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In every Saivite temple, we will always find the altar for Vinayaka on our left at every gate that we enter. On our right, at each such gate, we will find the altar of Lord Subrahmanya, the six-faced divinity. It should be observed that both these are the sons of Lord Siva.

In Tamilnadu the deity Subrahmanya is more popularly known as murugan. ‘Murugan’ in Tamil comes from a Tamil word which connotes the six qualities: Beauty, Freshness, Fragrance, Sweetness, Divinity, Joy. He is meditated upon by the six-syllabled mantrasa-ra-va-na-bha-va. The six syllables connote Him who manifested as a personification of Auspiciousness, Light, Splendour, Bounty, Purity and Infinite Prowess. Saravana-bhava therefore means the one who is a combination of all these.

The mythology that goes with the deity is pretty complicated. Lord Siva is the perfect yogi. The divines want a marriage of Siva and Uma so that the war-God may be born out of that divine Union and the enemies Taraka, Surapadma and Simhamukha (who are esoterically the evils Dynamism, Ego and Delusion respectively) may be vanquished. The Love-God Manmatha is set upon by the Divines to disturb Siva’s penance but Siva burns him down to ashes by just a glance. Then Parvati (Uma) undertakes a penance to seek the hand of the Lord and the divine marriage took place. But even after 1000 years of the marriage, no conception takes place. The Energy of the Lord was considered so potent that Uma was scared to receive it. Finally it was deposited with the Fire-God Agni, but the latter, again, was unable to bear it. Lord Siva asked Agni to pour the flaming energy into the bodies of those who were suffering from the cold of the winter. The wives of six of the saptarishis (seven great sages) who were trembling with cold after their early morning bath, basked in the welcome warmth of the Fire. Arundhati, the wife of the seventh sage thought it was not the right thing to do and so did not join the others). In the process, the six Rishi-wives took in Siva’s energy which Agni passed into them through the pores of their skin. From there on the six wives carried the burden. Their husbands, the sages, cursed them that they would become just stars in the sky. That is how they became krittikas, (Pleides). But before this the krittikas unburdened Siva’s energy in Saravana lake (at the southern end of Mount Kailas, according to one trdition and, according to another tradition, near Tiruchendur in the southernmost tip of India). This lake had itself been purified in times of yore by the body of Uma herself. When the demon Bhasmasura was threatening to put his hand on Lord Siva and destroy Him , Siva disappeared and in the agony of that disappearance, Uma split her body into thousand pieces which fell down in this very lake. This was why this lake of Sara grass had divine strength to receive Siva’s seed.

Again in times of yore there was a boy who had seen the torture that the divines suffered under the hands of the demon Taraka. So he did a fierce penance for the purpose of vanquishing Tarakasura and he offered his own body to his sacrificial fire. He was later born as Sanatkumara, out of Brahma’s will. This Sanatkumara taught the supreme wisdom to Narada. In Chandogya Upanishad he is identified with Skanda. The krittika sisters saw the falling of the seed in the Sara grass, were excited and themselves begot six children. They breast-fed the children and the six children became one child with six heads. According to another tradition, the scattered energy came together, formed one whole, flowed down the river Ganga, mingled with the Sara grass and a six-headed boy was then born. This boy was nurtured by the krittika sisters. He is therefore called kartikeya. He is also called skanda because the seed of Siva ‘fell’ in this way. (‘skanna’ in Sanskrit means ‘fallen’, ‘emitted’) .The word 'skanda' also means that which is gathered into one. The six divine sparks from the eyes of Siva first took the form of six different babes. The Divine Mother hugged them all at once and the six merged into one form, skanda.

Two goddesses appeared from the two eyes of Vishnu. In the Saravana lake these two performed a long penance with the purpose of marrying Lord subrahmanya. The latter appeared before them and ordained that one of them should be born in the heavenly world and the other in the earthly world. Accordingly one of them became a heavenly child and was adopted by Indra, the king of the divines, as his daughter. The other one did penance in a hillock in Tamilnadu and was born as valli. These are the two consorts of subrahmanya. The first one devasena who sits on the left of the Lord grants us heavenly bliss; the second one valli sits on the right and confers on the devotee all earthly bliss. The spear of the Lord called vel in Tamil confers moksha on the devotee. The two consorts and the vel are said to represent the three Saktis -- Energies: Will, Action and Knowledge -- of the Lord .

The word subrahmanya itself means the one who originated from brahman in joy and is inseparable from the Bliss of the ultimate Reality. God subrahmanya is primarily the preceptor who imparts the highest knowledge. He gave divine wisdom to his own father, Siva, and so, He is swAmi-natha (the Lord of the Lord). He is a yogi and the Lord of palani hills and so He is palani-andavan, (the Lord or God of Palani). He is the commander-in-chief of the gods. His six faces confer the light of wisdom, grace, austerity, mantra-Sakti, victory over evil, and love. The six hills which are especially sacred to him are signified by the six chakras in the human body through which the kundalini rises to travel to the Supreme. In the bhagavad-gItA, the Lord says: Among commanders, I am skanda. Sankara says that the six main qualities of Godhead (bhagavAn), namely, lordship, valour, fame, wealth, wisdom and detachment are signified by the six faces of shanmukha, which is again, another name for the same divinity, because, it means, the six-faced one.

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 Ó Copyright. V. Krishnamurthy October 12, 2000

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