The Hindu God Skanda - Indian Mythology in the 21st Century

Added over 9 years ago


While Ganesh is a well know and loved figure in Hindu mythology, his younger brother Skanda has been almost completely forgotten.

Like many Hindu deities Skanda has several names, including Murukan, Karttikeya, Kumara and Subrahmaya.  Once one of the most siginificant deities in the Hindu panethenon of gods, he is now worshipped only in areas with Tamil influence, principally South India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

Skanda is traditionally venerated as the God of War and is also the patron deity of Tamil Nadu. However, war-like characteristics are not his best loved features.  Rather, he is known for his graceful and handsome form and love of virtuous deeds.  He represents the rising sun and the new year, "never hesitates to come to the aid of a devotee when called upon in piety or distress" and is regarded as a brave and valiant warrior capable of killing evil demons to save the innocent.

At the height of his popularity around 1000 AD Skanda was adopted as the patron of the ruling classes of India, largely because their power base was centred in the military castes.  Interestingly, around this time Skanda also gained notoriety as the patron deity of thieves, an association that arose from his skill in gaining the domain of the evil demon Taraka and his brothers in order to kill them.  However, Skanda's popularity receded from 1500 AD onwards and his worship is today virtually unknown, except in South India where he continues to be venerated by all castes and at all levels of society.

According to the Mahabharata, Skanda was born under mysterious circumstances as the son of Shiva and Parvati, but was suckled and raised by the seven goddess mothers or Septa Matrikas.  In one version of the story, Indra the king of the demi-gods, sent the goddesses to kill him.  However upon seeing Skanda their maternal instincts were evoked and instead they adopted him as their beloved son.

The story of the seven Mothers is fascinating in its own right.  They are believed to personify the seven stars of the constellation Pleiades, and were considered indispensable in assisting the great goddess Shakta Devi in her ongoing battles against demons.  From the ninth century onwards they became a standard feature of temples dedicated to goddess cults throughout India. They represent the power of the origin of the earth, the evolving soul and the destruction of everything opposed to cosmic law. They also came to play a protective role in later centuries, particularly towards pregnant women and young children.

Skanda's vehicle is the peacock which sometimes clutches a snake in its talons.  He is depicted as a handsome young man and is associated with the colour red.  However, he is most often shown standing with his seven goddess foster mothers at his side, in a stylized form that dates directly back to the seals of the ancient Indus Valley civilization which birthed him.  Silver and gold amulet-plaques with this image are commonly worn today in India in order to protect the wearer from harm, even though the veneration of Skanda himself has long been abandoned.

References and Further Reading

Clothey, Fred W and Ramanujan, AK 1978.  The Many Faces of Murukan: The History and Meaning of a South Indian God.  Walter de Gruyter Publishers, Berlin New York

Sivananda, Sri Swami1950.  Lord Shanmukha and His Worship (reprinted 1996,  World Wide Web Edition 2000).  The Divine Life Society, India.

Fernando, Kishanie S 2001.  A little bit of Scotland in Sri Lanka.  Heritage Publication

Murugan Bhakti: The Skanda Kumara Website.

Wikipedia 2008.  Skanda.


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