Lord Kartikeya, the son of Lord Shiva and Parvati, is the worshipped prominently in south India. He is known by different names – Lord Swaminatha, Lord Murugan, Skand and more. There is an interesting story of a competition between two brothers, Lord Ganesha and Lord Kartikeya and how Lord Kartikeya subsequently chose to live in Tanil region. He is also the commander of devtas.
His birth was to kill demon Tarakasura
There was a demon named Tarakasura who had the boon that he should only be killed by Lord Shiva’s son. This is soon after Sati’s death, so Taraka takes it for granted that Shiva would not at all get remarried, and hence, would not have a son to call his own. It is believed that Lord Kartikeya or Murugan manifested for the sole purpose of killing Tarakasura. Tarakasura knew very well that Lord Shiva was an ascetic and He would not marry or have children. Hence, he would be invincible.
As luck would have, Lord Shiva finally married Goddess Parvati. Lord Shiva took her to a cave and asked her to meditate. As they both meditated, a ball of fire emerged out of their cosmic energies.
In the mean time, the other Gods being insecure from Tarakasura, sent Agni or the God of fire to get hold of the ball of fire. But even Agni couldn’t bear the heat of the energy of Shiva and Parvati. So, He handed over the ball to Goddess Ganga. When even Ganga couldn’t bear the heat, She deposited the fire ball into a lake in a forest of reeds.
Why he is known as Shanmukha
Then Goddess Parvati took the form of this water body as She alone could bear the energy of Shiva and Shakti. Finally the fire ball took the form of a baby with six faces. Hence, Kartikeya is also known as Shanmukha or the God with six faces. He was first spotted and taken care of by six women who represented the Pleiades or the Kritikas. So, the divine child was known as Kartikeya or the son of the Kritikas. Later on, he becomes commander-in-chief of the Gods.
This form of Devi Parvati is also known as Goddess Skandmata, mother of Lord Kartikeya. She is worshipped on the fifth day of the Navratri. The fifth manifestation of the goddess seems to be pure and white. Whenever the oppression by the demons increases, goddess Skandmata rides on a lion and kills them. Devi Skandmata has four arms. She holds lotus in two hands and uses the other hand to support Lord Kartikeya sitting on her lap. Her fourth hand is raised to bless the devotees.
Why his flag contains a picture of Rooster (cock)
In due course, Tarakasur was defeated by Lord. So, Tarakasur (ego) became a chicken or rooster after being defeated by Kartikeya. After having defeated Taraka (ego) in battle, Kartikeya spared his life and asked him what boon he would desire. Taraka prayed to always be at the feet of the Lord, and so Lord Kartikeya made him the emblem on His flag. This means that ego should always be kept subdued. Ego is necessary in life but it should be kept subdued.
Why he is called Swaminatha
Once he asked Lord Brahma to explain the meaning of Om. Brahma explained to him but he was not satisfied. Later on, when asked by Lord Shiva, he explained the whole episode to him. Lord Shiva told that he must learn from Lord Brahma, as he is the supreme creator. To this Kartikeya replied, ‘Then you tell me, what is the meaning of Om?’ Hearing this, Lord Shiva smiled and said, ‘Even I don’t know.’ Kartikeya then said, ‘Then I will tell you because I know the meaning of Om.’
‘Then tell me the meaning since you know it’, said Lord Shiva.
‘I can’t tell you like this. You have to give me the place of the Guru. Only if you put me on the pedestal of the Guru can I tell you’, said Kartikeya. Guru means he has to be on a higher position or platform. The teacher has to sit on a higher place and the student has to sit down and listen to him.
How can Lord Shiva find a seat higher than him, for He is the highest and greatest of Gods? So then Lord Shiva lifted the young Kartikeya on to His shoulders. And then in the ear of Lord Shiva, Lord Kartikeya explained the meaning of the Pranava Mantra (Om).
Kartikeya explained that the entire Creation is contained in Om. The Trinity – Lord Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are contained in Om. This is the essence and also the secret of Om that Lord Kartikeya narrated to Lord Shiva.
Upon hearing this, Goddess Parvati (Mother of Lord Kartikeya, and an incarnation of the Mother Divine) was elated and overcome with joy.
She said, ‘You have become a Guru (Swami) to my Lord (Natha)!’ Saying this she addressed her son as Swaminatha, and ever since Lord Kartikeya also came to be known as Swaminatha.
Lord Kartikeya’s appearance
Lord Kartikeya is one of the most beautiful and handsome gods. He is also known as Skanda. He rides a peacock called Paravani. His preferred weapon is the Vel or spear hence the popular name Velayudhan – he whose weapon is a spear. He is called Yuddharanga or the wisdom of war too. He is represented with six heads and twelve hands. He is popularly known as Subramaniam too which is a common South Indian name.
Lord Murugan is considered very handsome, brave, just. Even though he was seen as a playful youngster, he was also extremely knowledgeable – enough to test Lord Brahma himself.
Lord Muruga has two consorts – Valli and Devasena. Valli is a tribal girl and Devasena is the daughter of Indra, the king of the Devas. His mount is the peacock. Palani, near Madurai where he is said to have created his own abode when he was angry of having been cheated out of the sacred fruit.
Kartikeya carries on one hand a spear and his other hand is always blessing devotees. His vehicle is a peacock, a pious bird that grips with its feet a serpent, which symbolizes the ego and desires of people. The peacock represents the destroyer of harmful habits and the conqueror of sensual desires. The symbolism of Kartikeya thus points to the ways and means of reaching perfection in life.
Marriage of Lord Skanda
Amritavalli and Saundaravalli were two daughters of Vishnu born from his eyes. They developed undying love for Skanda and performed severe austerities to obtain him as husband. At Skanda’s instructions, Amritavalli incarnated as Devasena, a young girl under the guardianship of Indra in Swarga. Saundaravalli took the form of Valli, a lass under the protection of Nambiraja, a hunter near Kanchipuram. ‘Valli’ is a Tamil term for the Sanskrit ‘Lavali’, a kind of creeper. As she was found among the creepers as a baby, the hunter called her ‘Valli’. After the war with Surapadma was over, the devas were overjoyed. Skanda acceded to Indra’s prayer to accept Devasena as his consort. The divine wedding was celebrated with great enthusiasm at Tirupparankundram near Madurai in the presence of Parvati and Siva. Indra’s recoronation in Amaravati in Swarga followed. Devas regained their power and positions. Skanda took his home in Skandagiri. He then proceeded to Tiruttani near Chennai, where Valli was looking after barley fields. After a series of sportive love-pranks, in which his brother Vighneswara also lent a helping hand, he married her.
Kumara Purnima, which is celebrated on the full moon day after Vijayadashami, is one of the popular festival dedicated to Kartikeya in Odisha. It is believed that unmarried girls worship Kartikeya on this day to get grooms handsome as Kartikeya.
The Kavadi Attam or Kanwar
The Kavadi Attam is a dance performed at the time of the ceremonial worship of Murugan, during Thai Pusam, revering him as the God of War. This is symbolic of the devotees carrying a physical burden, imploring the Lord to release them from material bondage.
There is a story behind this Kavadi. Lord Shiva once entrusted the dwarf saint sage Agastya to carry two hillocks and install them in South India. But the sage asked his disciple, Idumban to get them instead. Idumban could not initially lift the hillocks, until he obtained divine help. Idumban put the hillocks down to rest awhile, near Palani. When he attempted to continue with his journey, he found that the hillocks were immovable.
Idumban then sought the help of a scantily dressed youth, who said that the hillocks belonged to him. In the ensuing scuffle, Idumban was defeated. Idumban realized then that the youth was none other than Lord Murugan. Idumban pleaded to be pardoned and asked that anyone who comes to the hills to worship Murugan with an object similar to the two hillocks suspended by a rod, may be granted his heart’s desire. Idumban’s wish was granted. That is how the kavadi or Kanvad came to play its role in Hindu festivals.