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Kartikeya - The Lord Who Hits Sixes

Even among Gods something like the ‘survival of the fittest’ syndrome seems to operate. For some of them are the darlings of the masses while others are not even worshipped. Kartikeya, alias Murugan alias Subramaniam alies Velan, belongs to the first category. Just like Krishna is the darling of the masses in the north, this Dravidian God, Murugan, captures the imagination of one and all in the South. This is not to suggest that Krishna worship does not exist in the south or that Kartikeya worship does not exist in the north.

The story of how and why Kartikeya, also known as Skanda, came to be is long and complicated, but interesting. Beginning the story halfway, Siva and Parvati were deliberately interrupted in their amorous play by the other gods for its intensity and duration were causing the whole world to tremor and shake. That having been done, Siva’s semen had to be deposited somewhere and agni or the fire god was found to be the appropriate receptacle. After many years Agni found the burden of carrying the semen rather telling and passed it on to Ganga, the waters, Ganga too bore the burden cheerfully for a while and finally went to Brahma for a solution. Brahma told her to deposit it in the grassland in the Saravana forests on the mountains where the sun rises. Ganga did as she was told.

After 10,000 years a child as effulgent as the sun was born and let out such a thunderous cry that six celestial beings who came that way heard it and came down to hold, feed and quieten the child. As the child looked at the six of them, he developed six faces and so came to be known as Sanmukha.

Very soon everybody got to know about the birth of the child and Agni, Ganga, Siva and Parvati, among others reached there. Now a decision had to be taken, whose son was he?

Siva, obviously quite a diplomat, said whoever the child looked at first would be the parent. The child, son of Siva after all, was cleverer than his father. He assumed four yogic bodies and looked at each of the contestants at the same time. Siva then said that as the son of the celestial beings who fed him, he would known as Kartikeya. As Agni’s son he will be known as Mahasena. As Ganga’s son he would be known as Kumara. As Parvati’s son he would be known as Skanda. As the forest Saravana’s son he would be known as Saravana. Finally, “he will be known as my son in the name of Guha.” Therefore Murugan was born with six names and six faces.

Though called the younger son of Parvati and Siva, it was Brahma who arranged for Muruga’s birth. He was created in answer to the prayer of the gods for a competent leader of their forces. He was thus born into the role of the God of war.

Muruga is the child deity whose childhood pranks are enjoyed by his devotees. It is said that there was once a wise old poetess called Avvayar. Muruga wanted to test her wisdom. He saw her coming and climbed on to a tree. As the poetess came near the tree, she looked up since there were berries there. “Can I throw you some?” asked Muruga helpfully. Touched by the small child’s readiness to help, Avvayar said yes most certainly. The Muruga asked her “do you want hot fruits or the not hot ones?” That was the first time Avvayar had heard of hot and not-hot fruits. “You are so wise, do you not know even that?” asked the child. “No,” admitted the wise woman. “Give me the not-hot ones,” she said. The boy threw down some fruits. Avvayar picked them up and blew the dust off them. “There you are why are you blowing on them now? Are the hot?” asked Muruga.

Murugan’s wisdom in much acclaimed. Story goes that when he was a baby he advised his father on the Vedas. And his father heeded the advice!

Muruga was a great per of his mother. He killed a demon when he himself was still very young. He was also highly praised by the other deities who had gifted him some very precious gifts like a peacock to ride on, a trident (vel) to carry and so on.

One day the two sons of Siva and Parvati, the elephant faced Ganesha and Muruga had a bet. Some versions of the story say that the contest was for a special mango which Parvati had only one of. Another version says that both Ganesha and Muruga both fell in love with the same two girls, Siddhi and Buddhi. Whoever was more efficient in the contest they had set for themselves would win the prize.

The task they set before themselves was to go around the world three times. No sooner was the task assigned, Muruga sped around on his peacock. Elephant faced Ganesha traveled on a mouse and so could not dream of competing with the stylish Muruga who always beat him in pace and style. But Ganesha went around his parents three times and said they meant the world to him. Muruga got quite cheesed!

Muruga was a favourite among girls too. He married Valli and Devyani. Before marrying Valli, however, Muruga tested her love for him. He went dressed as a hunter and asked if she had seen a deer run past. He teased and provoked her. He then also came as an old man and asked her to help him. Once again he tried teasing and testing her. But Valli’s love for Muruga was steadfast and so finally he appeared in his true form and wed her. Vedan, viruthan and velan are the words with which this story is referred to in short.

Kartikeya was fond of teasing girls in general. One day his mother reprimanded him and showed him her image in every woman. It is said that Subramanya took the vow of celibacy then.

There are six pilgrimage centres devoted to Kartikeya: Tirutani, Palani Tiruchandur, Swamimalai, Pazhamudircholai and Tiruparamkundram.