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January - March 2024

The Arms of Murugan – by Rajani Arjun Shankar

Murugan, also known as Subrahmanya and Skanda, is a much-loved God in the southern states of India. His youth, charming beauty, valour and his courting and marrying Valli, are all joyously celebrated by poets. He is also exalted for his compassion and wisdom, which is why he is also known as a Gurunathan, a preceptor granting Jnana and thereby Mukti to the souls suffering in the cycle of births and deaths. Mahaperiyava has spoken extensively (in Deivathin Kural) about Murugan, about how he is both Shiva and Parvati in one form, how he grants both Bhoga and Moksha (enjoyments in this world and salvation in the other) etc.

Amongst the many saints who were blessed by Murugan and sang his praises in Tamil is the Sangam-Age poet Nakkeerar. His work, Tirumurugatruppadai, is the first among the ten Sangam works that comprise the collection called Pathupattu. It is a long poem of about three hundred lines, wherein the poet describes the form of Murugan, his six abodes which we nowadays call “Arupadai Veedu” and finally concludes by addressing devotees, exhorting them to look for Murugan in all these places and seek his blessings. He goes on to say that given his compassionate nature, the Lord will surely welcome them kindly and shower them with eternal gifts.

While describing the Lord’s form, Nakkeerar describes his six lotus-like faces and twelve powerful arms and what they do. Each face takes on a role and the corresponding two hands hold weapons or Mudras(gestures) which are in accordance with it

Another saint whose works on Murugan are of great renown, is Arunagirinathar. Apart from songs called Tiruppugazh,and other works, he has also composed twenty-five Tiruvaguppus. Each Tiruvaguppu takes up one aspect connected to the Lord and describes it in detail, like his weapon, his peacock, his Upadesha etc. One such Tiruvaguppu is the Buya Vaguppu. “Buya” is the Tamil form of Bhuja, and this work describes the activities and adornments of the twelve arms of Skanda in 32 verses, It is delightful to see that the first twelve verses of Arunagirinathar’s work perfectly match the twelve descriptions of Nakkeerar. A short elucidation follows.

  1. Removing external darkness

Nakkeerar says that the first face of Subrahmanya spreads effulgence. It gives the Sun its brilliance and thereby gives light to the entire world.

மாயிருள் ஞாலம் மறுவின்றி விளங்கப்
பல்கதிர் விரிந்தன் றொருமுகம்

(One face spreads rays so that the world otherwise steeped in great darkness can function without any trouble)

The hands that correspond to this face, show the Abhaya Mudra and Kati Hasta respectively. The right hand shows Abhayam (assurance of no fear), granted specifically to the Maharshis who travel along with the sun and ensure that his heat does not sear the world, absorbing it with their penance. The left hand rests on his waist (Kati).

விண்செலன் மரபின் ஐயர்க் கேந்திய தொருகை
உக்கஞ் சேர்த்திய தொருகை

Arunagirinathar says the same things, describing the Maharshis to be “gaganachara, mahaavrata varamunis” (Sky- travelling great sages of intense austerities). It is common to see such long Sanskrit phrases in his works, which follow the Manipravala style.

2. Granting boons to devotees

“One face willingly grants desired ends to devotees, accepting their praises gladly” says Nakkeerar. The second face nurtures devotees, and for this, Skanda comes on his peacock or elephant, Hence one hand holds the Ankusha (goad) to speed up his vehicle, and the other rests on his thigh (Uru), as Uru Hasta when he travels.

நலம்பெறு கலிங்கத்துக் குறங்கின்மிசை அசைஇய தொருகை
அங்குசங் கடவா ஒருகை இருகை

(One hand rests on the beautiful garment covering his thigh, the other employs a goad) Arunagirinathar makes it clear that the peacock is strong and fierce and needs the Ankusha too

3. Protecting Vedas and Yagnas

The third face of Shanmukha ensures that the Yagnas which are done according to procedures laid down in the Vedas have no obstacles.

ஒருமுகம், மந்திர விதியின் மரபுளி

வழா அந்தணர் வேள்வியோர்க் கும்மே

(One face protects the Yagnas of the Brahmanas, which do not swerve from the rules given in Veda Mantras). The above l ines have been expounded by Sri Mahaperiyava in his talks on Murugan.

To ensure this, these two hands hold the Vel(spear) and a shield, and thus destroy the evil-doers who may come to disturb these sacred rites, done for the welfare of the world.

இருகை ஐயிரு வட்டமொ டெஃகுவலந் திரிப்ப

(Two hands twirl the dark, round shield and the spear)

Arunagirinathar describes the Vel as “venri tangu tunga vel”, that which is ever- victorious and pure. Elsewhere he describes the Lord as “ yaga munivarkkuriya kavalkaran” (the guardian of sages performing Yagas)

4. Elucidating the Supreme Truth

Subrahmanya is the great Guru, who gave Upadesha(teachings) to his father, as well as to others like Brahma, Agastya Maharshi, and devotees like Arunagirinathar. His fourth face speaks the Paratatva (Supreme Truth), which is beyond other spheres of knowledge and confers Jnana. Since it extinguishes the heat of worldly suffering, this face is like the moon spreading cool rays.

Both hands here carry the Jnana Mudra close to his chest. The right hand’s Mudra is visible (like we see held by Dakshinamurti) while the left hand’s is facing inward, seeming to rest on his garlands. Nakkeerar’s words are:

ஒருகை மார்பொடு விளங்க

ஒருகை தாரொடு பொலிய 

(One hand is close to his chest and the other is placed on his garland)

Arunagirinathar extols this gesture in a very thrilling way.

மனகுண சலன மலினமில் தூியஅ தீதசு
காநு பூதி மவுனநி ரக்ஷர
மந்தி ரம்பொ ருந்தி மார்பிற் றிகழ்ந்தன

(His hand shines on his chest, embodying the silent wordless Mantra (teaching) that gives the blissful state of Turiyaateeta, with a still mind, bereft of its fault of stirring)

5. Destroying the Asuras

The fifth face of the lord is involved in eliminating evil forces like the Asuras, in battle. Of these two hands, one is lifted high, challenging and inviting the foes to fight. In this movement, his bracelets slide down tinkling. The other hand holds a bell that is to be rung in battle.

ஒருகை கீழ்வீழ் தொடியொடு

மீமிசைக் கொட்ப ஒருகை
பாடின் படுமணி இரட்ட

(One hand spins higher and higher with the bracelets sliding, and the other clangs a loud bell)

This bell is  மிகுதொனி பற்றிமுழங்கு விஞ்சு கண்டை (the superior Ghanta that rings with clamorous sound), says Arunagirinathar.

6. Causing the worlds to flourish

The sixth face of the six-faced lord is smiling happily at Goddess Valli . It ensures Bhoga (pleasures) to all the creatures, so that they prosper and grow. Therefore one of his hands blesses the world with plenty of rain, so that there is food for all the living beings. Arunagirinathar says charmingly, that the youthful Skanda playfully sprinkles the water of Akasha Ganga on the Aprasas who dance, and while doing this he opens up the skies for the worlds to benefit from rain.

The other hand bestows matrimonial bliss to celestial women. Nakkeerar says :

ஒருகை நீனிற விசும்பின் மலிதுளி பொழிய,

ஒருகை வானர மகளிர்க்கு வதுவை சூ ட்ட

(One hand showers abundant rain from the blue sky, one blesses divine women with wedding garlands)

Arunagirinathar says that Skanda takes a garland made of flowers f rom the Kalpavriksha, as well as other flowers like his favourite Kadamba and slips it around the neck of Devasena, the daughter of Indra.

United in wedlock to his beloved consorts Devasena and Valli, and blessing denizens of the world to enter matrimony and ensuring rain and prosperity, Kartikeya carries on Loka Samrakshana.

Thus Kumara shoulders the responsibility of Marga Darsanam, Veda Rakshanam, Bhakta A n u g r a h a m , D u s h t a S a m h a r a m , Jnanopadesam, and Loka Rakshanam.

Since Buya Vaguppu is a longer work, with 32 verses, Arunagirinathar extols more qualities of the arms of Murugan like their generosity, power and the fragrance of the strings of flowers they wear. Another delightful observation is that Murugan plays the Veena too.

இசைதனில் இனிய கயிசிகை கவுட வராளித
னாசி தேசி பயிரவி குச்சரி
பஞ்சு ரந்தெ ரிந்து வீணைக் கிசைந்தன

(His hands play the Veena, with expertise in Ragas like Kaisikai, Gauda, Varali, Dhanyasi, Desi, Bhairavi, Gurjari and Panjuram)

Considering that both his parents are Veenadharas, this of course should not surprise us. His elder brother too, in his form as Ucchista Ganapati, holds and plays the Veena. Nakkeerar does not mention the Veena, but in a later section he says “குழலன் கோட்டனன் குறும்பல் லியத்தன்” (Murugan plays the flute and the horn, and many small instruments)

When we see Subrahmanya in his six-faced form in the icons in temples in South India, we usually see him seated on the peacock, with his Devis standing on both sides. Viralimalai, Kunrakkudi, Ettikudi, Sikkal and Enkann are some of the places we see him in such a form. In such places, he holds two hands in the Abhaya and Varada Mudras, while the remaining ten hands hold some of these pairs of weapons – Shakti and Vajra, bow and arrow, Pasha and Ankusha, conch and discus, sword and shield. In some (like Ettikudi) the bell is there too. Sometimes he holds his banner, the rooster, in one hand. These forms are of course based on the Shilpa Shastras.

Thus it is a fascinating exercise to observe the divine form of the adorable lord and also understand the vision of the great saint-poets.

Viralimalai Murugan