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.
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.
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.