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Subrahmanya or Karthikeya or Muruga, is special to the Tamil speaking peoples. Legend has it that the demons Tarakasura, Simhamukha and Surapadma were terrorising all creation and Brahma prophesied that only the son of Siva and Parvati could vanquish them. The Gods consequently prayed to Lord Siva and He emitted six sparks from His third eye which were handed over to Agni the fire god. Unable to bear their intensity, he in turn passed them on to the river Ganga, who in turn deposited them in the Saravana Lake. Here each spark was borne by a lotus and an infant came from each and was nourished by the six Krittika maidens, the companions of Parvati. When Goddess Parvati was handed the babies, they all fused into one child with six heads. As He was borne by Agni He was called Kumara and as Ganga carried Him He became Gangeya. In honour of the Saravana Lake He became Saravana and because He was suckled by the Krittika maidens He took the name of Karthikeya. As He set out to battle the three rakshasas (demons), He was handed the divine spear or Vel by His mother and this became His weapon. Indra, the king of the Gods gave Him his daughter Devasena in marriage. This was symbolic of His having taken over the command of the Divine (Deva) Army (Sena) and He was henceforth also referred to as Skanda (Kanda in Tamil) which means the war lord. He then set forth to battle and conquered the demons. The battle with Surapadma was in particular a fierce one and at the end of it the demon was cut into two, one part transforming into a peacock which became the Lord?s mount and the other into a rooster which became the Lord?s standard. He then fell in love with Valli, the daughter of a hunter king and with the help of His brother Ganesa, secured her hand.
In the Vedic tradition, Karthikeya is also Subrahmanya, the supreme Truth and He is the embodiment of Gnana Shakti, the energy of knowledge. Devasena is symbolic of Kriya Shakti, the energy of action while Valli is Iccha Shakti, the energy of desire.
The Tamils however worship this deity by the name they know best ? Murugan. The worship of Murugan is detailed in the 2nd century AD work Silappadikaram of Ilango Adigal and hence it is an ancient cult in south India. The etymology of the word Murugan has been given variously as a bright effulgent light and also as a fierce hunter. But to His devotees He is love and beauty. He is said to symbolise youth at its vigorous best and is therefore also Kumaran, the young deity. Therefore it is not surprising that over the centuries, hymnodists, poets, composers, lyricists and singers have lost their hearts to Him and immortalised Him in their creations. Kandan or Murugan is sung in various forms of composition often found in Tamil such as Kovai, Antadi, Pillai Tamil, Kavadi Chindu and Chindus of other types, Kalippu, Venba and Agaval. The Kanda Puranam of the 14th century AD scholar Kacchiyappa Sivachariyar is the definitive work on Murugan and His deeds. Arumuga Navalar, in the 15th century AD wrote the puranam in dialogue form and called it the Kanda Purana Vasanam. . It must also be mentioned here that owing to his passion for Valli, Muruga also acquired the image of a romantic god and had several compositions which depict maidens pining for him. Ghanam Krishna Iyer (1790-1854) composed ?Velavare? (raga Bhairavi) on Muruga in the padam or romantic song genre. The Viralimalai Kuravanji is an opera that depicts a girl awaiting union with Muruga in that shrine and is performed there even today.
Murugan is a hill deity, for most of His abodes are at an elevation. Among the many temples in His honour, Tamil Nadu has six important shrines as classified by the poet Nakkeerar of the Sangam period in his Tirumurugattrupadai. They are collectively called the Aaru (six) padai veedu (camps). In this offering we look at some of the compositions in Tamil, dedicated to these shrines.
The first of the six shrines is Tiruparamkunram. It is located on a hill a short distance from Madurai. It is believed that Muruga married Devasena or Deivanai here. The sanctum has the Lord with one face and four arms seated flanked by a kneeling Deivanai and a sage. The wedding of Murugan to Deivanai is celebrated each year during the month of Panguni (March/April) when the asterism Uttiram is in the ascendant. The temple was visited by Sundaramurti Swamigal and Tirugnanasambandar among the Nayanmars. Niramba Azhagiya Desigar of the 16th century AD composed the Tiruparamgiri Puranam which gives the legend behind the temple. Among modern composers Papanasam Sivan (1890-1973) dedicated several songs to Murugan and one among these; ?Kunram Kudi? (raga Todi) is on Muruga at this shrine.
The second of the six shrines is Tiruchendur. Unlike most other shrines dedicated to Muruga, this is not on a hill, but on the sea shore around 60km from Tirunelveli town. Tiruchendur is said to be the place where Muruga vanquished Surapadma and each year the Kanda Shashti festival, commemorating this is celebrated with great fervour. The Lord here does not wield the Vel for He is believed to be doing penance for absolving Himself of the sins of killing in battle. The temple has a unique practice of distributing the sacred ash or vibhuti in leaves. Sendil Andavan, as Muruga is called here, has been the subject of numerous compositions. The Tiruchendur Puranam was created in the 14th century AD by Verrimalai Kavirayar. Pagazhi Koothar of the 15th century AD wrote the Tiruchendur Pillai Tamizh and the Tiruchendur Kovai was written by Sarkarai Pulavar in the 17th century. Tiruchendil Venba is a composition of Sivagnana Yogigal of the 19th century. ?Senthil Andavan, Siva Kumaran? (raga Kharaharapriya) is a well known song of Papanasam Sivan on this deity. A romantic opera, Senthil Kuravanji, also exists and appears to have been performed here. Kovai Subri, whose song on the deity is featured here, is the pen name of a modern day composer who has remained anonymous. This composer has created songs on all the six shrines of Murugan. DK Pattammal and DK Jayaraman made many of his compositions famous.
The third of the six shrines is Palani also known as Avinankudi. The Lord here is in the form of a mendicant wearing only a loin cloth and wielding a staff. He is said to have come here in a huff, owing to His parents having given a sacred fruit to His elder brother Ganesa. Arriving here He was mollified by His parents who said that He (nee) was the fruit (Pazham) Himself and hence the name of the town. The temple is on a hill and is believed to have been built by the Chera Kings in the 7th century AD with extensions and additions by the Pandyas and the Nayaks. The main deity is believed to have been fashioned out of nine poisonous substances (Navapashanam) by a Siddha and is said to possess medicinal properties. Offerings of Panchmritam for anointing the deity are a common form of worship. The temple also specialises in Kavadi, in which people carry a heavy palanquin like structure, sometimes laden with offerings and climb the hill. The Kavadi later became a common offering to any Muruga shrine and also spawned the song form of Kavadi Chindu in which genre Annamalai Reddiar (1865-1890) created many songs. Pazhanikovai is an anonymous work of the 10th century AD on this temple. The immortal ?Kaa Vaa Vaa? (raga Varali) of Papanasam Sivan is dedicated to this shrine. We present here a song of Periyasami Thooran, a lyricist of the 20th century, composed on this deity.
The fourth shrine dedicated to Muruga is Swamimalai located close to Kumbhakonam. Also referred to as Tiruverakam, the temple is on an artificial hillock. Lord Shiva is said to have forgotten the meaning of the supreme Pranava and His son expounded it to Him, thereby becoming His Guru. The Lord here stands alone, wielding the Vajrayudha or thunderbolt and the staff or Danda. The 19th century poet Swami Kavirayar dedicated his Swaminatham to this temple. The song in this album is composed by Pamban Swamigal (1848-1929) a great devotee of Muruga and who composed among other works, 6666 songs on his favourite deity.
The fifth shrine is Tiruttani, close to Madras city. This is the place to which Muruga repaired with Valli after their courtship and marriage. Here He is enshrined with both His consorts. It is also believed that this was where He calmed down (Tani) from the wrath of killing the demons. Located on a hilltop, the temple has had many saints and savants associated with it, including Muttuswami Dikshitar (1775-1835) who received divine inspiration on its steps. Among the Tamil compositions, Papanasam Sivan?s ?Tanigai Valar? (raga Todi) is a grand one dedicated to this deity. Kachiappa Munivar of the 19th century AD wrote the Tanigai Puranam while Kandappayyar of the same period composed the Tanigai Pillai Tamizh, the Tanigai Ula and the Tanigai Antadi. Ramalinga Swamigal (1823-1874AD), the great savant also composed some of his immortal arutpas on this deity. In Tiruttani, as in Tiruchendur, a strong Devadasi tradition existed till 1947 when it was abolished. It was customary for the Tiruttani Devadasis to sing several romantic songs dedicated to Muruga. ?Valli Tirumanam? (the marriage of Valli), first created as a play in the 15th century AD became very popular on stage and did much to revive interest in drama in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The best remembered ones are the performances of SG Kittappa and KB Sundarambal. Their songs filtered back to the field of classical music and dance as well. The theme also became a subject for successful Tamil films.
The last of the six great shrines, is a surprisingly small one at Pazhamudircholai close to the famed Vaishnavite shrine of Azhagarkoil near Madurai. The temple here is of recent construction and there is also a dispute if this is the shrine referred to by Nakkeerar. The deity here was a simple spear or Vel, worshipped as Muruga from time immemorial. Later an idol complete with consorts was installed. A perennial waterfall called the Nupura Ganga is close by. The sthala vrksha or sacred tree here is of the rose apple variety and bears fruit during the Skanda Shashti festival. We present here a song by Koteeswara Iyer (1870-1936), the composer who created songs in all 72 melakarta ragas, several of them dedicated to Singaravelar, the Muruga deity of the Kapaliswarar Temple in Mylapore.
No write up on Murugan shrines can be complete without bringing in Arunagirinatha, the 15th century composer who created the immortal Tiruppugazh whose dazzling array of chanda talas still intrigue musicians. He also wrote the Kandar Alankaram and the Kandar Anubhuti. He travelled to many shrines and among these a majority were Murugan temples. He composed songs on the six sacred padai veedu temples and we end this offering with a set of verses of his in which all six shrines are covered.