Culture marauders in Tamil Nadu now want to appropriate Murugan. Aided by spiritual illiteracy, they are systematically reducing the deity to a historical ancestor to find political turf.
Murugan is the god of Tamils. Of late, a virulent form of Tamil secessionists has been seeking to appropriate this deity. Paradoxically, this movement wants to remove all the cultural and spiritual significance attributed to Murugan through the millennia. Murugan has been for Tamils a higher principle — both transcendent and immanent. Personified as a handsome boy and a valiant romantic young man with charming anecdotes woven around him, he is also unborn. However, the movement headed by one Seeman, whose original name is Simon, has been claiming that Murugan was originally a patriarch — a historical personality, and that worship of Murugan is nothing but worshipping ancestors.
It is important to understand that such claims by Seeman which are being considered by many as statements by a lunatic fringe leader, are an indicator of a ‘breaking India’ force trying to attain critical mass in the political arena. As early as 1990s, John Samuel, a fanatical Christian, started using the Institute of Asian Studies in Chennai to further an evangelical agenda in the academic domain. Samuel started conducting international conferences on Murugan. Many devotees and scholars, who were unaware of the real intentions of Samuel, attended these conferences and even presented papers.
Hinduism Today, a magazine in its May 1999 issue, unwittingly brought out the subtle agenda that was being covertly run in the conferences. The magazine asked Sri Lankan delegate Dr Vimala Krishnapillai of the Colombo University, if the participants considered Murugan as a godhead, or ‘just an evolution of a historical person’. She said that out of 45 research papers she knows of (a total of 135 were presented), 70 per cent extolled Murugan as god. However, the magazine discovered that Samuel “increased the last percentage, opining a non-mystical — and subtly anti-Hindu — view that most scholars, including himself, believe Murugan was elevated from a historical person”. Soon, the pretence of subtlety was jettisoned. He stated openly in 2001 that Soma-Skanda, a famous form of Murugan worshipped throughout Tamil Nadu, was actually the representation of the Christian Trinity.
It is not an accident that Samuel, who tried to reduce Murugan to a historical personality and then Christanise him, and Seeman, who is trying to echo these sentiments in the political arena, are both Christians, who are trying to use Tamil identity politics to subvert the community’s culture and spirituality. In this, they are aided by cultural and spiritual illiteracy that has been created among Tamil Hindus by the Dravidianist education system.
If one correlates the way this appropriation happens with the change in religious demography of the state then one can understand how well choreographed the evolution of Murugan-appropriation movement is with the demographic siege.
Between 1951 to 1971, Christian population in the state rose from 4.79 to 5.75 per cent. It was during this time that the Dravidian movement described by a Christian bishop as “a time bomb planted by the Church to destroy Hinduism” rose to power. That also coincided with crackpot scholars releasing books which claimed Christian origin for Thirukkural. By the 1980s, the percentage was galloping towards 6 per cent, and that saw the International Tamil Reserach Institution releasing a book claiming not just Thirukkural but also Saivaite cannonical texts as being derived from Thomas Christianity.
These academic attempts met with severe resistance from real scholars. The period between 1991 and 2011 saw a very rapid increase in Christian population and aggressive forms of evangelisation. Academically-discredited crackpot theories of Hinduism or a perverted form of Thomas Christianity have started becoming strong evangelical tools. Simultaneously, Christian leaders in seemingly secular Tamil chauvinist movements started claiming that Murugan was only an ancestor and not a deity. This has serious consequences. One can very well see how these fringe groups work ideologically and theologically in tandem with Christian evangelical strategies. Let us take a hypothetical scenario. Christian demography can decide the political outcome in “parts of Thanjavur, Tiruchirappalli and Dindigul in the central region; the Nilgiris and parts of Coimbatore in the west; Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram in the southeast; and, Tirunelveli, Thoothukkudi and Kanyakumari in the south.”
If the evangelical Church and 'secularised' Tamils in these pockets influence the victory at least of a few of the candidates of fringe elements, then they can start raising these totally unscientific even pseudo-scientific theories in the legislative assembly. If these elements can also enter into administrative positions in Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department, then they can even conduct a mass in a Murugan temple, claiming that Murugan being just a secular ancestor, a Christian service in his honour would not be wrong. The scenario may look right now hilarious or paranoid but then which sensible person in the seventeenth century would have thought that one day the Ramayana would be interpreted in terms of races?
So Hindus, people belonging to a post-colonised, third-world religion, need to fight against this siege at different levels with only one weapon. They have neither state support nor surplus from colonialism. Worse, they have to also face apartheid. So the only weapon they have is their immense cultural and spiritual knowledge and heritage.
So, who is Murugan?
He is the son of Shiva and the goddess who slayed Mahishasura. The most ancient of Tamil literature speaks of him as the one who slayed the asura — Soor. In the eco-cultural classification of landscapes, Murugan is the deity of Kurinchi — the forests, mountains and mountain forests. One of the core aspects of Murugan worship is the manifestation of him in the altered state of consciousness, into which the chief priests of Murugan, both male and female, enter.
Epigraphist and author S Ramachandran, points out to a very important feature about Murugan. Kurinchi, the eco-cultural zone, where Murugan is the deity, is also used as a literary backdrop for secret love-making. The literary setting for this usually portrays the girl as belonging to a tribal clan, and made to guard the millet. When a rogue elephant charges at her as she guards the field all alone, a young tribesman (usually from another clan to raise the level of hostility that would stem from the romance), saves her from the elephant, and they fall in love. In this context, S Ramachandran points out that one of the prominent mounts of Murugan was elephant. In very ancient petroglyphs found in Tamil Nadu, a male form mounted on an elephant with females dancing in line, is depicted.
As late as the fifteenth century, the elephant-enabled romance gets mapped to Murugan. Murugan desires to marry Valli, a tribal girl. However, she is not attracted to Murugan, who appears before her in the form of an old man. So, Murugan meditates upon Ganesha, who, by now, is considered as his elder brother. Ganesha appears in the form of a wild elephant. Terrified by the elephant, Valli hugs the old man, who then reveals his original form. The anecdote is repeatedly highlighted in Tamil literature, emphasising its spiritual symbolism — Ganesha being muladhara and Valli being the jivatma, and Murugan the Brahman. Also, Valli-Murugan symbolism speaks of Valli as iccha-shakti. The spear of Murugan represents the gyana shakti and Devayani or Devasena, another consort of Murugan, represents kriya shakti.
He is also called Kandan — another favourite name Tamils use to call him. Needless to say, it comes from ‘Skanda’. One of the ancient forms of Tamil temples enshrined ‘kanthu’, which is mentioned frequently in old Tamil literature. ‘Kanthu’ is related to both linga worship as well as Murugan worship, emphasises the epigraphist.
The word kanthu is also related to skambha — the pillar of all existence worshiped in Atharva Veda through the ‘skambha-sukta’ hymns. Here, he is described as the very foundation of rtam — the cosmic order. He is pursued by ‘two maidens of different colours’ — here, day and night. Skambha is also the ‘unborn’. His very form is the hymns of the four vedas. Skambha ‘firmly holds in place the six widespread directions’.
All these aspects of Murugan are repeated in the Tamil bhakti literature with remarkable consistency. The six faces of Murugan looking in six directions also become the symbol of the infinitely diverse nature of the divine in Tamil literature. Nakeerar, a Sangam Age poet in his ‘Thirumurkaatrupadai’, describes the first face of Murugan as the one that dispels darkness; the second gives his devotees what they seek; the third protects the vedic yagna; the fourth illuminates the intellect of those who search for knowledge; the fifth destroys the obstacles in the path to realisation including ego, illusion and karma; the sixth being enchanted by the beauty of tribal girl Valli, radiating eternal bliss. Arunagirinathar, a fifteenth century Murugan devotee and a great poet, has also popularised through a very melodious song the diverse functions of the six faces of Murugan. In his Kandar Anuboothi, a famous devotional and mystic hymn on Murugan, he speaks of the lord as ‘unborn’.
Through his poems that are melodious, rhythmic and highly spiritual, he describes Murugan as being attained through the great Shiva-Advaitic state of consciousness. In the seventeenth century, Kumaraguruparar, an autistic child who later became a prodigy, sang songs in praise of Murugan that were filled with poetic brilliance and deep spirituality. He defines the spiritual form of Murugan with mantras as his bloodstream. The consistency with which the spiritual symbolism of Murugan is brought forth is indeed breathtaking. One can say that Tamil culture has not only preserved but taken vedic divinity, which was presented in a seed form in the vedic hymns, to the highest spiritual potential.
The colonial-Marxist historiography, euphemistically called Nehruvian secularism, has systematically devalued this innate spiritual nature of our culture. This, in turn, plays well into the hands of evangelical and other ‘breaking India’ forces, which want to reduce Hindu deities to historical personalities — conflated as gods or Christian historical gods distorted as deities.
The distorted world-views of the likes of Samuel and Seeman are then, the disease vectors bred, by the cultural illiteracy created by our curriculum. They represent the ignorance propagated by what author Ram Swarup calls the ‘ego-god’ complex. In Tamil tradition, the spear of gyana given to Murugan by the goddess destroys this ‘ego-god’ complex, ultimately subduing them to become his mount and his flag mast.