Thai Pusam Special: How Murugan Leads Devotees Into Battle And To Victory, In Both The Inner And Outer Fields

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Jan 28, 2021 08:06 PM +05:30 IST
Thai Pusam Special: How Murugan Leads Devotees Into Battle And To Victory, In Both The Inner And Outer Fields Murugan (Benson Kua/Flickr)
  • Thai Pusam is an appropriate day to remind ourselves that in the battle between the inner devas and asuras, victory is guaranteed only when the divine commander-in-chief—Murugan—fights for us.

Today is Thai Pusam: a special day in which Murugan is celebrated throughout southern India and in parts of South East Asia.

Murugan is the beloved of the southern Indian people. As is the defining characteristic of all Hindu deities, he has Vedic roots and diverse local dimensions.

His dominantly symbolic weapon is the spear or vel.

Today, the politically motivated and racially tinged Dravidianist narrative is trying to take over this popular Hindu festival of Tamil Nadu and de-Hinduize.

For example, while trying to justify M.K.Stalin holding a ceremonial ‘vel’ in a DMK election rally organised in one of the sacred centres of Murugan worship, ‘Murasoli’ the official DMK magazine stated that the ‘vel’ was a secular symbol of temporal power and that the very Kaumaric chant ‘Vetri vel veera vel’ has nothing to do with Hindu spirituality.

So, on this auspicious day of Thai Pusam, let us look into the sacred lore of Murugan and understand how spiritually precious and uniquely Hindu it is.

According to Puranic traditions, Murugan conquered the three asuric brothers – Tarakasura, Simha-Mukasura and Sura-Padma with his ‘vel’.

These asuras, the sons of Maya and Maharishi Kashyapa, had sought boons of invincibility from Shiva and an additional boon that their destruction should come from Shiva Himself.

Being ardent Shiva bhaktas, they knew Shiva would never bring forth the destruction of his own devotees.

With their invincibility thus ensured, they started creating havoc in all the universes. They imprisoned all the devas, including Jayanta, the son of the chief of the devas, Indra.

So, Shiva brought forth the essence of all his five faces, Ishana, Tatpurusha, Satyojata, Vamadeva, Ahora. In addition to these five faces, a sixth face emerged – Athomukha.

Thus, six sparks emanating from the six faces of Shiva became the six faced Murugan – Kartikeya.

Kanchi Kachiyapa Sivacharya, the composer of Kantha Puranam in Tamil, brings out the nature of Murugan in this famous verse:

formless yet all forms
having no beginning at all
multitude variety infinite
and yet the One
that this Brahman all flame
essentializes into a body
compassion filled six faces
and hands twelve
One Auspicious Murugan
for the liberation
of the planet.

Among the episodes of divine play of Murugan as a child, the most famous is the one where imprisons Brahma.

Brahma becomes conceited because he is the creator. So, he does not pay his respects to Murugan who is in the form of a divine child.

Noticing the arrogance of the creator deity, Murugan calls him and asks who he is and what does he do that he is so full of pride.

Brahma answers that he is the creator. ‘How does he create the universe’, asks the divine child.

Elementary my child! Of course, through the Vedas-- answers Brahma.

Oh! you know the Vedas?--the child asks innocently.

Yes!! What a question! Otherwise, how can I create?--laughs Brahma.

Please chant for me the Vedas--asks the child.

Aum…’ starts Brahma.

Stop--says Murugan.

What is Aum… explain its meaning--the child demanded in a commanding voice.

Brahma realises his folly.

It is not he who creates. He in an instrument in projecting. And it is the consciousness that is the ground of all projection. Maya which is Avyakta is the first cause. Yet, he became conceited.

Ashamed of his own pride, he hangs his four heads down.

Brahma is imprisoned.

Shiva comes to know of the event. He feigns anger at his dear son.

Murugan is summoned. Murugan faces Shiva.

You imprisoned Brahma because he does not understand the meaning of Pranava. Do you know it yourself?--asks Shiva.

‘Yes’ says Murugan. 'I know'.

Tell me then--demands Shiva.

Murugan smiles.

'I shall. But now you should be my disciple. Be a disciple. Show me respect. I shall be seated above and you shall learn while displaying the humility of a seeker of spiritual knowledge'.

Sivan agrees.

Thus is born one of the most beautiful of the spiritual iconographies of humanity. Murugan the child sitting and Shiva the father and the God of Gods, humbly learning from him.

His spear, the vel, was given to him by the Goddess herself. It symbolises divine knowledge.

In Saiva Siddhanta, knowledge is of three types:

1. the knowledge of the bound self which is called the pasu-knowledge.

2. then there is knowledge of the pasam or the bondage – knowledge of the strands that bind us.

3. then there is third knowledge which is the knowledge that liberates – the knowledge of the pathi.

It will be quite an interesting exercise if we can make a comparative study of these three kinds of knowledge with the three kinds of knowledge that Spinoza talks about.

Vel represents this knowledge.

As Murugan goes to war to liberate the imprisoned divine forces, the asuras refuse to consider Murugan as the essence of Shiva.

Thus, unknowingly, they go against Shiva – facilitating their own destruction and defeat.

Tarakasura used to take the form of a mountain and not an ordinary mountain it would be.

Once inside its sphere of influence, the victim would be faced with illusions.

The forces of Skanda get caught in these illusions and faint.

Then Murugan employs the vel which destroys the mountain of delusions to pieces. Tarakasura is killed.

Saiva Siddhanta speaks of three impurities which adhere to every atman. One is maya, the entrapment in this enchanting caves of delusion. Vel, the spear of knowledge destroys that into pieces.

Then comes the ferocious Simha-Mukasura.

Incidentally, the character of Simha-Mukasura or the lion-faced brother of Sura-Padman is very much like Kumbhakarna in Ramayana. He knows he is on the wrong side but he has to fight. It is the karmic entanglement.

That is the second impurity that clings to every atman – karma. Vel destroys Simha-Mukasura also.

Then comes Sura-Padman himself – the chief antagonist.

After a fierce battle, Murugan destroys all the forces of Sura-Padman and his various magical missiles.

Sura-Padman seeks the assistance of his mother, Maya.

She advises him to surrender to the Divine but he insists that he needs only assistance and not advice.

All the weapons of illusion he hurls at Murugan go in vain.

Eventually, he stands alone.

Now the asuric ego is given a fleeting glimpse of the Divine – its magnificent cosmic form.

The form in which are embedded all divine forms, all life forms, all sentient beings, all enlightened beings, all physical universes, all subtle realms, all knowledge, all vibrations; the form without beginning and end came forth in all its dazzling light before the asura.

And in that fleeting moment Sura-Padman realised that all his achievements were contained in a single hair follicle of that Form before him. He stated:

Legs should go around and around His Form
Hands should again and again worship This Lord
Tongue should ever sing His glory
(Mind) Should refrain from all evil acts
Life should ever be in Service of Him and yet
Only the egoistic self-respect stops me from doing these all!

But soon the ego takes over. The Cosmic form disappears. It is only a kid standing before him in the battle field.

The child should be adept in sorcery, the asura reasons. He dismisses the vision of Cosmic form as delusion and again enters into battle.

After taking various forms he finally takes the form of a tree.

A mango tree.

The vel cuts it and out emerged the peacock and cockerel. The former becomes the mount of Murugan and the latter his flag mast.

Thus, the ego becomes not annihilated but transformed to serve the Divine.

The Kantha Purana thus becomes a manual for the seeker.

All the spiritual battles happen in the inner space, wherein the primal inner impurities gain dominance over divine powers. Then, one needs Murugan as the commander-in-chief of the devas to destroy and subdue the three inner impurities.

But it is not only battle but also through romance that the divine woos the soul.

Valli, the daughter of the tribal chieftain, is the symbol of the soul.

Murugan, the divine whom the Vedas and the devas cannot reach, comes down to the Earth for her.

She is guarding the millet plantation of the tribal community from the birds. She uses the sling.

The mature millet plantation and the youthful innocent beauty of the girl – both represent the spiritually mature soul shining with inner beauty.

The birds that come to prey upon are the various desires and distractions. The sling shots are the eternal utterance of the names of the Divine.

Yet she rejects him as he comes in various forms, not knowing he is the one for whom she has been born.

Disguised as a charming youthful hunter he tries to woo her. She is attracted but at the same time would not give in.

Then there comes her father and at once the young hunter becomes a Vengai tree (Indian Kino tree: Pterocarpus marsupium).

Once the father leaves, Murugan assumes the form of the enchanting hunter and starts wooing her again. Yet the girl would not yield.

After some time again the father comes. Now the young hunter takes the form of an old man.

Looking at the saintly old man, the father thinks he would be a good companion for his daughter in the forest.

Once the father goes, the old man demands some food. Valli gives him honey and millet flour.

After eating, the old man starts flirting with her.

The girl is angry.

She scolds the old man and tells him to behave his age.

At this point, Murugan meditates on his elder brother Ganesha.

A wild elephant comes charging through the forest. Valli hugs the old man in fear and there the Lord emerges in true form, and marries her.

The Purana of Murugan provides a wonderful and sensational storyline filled with wonderment.

Simultaneously it is also a manual for the seeker to understand the asuras and devas within.

It helps the seeker to realise by himself that the good devas are powerless before the more primal and stronger asuras who can derive their strength from the very spiritual foundation common to both.

Yet, there is a way out.

It is through the battle that the Divine commander-in-chief fights for us. His victory is certain. So is our liberation.

We can also decide whether we are the Valli or Sura-Padman or both. Kantha Puranam is verily a spiritual odyssey unparalleled in spiritual literature in its own way.

No wonder Murugan is the darling of the people of Tamil Nadu – the land of Vedas and Dharma.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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