Skanda, the supreme commander!
Skanda is regarded as the supreme commander of the Gods and the destroyer of evil forces. He is also regarded as the epitome of knowledge. He is revered as an infant, as a child – (Balasubramanian), as a handsome and romantic prince (Valli Manavaalan – Azhagan Murugan), as an invincible warrior – ruler, and also as a mature renunciate. There is a wealth of literature centered around Murugan.
Skanda is regarded as the son of Shiva and Parvati and hence the brother of Ganesha. There is a shrine to Skanda in all Saivite temples in Tamilnadu, and likewise there are shrines to Shiva and Parvati in all temples dedicated to Skanda.
Valli – the daughter of a tribal ruler and Deivayanai or Devasena the daughter of Indra the King of Devas are the consorts of Skanda. Skanda is also revered as the nephew of Vishnu and is referred to as Maal Marugan. The rich mythology surrounding Skanda hence revolves around all of the above mentioned manifestations of Divinity.
Skanda is one of the most revered forms of Divinity in the southern state of Tamilnadu. Skanda is known as Murugan – the God of the Tamils, and as Subramanyan, Balasubramanian, Saravanan, Kumaran, Guhan, Shanmukhan or Aarumugan (the six faced one), Velayudhan and Kartikeyan. The name Murugan is synonymous with the language Tamil and the concept of beauty Azhagu.
This legend narrates the story of the destruction of Kaama by Shiva and the birth of Skanda.
Sati, the consort of Shiva immolated herself at the site of the Daksha Yagna, which was later destroyed by Shiva. Sati was reborn as Uma, or Parvati the daughter of the mountain king Himavaan (the Himalayas). Shiva withdrew himself from the universe and engaged himself in yogic meditation in the Himalayas.
In the meanwhile, the demon Surapadma ravaged the earth and tormented its beings. It was realized by the gods that only the son born of Shiva and Parvati could lead the gods to victory over Tarakaasuran, Surapadman and their demon companions. They plotted with Kaama, the lord of desire, to shoot a flower arrow at Shiva, as he sat in meditation, so as to make him fall in love with Parvati. When Kaama aimed his arrow at Shiva, he opened his third eye and burned him to ashes instantly. Upon hearing the pleas of Kama’s wife Rati, he brought back Kama to life, in flesh and blood for her sake, and in a formless state for others.
Siva married Parvathi thereafter. At the request of Parvathi for a son, Siva opened his third eye and the sparks of the fiery seed of Shiva were unbearable; even the fire God Agni could not bear them; this fire was then transported by the river Ganga into the Sara Vana forest, where Sara Vana Bhava was born. He was raised by the six Kartika damsels.
Parvati combined these six babies into one with six faces, ie. Shanmukha. Skanda or Kartikeya the supreme general of the devas, led the army of the devas to victory against the demons. The six sites at which Kartikeya sojourned while leading his armies against Surapadman are Tiruttanikai, Swamimalai, Tiruvavinankudi (Palani), Pazhamudirsolai, Tirupparamkunram and Tiruchendur. All these sites have ancient temples glorified by the tamil poems of Tirumurugaatruppadai of the Sangam period (prior to the 3rd century CE).
Tirukkurukkai, in Tamilnadu near Thanjavur, enshrines Kaamari Murthy, the destroyer of Kaama, in the Veeratteswarar temple which is one of the 8 Veeratta stalas celebrating Shiva as the destroyer of evil.
The Story of Skanda’s marriage with Valli
Legend has it that the ghat region of Tamilnadu was ruled by Nambirajan, the king of the Kuravas or the hill tribes. Nambirajan worshipped Siva, praying for a daughter; his prayers were answered and it was revealed to him that he would discover a baby in the nearby woods and that she would be his daughter.
Accordingly the kurava king discovered ‘Vallinayaki´ in the woods and brought her up as his own.
Valli grew up to be a beautiful maiden and Subramanya – son of Siva and Parvati sought her hand in marriage. Their courtship is full of very interesting stories which form the basis of many and folk and classical performing arts in Tamilnadu.
Murugan assumed the form of an old bangle seller, and sold bangles to Valli, in return for a local delicacy of honey soaked corn flour. A conversation ensued between the two, which was interrupted by the arrival of Valli’s brothers, a valiant lot who were highly possessive and protective of their sister. Flustered by their sudden appearance, and unwilling to indulge in battle, Skanda manifested himself as a Vengai maram (a stump of which is still seen in the Temple at Velimalai in Southern Tamilnadu).
Skanda appeared again, in the guise of an old tribal king and sought her hand in marriage. The brothers materialized again, and Skanda transformed himself into an old ascetic from the Himalayas, and they left the spot.
Upset by the ongoing hindrance, Skanda sought the help of his brother Vinayaka – the remover of obstacles, who appeared on the spot as a wild elephant. The scared Valli, embraced Skanda and promised to offer him anything in return for protection from the wild beast. Skanda sought her hand in marriage, and Valli consented gladly, realizing that her suitor was none other than Murugan, whom she and her tribe held in great regard.
Valli married Murugan and the marriage was celebrated in great splendor by Nambirajan, the king of kuravas.
There are several temples to Murugan all over the state of Tamilnadu (as in Palani, Tiruchendur etc.) and prominent shrines in Siva temples (as in Sikkal and Vaideeswaran Koyil) and at least one shrine in all Saivite temples throughout the state.
Prominent shrines to Skanda in the neighboring southern states include Haripad and Udayanapuram in Kerala, Subrahmanya in Karnataka and the modern Skandagiri temple in Secundrabad – Andhra Pradesh.
Skanda – also known as Murugan, Kartikeya, Subramanya is one of the most revered deities in the southern state of Tamilnadu. Of the multitude of temples dedicated to Skanda, the 6 most important ones are the Aaru Padai Veedu shrines, where it is believed that Skanda the commander of the Gods, sojourned during his battle with the demon Soorapadman. These shrines have been revered in 2000 year old Tamil poetry of the Sangam age.
Skanda rides a peacock called Paravani- surely the perfect vehicle for a cosmic dandy. His preferred weapon is the Vela or spear hence the popular name Velayudhan – he whose weapon is a spear. He is called Yuddharanga or the wisdom of war too. He is represented with six heads and twelve hands. He is popularly known as Subramanium too which is a common south Indian name.
Tiru Aavinankudi(Palani} near Madurai enshrines Dhandayutapani in a hill temple.
Tirupparamkunram near Madurai enshrines Subramanya celebrating his marriage with Devasena the daughter of Indra. The shrine to Siva here has been revered by the Tevaram hymns of the Nayanmars.
Pazhamudircholai near Alagar Koyil near Madurai is a simple shrine on the Pazhamudircholai hill enshrining Skanda.
Swamimalai in the Chola Kingdom enshrines Swaminathan in a temple built on an artificial mound accessed through a flight of 60 steps symbolizing the 60 years that constitute the cycle of years in the Indian calendar.
Tiruchendur enshrines Subramanyar and Senthilandavar in a vast temple with a lofty gopuram visible for miles, on the shores of the ocean in Southern Tamilnadu.
Tiruttani near Tirupati and Chennai enshrines Subramanya in a hill temple accessed through a flight of 365 steps. It is to be remembered that whilr the sixty steps of Swamimalai symbolize the sixty years of Indian calender, the 365 steps of Thiruthani symbolizes the 365 days of an year.