Murugan is a popular Hindu deity among Tamil Hindus, and is worshipped primarily by South Indians in India and abroad. He is not quite so well-known in other parts of India. Like most Indian deities, He is known by many other names, including Kartikeya (or son of Krittika), Arumugam (one with six faces), Kumaran, Shanmukha, Skanda, Swaminatha and Subramanian. He is the God of war and the patron deity of the Tamil land (Tamil Nadu). According to the Tamil devotional work, Thiruppugazh, "Murugan never hesitates to come to the aid of a devotee when called upon in piety or distress".

The Satapatha Brahmana depicts him as the son of Rudra and the ninth form of Agni. The Taittiriya Aranyaka includes the Gayatri mantra for Shanmukha. The Chandogya Upanishad refers to Skanda as the "way that leads to wisdom". The Baudhayana Dharma Sutra mentions Skanda as Mahasena and Subrahmanya. The Aranya Parva of the Mahabharata alludes to Kartikeya Skanda where the legend is retold in considerable detail. The Skanda Purana is devoted to the narrative of Kartikeya.

The references to Murugan in Sanskrit literature could therefore be traced back to the first millennium BCE and the thereafter. Ratna Navaratnam alludes to the reference to Subrahmanya in Kautilya's Arthashastra, the works of Patanjali and to Kalidasa's epic poem the Kumara Sambhava. The Kushanas who governed from what is today Peshawar had struck coins that featured Skanda or Mahasena. The Yaudheyas, a republican clan in the Punjab, issued coins with the Skanda image as well. The Iskhvakus, an Andhra dynasty, and the Guptas did venerate the deity.

The Legend

Though slightly varying versions occur in the Puranas, they broadly follow the same pattern. (By this period, the identification of Shiva/Rudra with Agni, that can be traced back to the Vedas and Brahmanas, had clearly made Kartikeya the son of Shiva.)

The Skanda Purana narrates that Shiva, was married earlier to Dakshayani (also known as Sati), the granddaughter of Brahma, and the daughter of Daksha. Daksha never liked Shiva (Shiva begs for food, lives in a graveyard covered with ashes being the Destructor, and has no possessions, not even good clothes for himself - symbolising detachment but disliked by Daksha) and insults Shiva in front of Dakshayini in a Yagna. Dakshayani self-immolates herself, unable to bear the humiliation. Having thus incurred Shiva's wrath, the Yagna is destroyed even though it was protected by all the other Gods & Rishis. Taraka believed that, since Shiva was an ascetic and his earlier marriage was itself conducted with great difficulty, his remarriage was out of the question, hence his boon of being killed by Shiva's son alone would give him invincibility.

The Devas manage to get Shiva married to Parvati (who was Dakshayani, reborn) by having Manmatha (also known as Kama), the god of love awaken him from his penance, incurring his wrath by opening his third eye of destruction, and being destroyed & resurrected. Shiva hands over his effulgence of the third eye used to destroy Manmatha to Agni, as he alone is capable of handling it until it becomes the desired offspring. But even Agni, tortured by its heat, hands it over to Ganga who in turn deposits it in a lake in a forest of reeds (shara). The child is finally born in this forest (vana) with six faces-eesanam, sathpurusham, vamadevam, agoram, sathyojatham and adhomugam. He is first spotted and cared for by six women representing the Pleiades - Kritika in Sanskrit. He thus gets named Kartikeya. As a young lad, he destroys Taraka. As this youthful saviour he is called Kumara (Sanskrit for "youth").

The Sangam era works in Tamil that refer to Murugan in detail include the Tiru-murukaarupadai, the Tolkapiyam - the earliest Tamil grammar, the Paripadal, the Ahanaanooru and the Puranaanooru.

One poem in the Paripadal describes the veneration of Murugan thus:

"We implore thee not for boons of enjoyment or wealth, But for thy grace beatific, love and virtuous deeds".

Muruga is also mentioned in the Gita. In chapter 10, Verse 24, Krishna says of generals he is sKandan.

"Of Priests, O Arjuna, know Me to be the Chief, Brhaspati. Of generals I am Skandah, and of bodies of water I am the Ocean" - Bhagavad-Gita Chapter 10 - Verse 24.

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