Murugan: Kali Yuga Varadan
by Dr. A Kanakaratnam, A.M.A.C.
of the Kataragama Devotees Trust
Murugan, the undying ‘Tender Youth’ and boon-granting patron and of the Kali Yuga, has been adored, praised and worshipped by uncounted millions of devotees since Vedic times. A great body of related cult lore survives and flourishes among rural and urban devotees, especially among the Tamil community.
In the following article, a 96-year old retired ayurvedic physician surveys the origin myth of Karttikeya-Murugan and concludes with suggestions for fellow enthusiasts eager to contact the playful divinity within themselves.
The Hindu religion rests upon a vast canon of Puranas, Vedas, and Agamas including srutis (revelation) and smritis (inspiration). The Puranas (meaning ‘ancient’) are the encyclopedias of sacred lore. Scientists and scholars are only beginning to appreciate the deep psychological and metaphysical wisdom preserved and transmitted in the form of puranic legend.
Puranic traditions maintain that there was once a period when there lived among the people a class of very advanced yogis called the munivars (Skt. muni ‘sage’) who could see through an inner eye the past, present and future. They could even see the devas and asuras, the demigods and titans of mythic accounts who also inter-married and waged war very much as human beings do.
The celestial bodies, like the seven planets (Sun, Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, and Venue and the unseen forces of Rahu and Kethu), influenced the minds and bodies of these two races. These heavenly bodies revolved about the Sun and once in sixty years they would resume their original positions.
There are twelve houses in the zodiac, and through these houses the planets individually and jointly influence all things and all living tissue, plant, animal or human. These ‘planets’ or forces influence every thought that man conceives, every word he speaks and every motion or action he performs. They determine the course of life, the stations of life and the tonic of health for each living being according to the karma derived by him from his own actions and their effects. Their multifarious variety of influences were systematically studied and revealed long ago by renowned rishis or seers like Agasthyar, Vasishta, Visvamitra and Parasara in ancient days.
Today we are astonished by the perfect correctness of their revelations which also neatly describe modern-day phenomena as accurately as any modern prediction. These sciences, which are only just emerging in the light of modern thought, strike us with wonder and admiration for the scientific capability of the ancients. We have such revelations in the Old Testament of the Bible as well and we find their fulfillment word for word right up to events in recent times.
Skanda Is Born And Comes Down to Earth
The devas and asuras were rivals and each had recourse to the subtle powers of the planets as personified in mythology. Thus Jupiter and Venue quarreled by taking sides with these rivals, and so we have reference to Jupiter being the king of the devas while Venus was the kind of the asuras.
There were three asura brothers–Soorapadman, Tarakasuran and Simhasuran–who were the sons of a great rishi named Kashyapa. Their mother Maya was an asura lady who by her womanly wiles had won the heart of Kashyapa and begot these sons by him. When Kashyapa preferred to teach them the principles of dharma, ahimsa and ethics, his wife Maya countered and taught them the mantras or incantation for obtaining powers to conquer the devas and become rulers of the world.
Thus the asuras fought and subdued the devas and became the rulers of the world with the power of the planet Venus. Their tyranny over the conquered devas was such that the devas, with Vishnu and Indra at their head, went to appeal to God Siva. Siva who had already promised eternal life to Soorapadman, would not intervene but entered yogic trance (samadhi) instead.
However, when the cruelties of the asuras became unbearable, the devas again appealed to Siva. This time Siva opened his third eye and out of it came six rays of light. These were received by Agni and diverted into a marshy lake called Saravana or ‘forest of reeds’, where each ray turned out to be a child. Hence, we hear of the six syllables Saravana- bhava, ‘born in the forest of reeds’.
This extraordinary event happened in the month of Karttika or November, and hence the child Murugan is called Karttikeya after the six Krittika maidens who found and nursed the six divine infants. Later, it is said, the mother-goddess Uma Devi gathered the six together as one so that their six heads shared one body. Because he has six faces, he is also called Shan-mukha, ‘the six-faced one’. The six faces have their own significance, for each has its own purpose.
Being a god, the child Murugan could take up any form and do anything He pleased, anywhere and anytime. He happens to be a god of the afflicted; hence everyone looks up to Him. The Sapta Rishi or Seven Seers called him Kali Yuga Varada, the granter of boons in the present Dark Age of Quarrel. Approach to Him may done through prayers and supplication by those afflicted by disease, sorrow, or discontents.
Siva intended for His son Karttikeya to go South to put down the asuras. But first He sent His ambassador to advise Soorapadman to avoid war and release the devas. However, Soorapadman, who had already obtained the boon of eternal life from Siva through his very arduous penance, refused all advice.
So war was declared. As mythology has it, at that time many of the stars and planets in the common were populated by titanic races of asuras. All of these powerful beings were destroyed and yet Soorapadman couldn’t be killed or captured. Murugan then prayed to the Cosmic Mother, Shakti, and She sent Him the holy Vel or lance, the most advanced weapon that could track Soorapadman and flush him our of from wherever he hid.
Soorapadman had fled the battlefield and was hiding in the deep sea in the form of an enchanted mango tree in order to escape his relentless pursuer. Lord Murugan finally hurled the vel which split the tree and broke the enchantment. Soorapadman surrendered to Murugan, acknowledged His Divine Majesty, and begged Him for His limitless mercy.
Accordingly, the Lord transformed the asura’s one half into a peacock to serve as His vahana or vehicle, and his other half into the ensign of a cock as his vetri-kodi or victory pennant. Lord Murugan, as Subrahmanya the Radiator of Brilliance, hence granted such a wonderful boon even to His sworn enemy.
God of the South
Lord Subrahmanya, along with Agasthyar Rishi, came from the North but chose to offer his service and mercy particularly to the people of the South. Thus, today He has many friends and many great shrines in South India and Sri Lanka. Of the greatest, six are in Tamil Nadu while two are in Sri Lanka, namely Kataragama (Kathirkamam) and Nallur Kandaswami temple. Most every worshiper at these temples has his or her prayers answered. In almost all of these temples there is a samadhi or final resting place of a yogi or siddha over which is built a shrine to Lord Murugan or Karttikeya or Subrahmanya or Skanda, the most popular of the Lord’s Thousand Names.
Each of these thousand names has a deep significance which invokes Him and His Power. Many of His names refer to the various boons that He has granted and His marvelous deeds. The names themselves are composed of syllables which, when uttered in unbroken sequence, fortify the worshipper’s invocation so that the inner power of the Lord saturates the intended prayer or wish.
As many names as one learns to include in one’s prayers, by that much do the prayers gain in strength. Most of the names are made up of short melodious syllables, e.g. Subrahmanya.
The recitation of the Sahasra Nama or ‘Thousand Names’ is further enhanced by the dropping of a flower at the feet of an image of the tender Lord to accompany each name recited. The rewarding effect of such worship was explained by Śrī Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. There it was revealed to Arjuna that it matters not if the prayer is accompanied by flowers, for if flowers are not available the worshipper may use even leaves, and if even these were not available to him it would suffice if the Lord was adored by name alone.
“Speaking from more than half a century of personal experience. I can vouch for the efficacy of this playful god and His time-tested modes of worship. There is no truer companion or support than this one God of so many names.”
Just try and you may also see all this for yourself.