Lord Skanda-Murugan

Discovery of an early sculpture of Murukan

C. Veera Ragavan

An early inscribed sculpture of Murukan (ca. 7th cent. AD) Kīlperumpākkam, Viluppuram district. Courtesy: French Institute, Pondicherry

This paper is a brief report of the recent discovery by the author of a rare early sculpture of Murukan with unique features and bearing an inscription in early Tamil script.1

Even though Murukan is the pre-eminent deity of the Tamils celebrated in literature from the Cankam Age,2 he is conspicuous by his absence from early Tamil inscription.3 Free-standing iconographic representation of Murukan are also rare in Tamilnadu before the 9th century AD.4 The earlier representations of the deity are mostly confined to the Somāskanda panels and niche figures in the Pallava temples and rock-cut shrines.

The sculpture reported here is found in the open, outside a modern temple of Ayyappan in Kīlperumpākkam village, about two kilometres southeast of Villupuram town (headquarters of the district of the same name), about 160 kilometres south of Chennai. Along with this sculpture are found another Jyeshethā and a Śivalingam, leading to the surmise that there was an ancient Śiva temple here to which the present sculpture belonged.

The sculpture is a bas-relief carved on an upright granite stele with a semi-circular top and straight edges on the other sides. The height of the stele is 108 cms, width 62 cms and thickness 20 cms. The image is encased with in a broad raised rim running along the edges of the slab. The figure is finely carved and still in an excellent state of preservation.5

The deity is seated on a lotus with his right leg folded and left leg hanging down. Seated figures6 of Subrahmanya on a lotus are rare, the present sculpture being probably the earliest.7

The deity is shown wearing a short conical basket-like head-gear (karanda-makuta) with a thick giralet of flowers (kannl) around the base. According to ancient Tamil tradition, kannl was the attribute of the warrior.8 The deity also wears the double shoulder-string (channavīra), another attribute of the warrior. Both the attributes, found mostly in the earlier sculpture of the Pallava period, emphasise the fact that Murukan was essentially a warrior-god.

The deity is also adorned with large ear-rings (makara-kundala), a close-fitting necklace (kantikai), bracelets (kataka) around arms are wrists and anklets (kalal). He is also wearing a waist-band (udarabandha) with the knot in front. The folds of the dhoti are realistically depicted.

The deity is shown with four arms. The upper right hand holds a weapon with a short handle, the thunderbolt (vajra or śakti) inherited from Indra when Subrahmanya became the warrior-god par excellence.

The upper left hand holds a rosary (aksamāla) and the lower right hand a lotus bud. The lower left hand is shown resting on the left thigh. The rosary and the lotus bud are the attributes of Brahmā shared by Murukan in his capacity as the god of knowledge (su-brahmanya). The rosary is usually hold in the right hand, though instances of its being held in the upper left hand as in the present case are also known.9 All the three attributes, viz., rosary and the lotus bud, are known to Tamil literary tradition.10 It is however significant that three other important attributes in Tamil tradition viz., cēval koti and mayil mūrti are not depicted.11 These features begin to appear in the iconography of Murukan in the Tamil country only from a later period.

A unique feature of the sculpture is the brief inscription appearing on the also forming the background to the sculpture in the narrow space below the armpits and above the thighs. With the exception of hero stones and Jain rock carvings, inscribed sculptures especially of the BrahmĀnical deities are rare in Tamilnadu.12

The inscription is in four lines. The first two lines are engraved below the right armpit of the deity and the next two lines below the left. Two letters in the first line are lost due to flaking of the rock surface. The rest of the inscription is well-preserved and legible. The inscription is in Tamil written in the Tamil script of the early Pallava period, but with an admixture of few vatteluttu letters. The inscription can be assigned on palaeographical grounds to ca. 7th century AD.13 The iconographical features belong to the same period.

The text as it is laid out on the inscription is as follows:

Left inscription inscription Right
line 1: na - - k ko ti vi line 3
line 2: r ri ko t t ta tu line 4

na . . . k-korri kotti (tu) vittatu
(This image) was caused to be carved by . . . Korri.

Korri: Though only the latter half of the donor's name has survived, there is no doubt that Korri is the name of a woman. It is one of the names of the goddess of war and victory (Durgā) and was in common use as a personal name in the ancient Tamil country.14

Kottivittatu: The correct form should be kottuvittatu 'which was caused to be carved', from kottu 'to hammer, beat > to carve (as stone)'. cf. patimam kottuvittān '(he) caused the image to be carved' (Pallava inscription, 8th century AD).15

I hope that this unique inscribed sculpture, which is a welcome addition to the iconography of Murukan in Tamilnadu, will be protected from vandalism and weather by being removed to a safer place for permanent installation and preservation.


  1. Kali kalittokai, (Madras: Murray S. Rajam) 1957.
  2. L' Hernault, Francois. L' Iconograpie de Subrahmanya au Tamilnad, (Pondicherry: Institute Francais d' Indologie) 1978.
  3. Mahalingam T.V. Inscriptions of the Pallavas, (New Delhi: Indian Council of Historical Research & Agam Prakashan) 1988.
  4. Nagaswamy, R. Thiruttani and Velanjeri Copper Plates, (Madras: State Dept. of Archaeology, Tamilnadu) 1979.
  5. Puram Puranānūru (text and commentary), U.V. Swaminathiyar, (Thanjavur: Tamil University) 1985 repr.
  6. Samy, P.L. Cankanūlkali Murukan ('Murukan in Cankam works') (Madras: Cekar Patipakam) 1990.
  7. Kaccipyappa Munivar Tanikaipurānam (Tiruvavatuturai Adheenam) 1960.
  8. Zvelebil, Kamil Tiru Murugan (Madras: International Institute of Tamil Studies) 1981.
  9. Zvelebil, Kamil Tamil Traditions of Subrahmanya-Murugan (Madras: Institute of Asian Studies) 1991.


An Early Inscribed Sculpture of Murukan (ca. 7th cent. AD) Kīlperumpākkam, Villupuram, (Villupuram Tk. & Pt.) FII French Institute of Ontology

End Notes

  1. The author has come to know subsequent to his discovery that the sculpture has been photographed earlier by the French Institute, Pondicherry, but has so far remained unpublished.
  2. For an exclusive summary of the references to Murukan in Tamil Cankam literature, see Samy 1990.
  3. The earliest epigraphic reference to Murukan in Tamilnadu is found in the Tiruttani (Valanchari) plates of Pallava Aparajitavarman (c.900 AD). (Nayaswamy 1979)
  4. Two of the earliest free-standing Murukan sculpture from Tamilnadu are: (a) the National Museum sculpture of Subrahmanya ca. 8th cent. AD. provenance unknown), 'L'Hernault 1978: 111. Pe. 621 and (b) Subrahmanya who was probably the original mūlavar in the Tiruttani temple at the time of Aparājitavarman, but now kept in the prākāra of the main shrine (c. 9th cent. AD). (Nagaswamy 1979, 'early Chōla' according to L' Hernault, p.111, ph. 63.
  5. The photograph accompanying this paper is by courtesy of Mme. L' Hernault, French Institute, Pondicherry.
  6. For another early example of a seated figure of Subrahmanya (Tiruvorriyūr, c. 9th cent. AD), see L' Hernault, 1978 112, ph.64.
  7. The other example of the figure of Subrahmanya seated on a lotus is at Tiruvāmāttūr, also in Villupuram Taluk (late Pallava); L' Hernault 1978, 140, ph.120.
  8. ātuka iraiva nin kanni 'Oh king, may your garland (kanni) fade (in the smoke caused by the burning down of your enemy's country)! Puram 6:21-22.
  9. See, L'Hernault 1978 Ph. 132-134, 141, 142, etc.
  10. Tanikaippurānam, Akattiyan arul perum patalam, lists sixteen postures of Murukan holding in hands these and other attributes.
  11. For a perceptive interpretation and analysis of Subrahmanya-Murukan in Tamil literary tradition, see Zvelebil 1981 and 1991.
  12. The author has recently discovered an unpublished sculpture of korraval with the label 'Nandipuraman' inscribed on it. (Chikkādu village, Ulundurpet Tk., Villapuram Dst. ca. 9th cent. AD)
  13. The script resembles that of the Tirukkalukkunram inscription of Narasimhavarman I, c. 7th cent. AD. (Mahalingam 1988: no. 42).
  14. Korri 'goddess' (Kali. 89:8) Ta. inscr.: kutiyan-korri, cataiyan-korri: names of famine donors (SII. V. nos. 342 & 324 early Pāndya, c. 9th cent. AD.)
  15. See Mahalingam 1988 no. 85.

The author:

C. Veera Ragavan
66, Muthuvel Layout
Villupuram - 605 602 India

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