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The holy abodes of Murugan

Hindu god Murugan, son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, is known by several names across India—Kartikeya, Skanda, Subrahmanya. He has six heads, rides a peacock and carries a vel (a type of spear). He is the commander-in-chief of the army of devas (gods) and is predominantly worshipped in south India. The legends that surround the birth of the god are many and varied. According to one legend, Murugan was created by Lord Shiva to rescue the devas from a demon king called Soorapadma.

Soorapadma was granted a boon by Shiva that made him nearly immortal—he could only be killed by someone who is an offspring of Shiva and Shiva alone. This made the demon king arrogant. He conquered and imprisoned the devas and brought immeasurable trouble to the world. To save the world and to put Soorapadma in his place, Shiva created Murugan from six sparks that shot out of his third eye.

Murugan then grew up to be a warrior who defeated Soorapadma and rescued the devas. Six mountain temples across the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu became camps where Murugan and his forces rested. These camps came to be known as Arupadai Veedu and comprise Swamimalai, Pazhani, Pazhamudhircholai, Thiruchendur, Thiruparankundram and Thiruthani. Each of the Arupadai Veedu has various legends associated with it and is said to represent different stages in Murugan’s life. In this feature, Soulveda explores some of the legends behind these temples and the god that they house.    

Swamimalai

The story behind this Arupadai Veedu begins with Lord Brahma. It is said that once Brahma was passing by Murugan’s abode, bragging about his status as the creator of the universe. Murugan, who was then a child, found his arrogance unsettling. So, he began asking Brahma some questions. “How exactly do you go about creating the universe?” he asked. Brahma said, “Indeed, by reciting the Pranava Mantra.” Murugan then requested Brahma to explain the mantra to him. However, Brahma stumbled right at the first word, which was ‘Om’. Murugan then knocked Brahma in the head and imprisoned him for being ignorant, and, yet arrogant.

When the other deities found out about what had happened, they went to Shiva to urge him to get Brahma released. Shiva then asked Murugan why he had locked up Brahma. When the boy explained his reason, Shiva said, “Oh, so do you know the meaning of the Pranava Mantra? Could you explain it to me?” Murugan then insisted that Shiva get down on his knees, fold his arms and ask him politely—like a student would ask his teacher. Shiva does what he is told and Murugan explains the mantra to him. Hence, Murugan is worshipped as Swaminatha Swami (The god who taught the god) at this temple.

Pazhani

According to a legend, Narada Muni once offered the fruit of wisdom to Lord Shiva and Parvati. The couple then considered giving it to one of their sons— Ganesha or Murugan. As both of them wanted the fruit, they suggested that the boys compete for it. Whoever goes around the world and comes back home the fastest gets the fruit, they said. And hence Murugan set out on his peacock to travel around the world. Ganesha, on the other hand, walked around his parents and claimed the fruit as he believed them to be his world. Moved by his adoration, Shiva and Parvati gave him the fruit of wisdom. When Murugan returned to learn what had happened, he felt betrayed. He stormed out of Kailasa and climbed to the top of the Pazhani Hill to sulk. It is believed that the god eventually settled down in this part of south India and came to be worshipped with fervour.

Six mountain temples across the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu became camps where Murugan and his forces rested. These camps came to be known as Arupadai Veedu.


One of the most interesting legends associated with the temple says that Murugan’s vigraha (idol) here is made of navapashanam or nine valuable herbs. Hence, the abhisheka milk (which used to bathe the idol) offered to devotees is said to have medicinal properties.

Pazhamudhircholai

There once lived an elderly Tamil poetess called Avvaiyar. An ardent devotee of Murugan, she sang countless songs about his grace and power. One day, as she was walking in the scorching sun, she sought refuge in the shade of a large jamoon tree. A boy who was sitting on the tree called out to her and asked if she would like him to pluck out some fruits for her. Avvaiyar was thirsty and starving, so she agreed gratefully. “Would you like roasted ones or unroasted ones?” the boy then asked. The elderly woman thought the boy was talking nonsense, but she didn’t want to argue, so she asked for unroasted fruits. The boy then shook the tree and many jamoon fruits fell on the ground. Avvaiyar picked up a couple and blew on them to remove the dirt. “Are the roasted fruits too hot for you, paati?” asked the boy, laughing. Impressed by the word play and the ingenuity of the seemingly simple boy, the poetess asked him who he was. The boy then vanished and reappeared as Lord Murugan. He blessed her with good luck on her quest for knowledge and poetry.

Thiruchendur

Tiruchendur is considered one of the most important Arupadai Veedu, as it is believed that this is where Murugan vanquished Soorapadma. The commander-in-chief offered prayers to Lord Shiva and took the Shaktivel (powerful spear) bestowed upon him by Goddess Parvati and set out for the war. It is said that cornered by Murugan’s forces, Soorapadma transformed into a mango tree and positioned himself in the middle of the ocean. Murugan then struck him with the Shaktivel and sliced him into two. He turned one half into a rooster and put it on his flag. The other half became the peacock that he used as his means of transportation. Every year, this victory is celebrated by devotees at the temple over six days. During the festival, which is called Kandashashti, devotees fast for six days and offer prayers to the god of war.

Thiruparankundram

The temple is located atop the Thiruparankundram Hill in Madurai. This is where Murugan is believed to have wed Devasena, Indra’s daughter, following the defeat of Soorapadma. The temple is carved into a cave on the mountain and all deities are in the form of sculptures on the walls. All rishis and gods who attended the grand wedding are depicted in the sanctum sanctorum, it is believed. Pilgrims can see shrines dedicated to Satyagireeshwarar (an avatar of Lord Shiva), Pavalakanivaiperumal (an avatar of Lord Vishnu), Durgai Amman, Vinayakar and Narada Muni besides the main shrine of Murugan and Devasena.

Thiruthani

Thanidal means to calm down in Tamil. Thiruthani is where Murugan is known to have come after the war and his wedding to relax and let his hair down. The mountain on top of which the temple is located is elephant-shaped. There is a legend that explains this interesting anomaly. As a wedding present to Devasena and Murugan, Indra offered his pet elephant Airavata. However, with the elephant gone, the kingdom of devas began suffering a depletion of wealth. When he learnt of this, Murugan was willing to return the Airavata. But Indra refused and requested him to merely have the elephant look towards Devaloka. This is why the idol of Airavata faces the east at this temple.

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