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Changing faces of Lord Murugan

posted Aug 2, 2012, 3:49 AM by Aadhavan Kumaran   [ updated Aug 2, 2012, 4:33 AM ]
Our home had a temple for Lord Murugan inside.  I grew up hearing his name many times a day.  On occations, I see worshippers (often relatives) who dance on thorny shoes.  The dance is called veriyaattam.  They also perform kuravaiyaatam.  The traces of it can be date back to sangam times.  Calendar we buy and pictures we have at home often portrays a contradictory figure - a child form of the deity - that doesn't fit with the dance.

Ancient Tamil literature Tholkappiyam refers to the diety as Cheyon - the red colored or fierce warrior.   It describes warriors dancing veriyaattam after a successful war.  Kuravai - mother of Cheyon - is represented as a goddess of victory.  There are only few references of it.  Iravatham Mahadaven - an archeologist who decyphered ancient tamil scripts - gives an explanation for Murugan as Murukku+an - fierce or ruthless warrior.  He also mentions the term has recently morphed to fit the current form - a child - and some refer to it as murugu - beauty.

Recently I came across some interesting names, when I read about some Indian history.  Kumara Gupta Maurya, and his successor Skanda Gupta Maurya, who printed coins of Lord Karthikeya.  The coin interestingly has a child diety who sits on Peacock.  The word kumar in sanskrit means ilavan in Tamil.  These borrowed words are now in use in Tamil.  There is no mention of name Murugan or Cheyon in Maurya literature.  According to their legend, Karthikeya is born from Lord Shiva.

A wave of regious mission swept through India few milleniums before.  It started with Jainism around 5AD, then Buddism and then Shaivam and Vainavam.  Shivaties adopted local languages and integrated dieties, while vanavites called local dieties as avathars.  The omission of Kuravai and inclusion of Shiva, transforming Cheyon - a fierce warrior - to Skanda - a child,  including wifes of both dieties Valli of Murugan and Deivaanai or Skandan - shows the struggle Shivaites went through to integrate the faith.
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