The Importance of Karthikeyan or Murugan in Tamil Literature and Culture

Murugan or Muruga is regarded as the Tamil God and is worshiped extensively, especially by the Tamil-speaking people the world over, with much fervor, enthusiasm, and faith. Known variously as Karthikeya(n), Subrahmanya(n), Skanda(n), and Shanmuga(n), he remains the Divine son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and the brother of Lord Ganesha. Murugan also remains a Warrior God of matchless valor, whom the scriptures hail as the commander-in-chief of the army of Devas, the celestials.

Murugan has remained a part of the Tamil culture from time immemorial. There is enough archeological, historical, and epigraphic evidence to show that Murugan worship has been prevalent in the region, falling in the present state of Tamil Nadu and some neighboring territories. So, there is no surprise that Tamil literature and culture have been extending a lot of significance to Muruga from ancient times.

The Karthikeyan or Murugan Legend

According to mythology, Murugan incarnated to rid the world of the terrible demon Surapadman and his accomplices. He is said to have emerged from the sparks of fire that emanated from Shiva's third eye, initially as 6 babies, who were brought up by the Karthigai damsels. These babies were later merged into a Divine, handsome single entity of immense power, with 6 faces and 12 hands, by Mother Parvati. He then led the Deva army, annihilated the demons, and established the right order, peace, and joy in the universe.

This handsome and youthful warrior was naturally called 'Murugan,' the term itself standing for these attributes. Besides, while Murugan, as the one brought up by the Karthigai girls, became Karthikeyan, this 6-faced Lord also became Shanmuga.

A Literary and Cultural Icon

Sangam Literature, perhaps the earliest Tamil literature belonging to the Sangam age of 3rd century BCE - 3rd century CE, has references to the worship of the deity or nature spirit Murugan, using ritualistic sacrifices. It also mentions about one Velan, the priest, whose name later got attached to Murugan himself.

Besides, the Pandya kings ruling the southern Tamil regions organized Sangams, a series of Tamil literary conferences. And as per legends, Muruga himself presided over the Idai Sangam, the middle or second conference. Tholkappiam, the ancient Tamil grammatical and literary work of this Sangam age, glorifies the young and brilliant Murugan as the God of red hue and the favorite of the Tamils, riding his peacock vehicle gracefully.

These early references gradually led to exclusive literary works dedicated to Murugan, such as Thirumurukattruppadai and Paripaatal. These portray him as Chevvel, the Red Lord, with Vel, the mighty lance weapon. Other Sangam works of literature like Aganaanuru, Puranaanuru, and Paripaatal also followed, anointing Murugan as the pre-eminent Tamil God. The Tamil land in those olden times was divided into 5 regions, and these works also declared him as the presiding deity of the Kurinchi division, consisting of the mountainous area.

It is obvious that Murugan must have remained an integral part of the Tamil culture even earlier and entered the literary domain once this art form started taking roots!         

Symbols Associated with Murugan

Vel, the lance, is Karthikeyan's mighty weapon, which remains part and parcel of the Murugan imagery, and he is generally portrayed only as holding this Vel majestically. Legends claim that Murugan destroyed the demonic forces only by using this Vel, and likewise, it is believed that this weapon can also wipe out our darkness and ignorance. Murugan's Vel has since become a deity by itself, widely worshiped by Murugan devotees.

Further, the peacock and rooster also remain closely associated with Murugan, the former being his vehicle and the latter finding a place in Murugan's flag.  

Archeological findings have revealed iron representations and pottery with the images of these Murugan symbols- the Vel, peacock, and rooster. Perhaps the oldest of such finds emerged from the excavations of the prehistoric burial ground in Adichanallur, Tamil Nadu, which is 7000 years old!    

Thus Karthikeyan or Murugan has wielded a tremendous influence over the Tamil culture from very olden times, occupying a pride of place in its literature, and has percolated into the Tamil psyche as no other entity, Divine or otherwise, has ever done!


Post a Comment