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

    Skanda Kumara
    Protective amulet depicting Skanda and the Seven Mothers. Silver, early 20th century, southern India. Photo credit: Kashgar

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

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

    Skanda was once venerated as the God of War and is the patron deity of Tamil Nadu. However, war-like characteristics are not his best loved features.  Rather (and as befitting a brother of Ganesha), he is known for his graceful and handsome form and love of virtuous deeds. He represents the rising sun and the new year, and "never hesitates to come to the aid of a devotee when called upon in piety or distress". He is considered to be a brave and valiant warrior with a penchant for killing demons to save the innocent from harm.

    Skanda (Murugan) depicted on a coin coin of the Yaudheya. 1st century BCE, Punjab. British Museum.

    At the height of his popularity around 1000 AD, Skanda was adopted as the patron god 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 entering 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 raised in infancy by the Seven Mothers, also known as the Seven Sisters or Septa Matrikas.  In one version of the story, Indra, king of the demigods, heard a prophecy which stated that when Skanda achieved his adult powers, would  go on to defeat Indra and alter the course of the coming war between the gods. To avoid this, Indra sought to kill Skanda while he was an infant. Shiva and Parvati sought to protect their son and engaged the Seven Mothers to raise and nurture him in secrecy. On learning of this, Indra made a counter-offer to the Mothers, suggesting to them that they arrange a fatal accident for the boy. Initially accepting Indra's proposal, the Mothers underwent a change of heart upon seeing the beautiful and virtuous boy. Their maternal instincts were evoked and instead of killing him, they adopted him as their beloved son, protecting him from harm until he grew into his powers and achieved his destiny.

    Skanda depicted with his consorts on his Vahana peacock. Artist Raja Ravi Varma, 1848 - 1906. Photo credit: C. Cunniah & Co. Glass Merchants, India.

    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 Shakti Devi in her ongoing battles against demons.  From the 9th 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 or mount 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.  He is frequently shown standing with his seven goddess foster mothers at his side, in a stylised form that dates directly back to the seals and symbols of the ancient Indus Valley civilisation which birthed him.  Silver and gold amulet-plaques with this image are commonly worn today in southern India in order to protect the wearer from harm, even though the veneration of Skanda himself has long been abandoned.

    Historical depiction of Skanda

    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 Swami 1950.  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.  Accessed May 2013.

    Wikipedia 2008.  Skanda.

    2 Responses

    Nikhil Nanda
    Nikhil Nanda

    June 17, 2019

    thanks for sharing such useful information

    Daniel egole
    Daniel egole

    February 15, 2018

    I want too get connected with the grand master

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