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MURUKA , the Tamil name for the Hindu deity also known by such names as Skanda, Kumāra, Subrahmayam, or Kārttikeya. The name is sometimes transcribed as Murugan. While Muruka is the most popular god in present-day Tamil India, he has been worshiped in a variety of forms from at least the third or second century bce. In his earliest South Indian form, Muruka was described in classical (or Cakam) literature as a god of hill and hunt, who was worshiped by hill people, the kuriñci s, as a possessor of young damsels and avenger of anaku and cūr, malevolent spirits of the hills.

In North India, Skanda was depicted in epic mythology as the son of Rudra-Śiva or Agni, and as a warrior deity patronized by such dynasties as the Śakas, Ikśvaku, and Guptas. By the eighth century ce, and throughout the medieval period, these earlier attributes of the god seem to have merged, as subsequent literature, iconography, and temple architecture attest to Muruka's worship in South India as a high god and the son of Śiva.

Muruka was especially extolled by such medieval Tamil bhakti (devotional) poets as Aruakirinatha of the fifteenth century and Kacciyapaciva of the seventeenth. Late in the nineteenth century, worship of Muruka was given new impetus by a Tamil renaissance, during and after which temples to Muruka were renovated, pilgrimages to these centers increased, and the god came to be viewed as the quintessential Tamil deity.

The basic myth of Skanda-Muruka's life and exploits is found in the Mahābhārata (3.223232; 9.4647; 13.130133). It is repeated in the Ramāyāa (1.3637), and further embellished in a wide range of Sanskrit and Tamil literature, especially in Kālidāsa's (fourth century ce?) Kumāra-sambhava and the Skanda Purāa.

According to Kālidāsa's version of the myth of Skanda's birth, the deity is born of Śiva's semen when the latter marries Pārvatī following an extensive period of meditation and austerities (tapas ) on Mount Himavat. Later accounts, as in the Skanda Purāa, say Skanda is born of sparks emanating from Śiva's brow. According to the Mahābhārata, Skanda is born of Agni's love-play with Svāhā while she is impersonating the wives of six i s. Once born, Skanda is suckled by the six Kttikā (Pleiades) maidens and engages in a variety of childhood exploits, including the defeat of Indra, the humiliation of Brahmā, and the instruction of Śiva as to the meaning of the sacred syllable o. On the sixth day of his life, he is made general of the divine army and conquers the asura s headed by Tāraka (or, in South Indian accounts, Surapadma). After the battle, according to the epic myths, he is given in marriage to Devasenā (literally, "army of the gods"); in southern versions, Muruka woos Vai, a hunter damsel who becomes the god's second consort.

Muruka is the most widely worshiped god among Tamil Hindus in the early twenty-first century, and three of the six most popular pilgrimage centers in Tamil Nadu are temples consecrated to him. One of these, Palani, is the second largest pilgrimage complex in South India. Six major festivals celebrating events in the god's life attract millions of worshipers, from the festivals of Skanda-ai in October-November to Vaikāci Vicākam in May-June. The cultus incorporates a whole spectrum of rituals, from classical fire sacrifices and Tantric invocations as prescribed in the Śaivagāmas to folk forms of possession and dancing with the kāvai, or peacock arch. In addition, the god is popularly perceived to be the inspirational source of Tamil literature, vanquisher of cosmic and personal malaise, and the embodiment of Śaiva thought and religion.

See Also

Tamil Religions.


Clothey, Fred W. The Many Faces of Muruka: The History and Meaning of a South Indian God. The Hague, 1978.

Clothey, Fred W. Rhythm and Intent: Ritual Studies from South India. Madras, 1983.

First International Conference on Skanda-Murukan. "Research Papers on the Cult of Skandra-Murukan." Available from

Zvelebil, Kamil. Tiru Murugan. Madras, 1982.

Fred W. Clothey (1987 and 2005)