This article is from the book Hindu Gods and Goddesses.
An Avatara of Lord Siva
The Lord of Nature
Scriptures That Extol Lord Skanda
The Form of Shanmukha
Valli and Deivayanai
The Peacock, the Snake and the Cock
The Esoteric Significance of the Skanda Stories
The Wedding of Valli
Pratyaksha Devata of This Kali Yuga
O General of Devas’ forces!
O Destroyer of evil,
O Karttikeya, Siva’s son!
Six Sparks from Sankara’s fire!
O God of War!
Salutations unto Thee.
Thou art the Power of Wisdom,
Truth, Good, and Grace.
All powers of manhood
Are Thy power.
THE Asura Taraka oppressed the Devas very much. He drove them out of the heavens. All the Devas went to Brahma. Brahma said to the Devas: “O Devas, I cannot destroy Taraka, as he has obtained my grace through his severe Tapas. But I shall give you a suggestion. Get the help of Cupid or Kama Deva. Induce him to tempt Lord Siva, who is now absorbed in His Yoga-Samadhi, to marry Parvati. A powerful son, Lord Subrahmanya or Karttikeya, will then be born to them. This son alone can destroy the Asura.”
Indra asked Kama to go with his wife Rati and his companion Vasanta (the Spring) to Mount Kailasa, the abode of Siva. Kama at once proceeded to Mount Kailas along with Rati and Vasanta. Spring season came in immediately. Standing behind a tree, Kama shot his flowery arrows of passion at Lord Siva just when Parvati was putting flowers into His hand. As soon as Parvati’s hands came in contact with those of Lord Siva, He experienced a thrill of feeling. Siva wondered what it was that disturbed His Yoga. He looked around and saw Kama behind a tree.
Siva opened His third eye and Cupid was burnt to ashes by the fire that emanated from it. That is how Kama Deva came to be Ananga–the bodiless.
After burning Kama Deva, Lord Siva found out in His Yogic vision that the birth of Lord Subrahmanya was absolutely necessary to destroy the powerful Taraka. He had His Retas (semen) thrown into the hands of Fire, who, unable to retain it, threw it into Ganga. In Her turn, She threw it into a reed forest where Karttikeya (Lord Subrahmanya), the Reed-born (Shara-Janma), was born. He became the leader of the celestial hosts and the destroyer of Tarakasura, exactly as Brahma intended.
Lord Subrahmanya is an Avatara of Lord Siva. All Incarnations are manifestations of the one Supreme Lord. Lord Subrahmanya and Lord Krishna are one. Lord Krishna says in the Gita, “Senaninam Aham Skandah: Of the generals, I am Skanda.” The Lord manifests Himself from time to time in various names and forms for establishing Dharma and punishing the wicked.
Lord Subrahmanya is a ray born of the Chaitanya of Lord Siva. He is the energy of Lord Siva. Valli and Deivayanai are His two wives. They represent the Ichcha Sakti and the Kriya Sakti of the Lord. He is a Pratyaksha Devata in this Kali Yuga, like Hanuman. He bestows on His devotees material and spiritual prosperity and success in all their undertakings even at the slightest devotion shown to Him. Guha, Muruha, Kumaresa, Karttikeya, Shanmukha (He who has six faces), Subrahmanya, Velayudha (He who wears the spear) are synonymous terms.
Lord Shanmukha, the Light of lights and the innermost Self of all, is worshipped in the form of God having six faces and twelve hands. The worship of Subrahmanya is more or less confined to South India though He is not unknown to the Hindus of the rest of India as Karttikeya. The Tamilians have a living faith in Subrahmanya and are as fond of His Leelas as the North Indians and the South Indian Vaishnavites are of Krishna’s sports.
The worship of Lord Skanda is most prevalent in South India and Ceylon. Almost every town in the South has its temple dedicated to Lord Shanmukha. The Tamils have named Shanmukha as Muruhan. Just as the God of Wind is Vayu, the God of Water is Varuna, the Tamil term for the Lord of Nature is Muruha.
Temples of Lord Subrahmanya can be seen throughout South India. Places of natural beauty that soothes the soul enshrine the Almighty in the form of Lord Subrahmanya. Of the places where the temples of Lord Skanda are to be seen, a few are very famous. Each of these temples has a legend and history of its own. The famous temples of Lord Subrahmanya in South India are Tiruchendur, Palani, Thirupparankundram, Swamimalai, Thiruthanigai, Thirupporur, Udipi and Alagar Koil; and almost all hillocks in South India, especially in Tamil Nadu, shine with a temple of Lord Subrahmanya on the top.
Lord Subrahmanya showed His Bala Leelas in Tiruchendur and had His Samadhi in Kathirgamam, near Jaffna, Ceylon. If anyone goes to Kathirgamam with faith, devotion and piety and stays in the temple for two or three days, Lord Subrahmanya gives His Vibhuti to the devotees in the shape of instructions. The devotee gets mystical experiences. A big festival is held in this temple every year on Skanda Shashti. Mountains of camphor are burnt on this occasion. Thousands of people gather there for the occasion.
During Skanda Shashti, the day on which Lord Subrahmanya killed the demon Taraka, grand festivals are held with great pomp and grandeur at various places in South India. Devotees do worship, Bhajan and Kirtan on this day on an almost extravagant scale. Thousands are fed sumptuously. Many incurable diseases are cured if one visits Palani and worships the Lord there. In South India, Lord Subrahmanya’s Leelas are dramatised and performed in open-air theatres.
Of the eighteen Puranas, Skanda Purana deals with the Avatara and Leelas of Lord Skanda and His victory over the Asura king, Soorapadman. It also narrates the story of His marriage with Valli and Deivayanai. It extols the glory of Lord Skanda and His greatness and brings out the various attributes and functions of the Lord. Every episode narrated in the story has got an esoteric significance. Devotees and Bhaktas of Lord Subrahmanya have this text for their constant Svadhyaya.
Scriptures relating to Lord Skanda can be had in abundance in Tamil literature. In fact, Lord Subrahmanya was worshipped not only as the Lord of Nature, but also as the Lord who gave the Tamil Language to Agastya Rishi. Amongst the oldest extant Tamil works is Thirumurugatrupadai (guidance for an aspirant to the worship of Lord Skanda). The author of this book was Nakkeerar, a famous poet of the olden days. One who studies this book daily and does Puja of the Lord gets purged of all sins and he attains everything both in this world and in the next.
Saint Arunagirinathar has left us more than a thousand songs in praise of Lord Shanmukha. These songs are known as Thiruppugazh (praise of the Lord). Every song is elevating and soul-stiffing. The same saint has given to the world other books, namely, Kandar Anubhooti (Grace of the Lord and how to obtain it) and Kandar Alankaram. The former has so much efficacy that its constant repetition with faith and love bestows every blessing that one can ask for.
In a later period, another saint, Kumaragurupara Swamigal, composed a long poem in praise of Lord Shanmukha. This is known as Kandar Kali Venba. There are also other poems known as Pillai Tamizh.
In common with all Hindu mythological accounts and stories, the descriptions and the legends about Subrahmanya also embody various esoteric truths. Lord Subrahmanya has six faces. He holds a spear or Vel, and He rides on a peacock. The peacock stands upon a black serpent. A cock is the Lord’s banner. He has two wives, Valli and Deivayanai. He is the son of Parama Siva. He came out of Siva’s third eye, in the form of fire or light Jyotis. His achievements consisted of the destruction of the great Asura Soorapadma who, with his assistants, was enslaving Indra and other Devas. He married Deivayanai, the daughter of Indra. On the advice of Narada, He married also Valli, the foster-daughter of the hunter-king Nambi, after testing her devotion pretty severely. Even as a boy, Lord Subrahmanya imprisoned Brahma for his ignorance of the meaning of the Pranava Mantra and released him only at the request of Lord Siva. Incidentally, He also expounded to Lord Siva the meaning of the same Mantra. All these accounts are the interesting details greatly appreciated and cherished by deeply devoted Subrahmanya Bhaktas.
From the esoteric point of view, Subrahmanya is the Lord who incarnated Himself to illumine the intelligence of human beings and liberate them from ignorance of various kinds which hides the truth from them. That Subrahmanya came out of Siva’s third eye is symbolic of His being the incarnation of Pure Intelligence, for Siva’s third eye is known to be the Eye of Knowledge.
The six heads of Lord Subrahmanya represent the six Chakras. They also represent the five senses and the mind. They represent the six attributes of Bhagavan: Jnana (wisdom), Vairagya (dispassion), Bala (strength), Kirti (fame), Sree (wealth) and Aisvarya (divine powers). They indicate that He is the source for the four Vedas, Vedangas, and the six schools of philosophy; that He has controlled the five Jnana Indriyas and the mind. They denote that He is the Virat Purusha with countless heads. They signify that His head is turned everywhere (Viswathomukha); He is all-pervading. They indicate that He is omnipotent and that He can multiply and assume forms at His will. The six faces indicate that His presence shines on the four sides and also above and below.
The twelve arms show that He alone creates, preserves, destroys, hides and blesses–in fact, does everything in the world.
Valli, Deivayanai and the Vel mean respectively Ichcha Sakti, Kriya Sakti and Jnana Sakti, i.e., the force of desire, the force of action, and the force of knowledge. It is indicated that all these three abide in Subrahmanya, who is Para Brahman Himself. The fact that desire and action forces are kept on either side of Him and that Jnana Sakti or the force of knowledge alone is kept in His breast point out that Knowledge is the most important of them all and that it never gets separated from Him.
Subrahmanya married Valli according to the Gandharva mode. He did not obtain the permission of her parents for doing so. That also shows that Valli is His desire-force.
On the other hand, His marriage of Deivayanai was after His victory over the Asuras. Out of gratitude, Indra gave Subrahmanya his own daughter Deivayanai in marriage. This was done according to Vedic rites. These events point to the fact that Deivayanai is His action-force.
The two wives Deivayanai and Valli also symbolise the two types of devotees among those who strive for Moksha or Liberation through union or oneness with the Supreme. One type consists of those who rigidly and sincerely observe the injunctions and follow the teachings of the Vedic scriptures and are thus the followers of Vaidik Karmas. That type is represented by Deivayanai, whom Subrahmanya married in the regular orthodox way. The other type consists of the ardent Bhaktas who attach more importance to right mental feeling and emotion than to rules and regulations. This type is symbolised by Valli, who grows as the foster-daughter of the hunter-king Nambi. Subrahmanya marries her in the combined Gandharva and Paisacha modes of marriage. He manifests love in wooing her and uses force in fighting against her relations who try to obstruct Him.
In the picture, Lord Subrahmanya holds the Vel or Spear in His hand, just as Lord Siva holds the Trident or Trisula. This is an emblem of power and indicates that He is the ruler of this universe. The devotees of Lord Subrahmanya do obeisance to the Vel.
The Vel or Spear was given to Subrahmanya by Parvati, the embodiment of Siva-Sakti. It, therefore, indicates that the Spear was the symbol of true Knowledge as coming out of Parvati, the Para Sakti. The shape of the Vel also shows that Knowledge in the form of Jyotis will start from Muladhara, which is the bottom of the Vel, pass through the intermediate Nadis (which are represented by the body of the Vel), and pierce through the thousand-petalled Brahmarandhra, which is represented by the sharp, leaf-shaped end of the Vel.
The Spear or Vel is the weapon which pierces through the demon of Ignorance. This is Ekagra Chitta or the one-pointed mind so much insisted upon in Raja Yoga without which progress is impossible for the Yogi. It is the preliminary for concentration, meditation and absorption–all of which together constitute the Yogic Samyama. In the legend, it is Soorapadma, the Asura, who is slain by the Vel. That Asura is none other than Ignorance.
Shanmukha’s Vahana, the peacock, shows the shape of the Pranava letter OM. It is the shape of the Bindu. When the peacock has spread out its tail, it has the round shape of the Pranava. Within it is the Parabrahma Jyoti which is the form of Muruha or Subrahmanya. The subordinated serpent kept in check by the peacock’s feet shows the Maya impurity completely overpowered by the power of Pranava.
The peacock is the most beautiful of all birds. It is the one bird which can reveal its inner joy by dancing and displaying its gorgeous plumage. When it does so, it evidences its perfect balance, for it is a very heavy bird and it has to keep its balance on its two very slender feet. Thus we can also interpret the peacock as symbolising mental equipoise, the predominance of the Sattva over the Rajas and Tamas qualities. Such a mental condition reveals itself in a superior sort of self-satisfaction, a state similar to that of the peacock which spreads out its beautiful plumage. It is this predominating Sattva that is the pre-requisite for the acquisition of True Knowledge, the Knowledge symbolised by Lord Subrahmanya Himself.
The Vahana peacock is also by way of representation that the Lord has entirely conquered pride, egoism, vanity. The cobra under His Feet is to indicate that He is absolutely fearless, immortal and wise.
The cock in the banner signifies the Pranava, the Nada-Brahman, the sound-form of God. Subrahmanya’s cock-banner symbolises the approach or dawn of Knowledge. It is the cock that proclaims the coming of the sun in the eastern horizon. The sun is the heavenly body that dispels darkness. Likewise, the cock on Subrahmanya’s banner announces the approach of Knowledge which will destroy all ignorance.
There is another form of Subrahmanya which is known as Danda Pani. When He is represented in that form, He stands alone with the Vel, but without Valli or Deivayanai. This represents His Nirguna aspect which is free from Maya. This also shows that He can be without the forces of desire and action, but cannot be without the force of Knowledge.
Let us now examine the meaning of the legend about Soorapadma who was killed by Subrahmanya. The Asuras Taraka, Simhamukha and Soorapadma were the sons of Maya. They persecuted the Devas and imprisoned Devakumara. Muruha heeded the prayers of the Devas, killed the three Asuras with His spear, and liberated Devakumara from the prison. Later, according to the request of the victorious Devas, Muruha married Deivayanai, the daughter of Indra. The inner significance of this account is as follows. The three sons of Maya are Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, the three Gunas. Jiva is ever under the influence of these three Gunas and is subjugated by them. God Subrahmanya listens to the prayers of the Jiva and liberates him from the clutches of the three foes, the three Gunas. Not only does He liberate the Jiva, but He also, by marrying, unites the Jiva with Himself.
Take, again, the wedding of Valli. In the dark forest of the mountain, Valli frowns in the midst of the cruel hunters, her relations, and spends her time throwing stones to drive away birds which peck the grains in the fields. But her mind is always in love with Lord Muruha. In right time, Muruha comes in different guises, tests her, frightens her with the elephant through the help of Vinayaka, and in the end, reveals His real form, takes her away to marry. At that time, He encounters the opposition of Valli’s foster-parents and kills them. But, in response to Valli’s request, He brings them back to life and celebrates the marriage with her.
The dark forest is Tamas. The cruel hunters are Rajas. Valli is the Jiva who is in the grasp of these two. Her guarding the grains in the field is her earnest Sadhana to realise the Paramatman. The birds that come to peck the grains are the obstacles to her rigid Sadhana. To save herself, she keeps in her hand the catapult which is Viveka (discrimination), and uses the pebbles which represent Vairagya (dispassion). Thus she drives away the obstacles. To test the strength of her Sadhana, Muruha appears before her in disguises, and in the end, shows her the meaning of Pranava in the form of the elephant. Then the forces of Rajas which envelop the Jiva (symbolised by the hunters who surround Valli) are vanquished and transformed into Suddha Sattva Guna. After that the Jiva is released and given the supreme status of identification with Para Brahman.
Lord Shanmukha is the Pratyaksha Devata (visible God) of this Kali Yuga. He is readily pleased with His devotees to whom He grants both Bhukti and Mukti (enjoyments here and Moksha hereafter). Millions are still living who can narrate instances in their own life to show the miracles brought about by propitiation of Lord Shanmukha.
Perhaps the most potent propitiatory rite that a devotee of Shanmukha undertakes to perform is what is known as the Kavadi. The benefits that the devotee gains from offering a Kavadi to the Lord are a millionfold greater than the little bit of pain that the devotee inflicts upon himself.
Generally, people take a vow to offer the Lord a Kavadi for the purpose of tiding over, or averting, a great calamity. For instance, if the devotee’s only son is laid up with a fatal disease, he would pray to Shanmukha to grant the boy a lease of life in return for which the devotee would take a vow to dedicate a Kavadi to the Lord.
Though this might, on the face of it, appear materialistic, a moment’s reflection will reveal that it contains in it the seed for the Supreme God-Love. The worldly object is achieved; and the devotee takes the Kavadi. After the ceremony, he gets so much intoxicated with the love of God that his spiritual inner chamber is opened now. This, too, ultimately leads to Para Bhakti.
O Lord Subrahmanya! O All-merciful Lord! We have neither faith nor devotion. We do not know how to worship Thee in the proper manner or to meditate upon Thee. We are Thy children who have lost the way, forgotten the Goal and Thy Name. Is it not Thy duty, O compassionate Father, to take back these lost children under Thy shelter, to caress and protect, and to shower Thy grace and benedictions on them?
O Mother Valli, will You not intercede for us with Thy Lord? Mother’s love for her children is mightier than any other emotion in this world. Though we have become worthless and undutiful children, O beloved Mother! pardon us. Make us dutiful and faithful. We are Thine from this very second. Always Thine. All is Thine. It is the Mother’s duty to correct, educate, rectify and mould Her reckless children when they are straying from the right path. Remove the gulf that separates us, the veil that hides us, from Thee. Bless us. Enlighten us. Take us back to Thy lotus feet. We have nothing more to say. This is our fervent prayer to Thee and Thy Lord, our beloved and eternal parents.