Lord Skanda-Murugan

Lord Muruga frees Nakeerar and captives
At that moment Nakkirar begs Lord Murukan to release them all and composes Tirumurukārruppatai. Immediately the Lord appears, kills the giant and releases all the prisoners.

Muruga Sadhana in Tirumurugarrupadai

by Ratna Navaratnam

from Karttikeya the Divine Child pp. 6-21
(Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1973)

Nakkira Deva Nayanar, the Poet Laureate of the Third Academy of Tamil letters, has given us a magnificent concept of Muruga, where gods and goddesses and celestial beings mingle with the earthly inhabitants and the spirits and devils of the under world, vying with one another to sing and dance in jubilant adoration. He is a God of Love—Cevvēl, and God of War—Kanda­vēl. He is a bhogi and a yogi. He is a Child of wisdom and a Guru of profound contemplation. Beauty and ugliness, light and darkness, penance and plenitude, the vista vision of nature in all her glory as well as the kaleidoscopic interplay of the human powers, the beautiful damsels and ugly wenches, in fact, an amazing spectacle of opposites unfolds before our eyes, making us gaze from heaven to earth, from the summit to the abyss in an alternating rhythm of poetic balance and religious harmony.

The glow of the Divine Child— Tiruttagu cey—and the grace of the Malai-Kilavone, and the tuneful worship of the devas and gandharvas, blend with that of the finite devotion—many-faced—of the diverse votaries who worship Muruga. Some are cultured and in felicity ethereal, they sing and dance. They crown the be1oved with cenkāntal. Some are crude and exotic with their terrific peals of gusto; and the primitive aborigines measure their zeal by the bloody feats to celebrate His victory. The sages and seers resort to the mystic formula—the word that was God—and the elite worship Him with vedic chants and agamic rituals.

In the last ode, Muruga is conceived as the highest and the ultimate goal of life. The devotees had the freedom to worship their favourite deities in different environments. The broad banyan tree, the kadamba tree of fresh blossoms and the delta-regions of rivers were some of the ideal places for their worship. The cult of a universal God manifesting in the natural centres of waterfronts and hill tops gained popularity and recognition in the Tamil land. “Thou art everywhere under the shade of the banyan and the kadamba trees, and the regions of deltas of rivers" (Paripadal).

Muruga is the Supreme God of antanars—wise ones—as well as of the untutored tribes of the hills. Those who are cruel hearted, those who lose their fame by unrighteous conduct, those who err in their austere life of penance and those who reveal their ignorance by denying the truth of re-births and karma do not enjoy the grace of Muruga.

Tirumurugarrupadai refers to the two-fold aspects of God Muruga—his righteous grace and His indignant grace (arakkarunai and marakkarunai) loves the virtuous devotees and destroys the unrighteous enemies. Both the aspects of Muruga lead to the welfare of the world and the salvation of the souls from the clutches of evil.

Muruga is the eternal patron who awards this perpetual reward. Here Paripadal as well as Tirumurugarrupadai celebrate the immortal gains of spiritual values in preference to the material progress, and glorify the spiritual rewards ultimately to be obtained from Muruga. Devotion to God as testified by the ancient poets, aims at material prosperity as well as spiritual felicity.

Tirumurugarrupadai points out that one of the twelve arms of God Muruga is stretched across the sky to prevent the blazing rays of the sun from affecting the sages with excessive heat. While the sages protect the world, God Muruga protects the sages! Here Muruga is found worshipped as the God of the wise seers and sages, who are the guardians of the welfare of the Universe.

That the seers and sages were the most favourite devotees of Muruga is established in Tirumurugarrupadai. A galaxy of heavenly deities marches towards Avinankudi, seeking the mercy of Muruga to get Brahma released from imprisonment. The large deputation of the deities is headed by the seers and saints and after them only follow the devas. This explains the greatness of the sages and their interest in protecting the universal welfare. It was believed that their very appearance will appease the wrath of Muruga. Their outward pilgrimage marks also an inward pilgrimage attained by a serene life freed from the wickedness of the senses. So their radiant and divine personality is the index of their purity.
Arunagiri worships Lord Murugan who had just rescued him from certain death by suicide
Arunagiri worships Lord Murugan who had just rescued him from certain death by suicide. Painting from Tiru Avinankudi Tirukkovil, Palani.

According to St. Arunagiri, the moment a devotee tasted the nectar of His grace, so kindled was he by Muruga's love, that sugarcane even had no sweetness for him and honey tasted sour. Immersed in the divine rapture of yogic meditation, the sages could live without food for long periods, and great were their powers of action.

In Tirucheeralavai and Tiruverakam, we get the concept of Muruga as the eternal Guru. One of His six faces is to dispel the ignorance and illuminate the mysterious chamber of truth that remains inexplicable to initial teachers. So, the Seers by their consistent discipline and self-control over their sensual attractions and instinctive cravings of the human body, make themselves the worthy votaries of Muruga by drawing inspiration from Him who is the eternal guru. Through this discipline of culture, the divine wisdom comes down to the mortals through a long geneology of saints and seers who are the transmitters of eternal wisdom from the eternal Guru Muruga, who is the source of all knowledge.

By constant meditation on the Absolute, the sages become spiritually mighty and capable of overcoming the forces of Karma and so they are called ‘Munivar'. In their constant meditation, they are spiritually charged from the eternal energy of the cosmic powerhouse which is Muruga. The cosmic life force is always running in their life-wires and so they are able to crush the forces of evil.

Along with the lines of Tirumular's hymn, the immortal Alankara of Saint Arunagiri proclaims the glory of Muruga as an eternal soucr of cosmic power that could be harnassed in human life to subdue the force of destiny (Kandar Alankaram 40). Saint Arunagirinathar, the monarch among the devotees of Muruga, majestically proclaims in his Kandar Alankaram:

“Letters written on my head by the hand of the god of fate were completely erased by the touch of the feet of Muruga instantaneously; at that moment I bowed down my head at his lotus-feet in total self-surrender".

From these references, it is to be concluded that Muruga is a divine Guru to those who are immersed in His grace by their inward meditation, and a disciplined life of austere vows and penances. The ancient abode of Tiruvavinankudi is otherwise known as Cittanvālvu. The name Palani is referred to as Potini in the Sangam poems. It is also called Cittanvālvu, because God Muruga manifested in the hill shrine of Palani in the form of a siddhar or a realised seer and as the Teacher of teachers. In this abode He is an example of an ascetic, teaching the mortals that real wisdom shines in him who is detached from all sensual cravings. Hence, the seers are given the first place in the line of devotees who proceed to invoke His grace at Tiruverakam.

Besides the priests and priestesses of the hill-land who invoke Muruga by their dances and musical invocation, kuliyars who are the minions or priests of Muruga also offer their worship. They entreat the grace of Muruga on behalf of the devotees who are found well-matured in their spiritual discipline. Here the importance of the Guru or the spiritual preceptor in the form of kuliyar is suggested by Nakkirar. The invocation of the devotee and the appearance of the kuliyars are dramatically synchronised by Nakkirar.

The kuliyars of Pazhamuthircholai are taken to mean the tender-hearted attendants and spiritual mediators in the temple of Muruga. In Nakkirar's Tirumurugarrupadai, the words of these kuliyars entreating Muruga on behalf of the devotees indicate their ripeness and spiritual attunement. The kuliyars say, “This minstrel desires thy grace; he is ripe in his spiritual knowledge; he has realised Thy immortal glory; and so his desire for the award of Thy grace is sincere" (T.M.G. 283-285).

The panoramic vista of Muruga dwindles in breadth from the aerial gods, titans, seers, demons, to the hill tribes and Kuravai maids and finally settles on the earnest seeker after Muruga. The dininuendo is a crescendo in the intensity of the approach to Muruga as we reach the climax of the whole poem, where the seeker (nayantōn) sees the gracious prescence of Muruga. He who is also known as Guha plays His drama in the cosmic stage, as well as in the inmost cave of the devotee's heart. Professor Carl A. Keller rightly alludes to this central pivot of the whole poem as the grand finale, when the seeker not only hears His redeeming voice, but also sees His universal Teacher, face to face. “His fiery form instantly He conceals to one of genial youth and utters words of love" (T.M.G. 290-291).

The poem is significantly a drama in that there is perpetual movement from the opening line to the closing line. The sun moves round the mount; the girls dance round the pole; the festive crowd moves on to Tirupparankunram; the demons leap in glee; the processional march glides through the heavens; Muruga rides on his swift elephant; the wavsh dash against the shore; Velan skips around with his lance holding a team of dancers; from abode to abode the nayantōn, or the pilgrim-seeker, moves from one abode to the other, till finally he comes to the festive sanctum where Muruga holds His court of revels. Here the vibration of music and dance halts for a still second when the kuliyars intercede on his behalf with their Master, and the gracious Muruga grants the peerless award—the paricil of His Gracious Feet (T.M.G. 295).

He grants His Visvarupa Darsham to his devotee after he has surrendered everything at His Feet. In the universe, good and evil are like light and darkness chasing each other in endless succession. Muruga also manifests His terrible and gentle aspects, His form of genial radiance and His form of fiery heroic valour, in alternating rhythm, and this in turn is reflected in the world of nature and man. Nakkirar's experience of crisis is reflected in the dance of the weird devils Peymakalim, and the deputation of the heavenly gods, only to be followed by the experience of fulfilment in the celestial dance of the kurava (nymphs) makalir, and the procession of seers or munivar and the incantation of the devoted aspirant or nayanton, all of whom capture His true glory.

The euphony and resonance of diction quicken the intensity of movement and enhance the splendour of Muruga, the young and yet so ancient God of dynamic valour, and God of love and beauty. All things great and small, all feelings and actions of the actors in this drama are intimately related to Muruga, who is the centrifugal point of radiation. We arise from a reading of the poem with the prayer to Muruga to make this world neither a blot nor blank; hut to make it mean intensely and mean well.

"Tirumurugarrupadai—A Study" by Ratna Navaratnam
Layne Little's English translation of Tirumurugarrupadai
Research articles on Skanda-Murukan

Index of sacred texts in Tamil, Sanskrit and English