or physiologically ready for love making."29
According to ancient Tamil custom in those days, courtship was essential to the pre-martial union of love leading to the culmination of happy married life. God Murukan was viewed as a hero of pre-maritial union of love. The courtship of Valli and Murukan forms the basis for the entire concept of love theme of ancient Tamil society in so far as the pre-martial union of love is concerned.
There is also a valid reference in Tolkappiyam relating to Valli-Murukan courtship. Tolkappiyar refers to one Vallikkuttu.30 The word valli in Tanul denotes two things, viz. a tender creeper by name valli and the consort of God Murukan namely Valli. When it refers to the lover-consort of Lord Murukan, Tolkappiyar speaks of Vata Valli. Vata in Tamil means that which will not wither away. If it withers, it refers to the valli creeper; otherwise it denotes the God's consort.
The ancient Tamils performed the vallikkuttu in which the heroine of the ritual dance personified Valli the consort of God Murukan. That is why Tolkappiyar specially refers to vallikkuttu. This confirms that the ancient Tamils viewed God Murukan and his consort Valli are the ideal lovers for courtship relating to the pre-marital union of love.
God Murukan has also been denoted in Cankam classics as Netruvel31, Cevvel32 and Viralvel33. Vel in Tamil refers to the great person whom people like most. The ancient Tamils always had a liking for God Murukan, for he was considered to be an embodiment of pre-marital union of love and indomitable war god of the first order. A great hero naturally makes a great lover.
1. "The occurrence of small metalic representation of vel (trident) and wild fowl suggest the possibility of Murukan worship being as old as Adichchanallur at least." N. Subramanian - History of Tamil Nadu (to AD 1336), (Udmalpet: Ennes Publication, 1973)
2. P.T. Srinivasa Iyengar, Pre-Aryan Tamil Culture (New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1985) p. 10.
17. See the translation of the above kural by Dr. S.M. Diaz Tirukkural with Translation and Explanation, Vol. I (Coimbatore: Ramanadha Adigalar Foundation) p. 591.
18. T. Burrow and M.B. Emmeneau A Dravidian Etymological Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961) 4081-4083.
Contact the author:
Institute of Asian Studies
Sholinganallur, Chennai - 600 119 India