‘Muruga’; the very word spells charm, splendour, beauty, knowledge and power. The people worship Him, admire Him, adore Him, respect him and love Him because they find that there is a divine and magnetic appeal in Him. Muruga, the Lord of love and compassion exercises an enormous influence on the people. In Palani, we find a human ocean with the strong under current of devotion running through them. What prompts them all towards Muruga? Why is Muruga so special? What is unique about Muruga? The faith is so strong that devotees believe that Muruga comes into their life and graces them as God, helps them as a friend, guides them as Guru and guards them as a savior. How they got this conviction? What is the moving force behind it? It can never be explained but only experienced by one whose heart is filled with devotion.
However, Kanda Puranam which describes the origin, purpose and the life history of Muruga indicates how Muruga has come to be regarded as the Supreme Power. Kanda Purna describes Muruga as a unique and extra-ordinary power. He was not naturally born. He was formed from the powerful flame of fire that originated from the third eye of Lord Siva, the eternal reality. Though originated from Siva, he excelled in the knowledge and power of Siva. He even acted as the Guru to Siva and gave him the enlightened advice. Such an unparalleled power called Muruga was created in order to destroy the demon, Soorapadaman who had got a boon of immortality and in order to protect the devotees from the world of illusion.
Thus Muruga has come to possess a power that is unequalled. He is known as the epitome of knowledge. He is known as all powerful. He is known as the embodiment of beauty. He is known as the ultimate God or as God of all Gods. He is described as an extension of Siva, the eternal reality, the one without a second. He is special because he has the unique combination of the power of Sakthi derived from Mother Parvati and the power of knowledge acquired from father Siva. He appeared on earth with the combination of all powers and knowledge with a view to provide peace and security.
Having nursed by Karthigai maidens who shine as brilliant stars in the galaxy and having brought up by Siva and Parvati with care and affection, Muruga grew up as a handsome youth (Kumara). With the powerful Vel (lance) presented by Parvati, Muruga came to Tiruchendur and put an end to the atrocities of Soorapadman and other distractors and restored peace and tranquility on earth.
It is impossible to visualize the image of Muruga without Vel (lance). The Vel represents not only the power to destroy but also the power to protect. It is believed that the power of Vel excels all the three divine weapons held by Siva (trishul), Vishnu (discus) Indira (vajrayudha). The lance radiates the light of knowledge and is known as Kadir Vel. The Vel of Muruga is powerful enough to bring light of knowledge where there is ignorance. Though many pundits described Muruga and Vel in glorious terms, it was Arunagirinathar who described Muruga very beautifully, truthfully and completely. Arunagirinathar described Vel as the weapon that destroyed the Krownja mountain, symbolizing the ego of Soorapadman. In his Vel Vakuppu, Arunagirinathar says that the Vel carries the power to ward off the adverse effects of Karma (consequences arising out of our action). It has the power to remove the fear of death. It brings confidence, courage, happiness, health and prosperity. It guides the way to the Lotus Feet of Muruga. Thaipusam is celebrated in a grand manner at Palani. The word Thaipusam comes from the Tamil month of Thai and the star Pusam). It was on this day, mother Parvati gave Muruga the powerful Vel which destroyed the demon, Sooran.
How Lord Muruga has chosen his abode atop the Palani hill is an interesting story. When Lord Siva brought a rare fruit of knowledge, both his sons, Ganesha and Muruga claimed it. Lord Shiva then put up a contest; thereby the fruit could go to one who went round the universe and returned first. While Muruga went all over the universe, mounted on his peacock, Ganesha went around his parents, Siva-Parvati and claimed the fruit on the ground that one’s parents represented the whole universe and received the fruit. Here, the fruit remained as the symbol of knowledge. While Lord Ganesa sought it from his parents, Siva-Parvati, Muruga sought it from the all pervading universe. Addressing the disappointed Muruga, Parvati stated; ‘You are the fruit” (Pazham Nee) which is the reinstatement of the great words of Upanishad; ‘You are That’. “This means the divinity is in you and you are God, you are the fruit of knowledge and you are the embodiment of knowledge”, said Parvati. According to legend, renouncing everything worldly, Muruga proceeded to South (Pothigai Hills) and chosen his abode at Palani. Appearing as Jnana Pandita (personification of knowledge), he radiates the light of knowledge from here and blesses the devotees. Muruga’s father, Siva, is the source of all knowledge. Muruga’s mother, Parvati is the embodiment of power, Sakti. Having inherited the combined qualities of his divine parents, the knowledge and power, Muruga has become the Lord Supreme, unequalled and unparalleled. Yet, Muruga has renounced everything, went atop the hill and stood with bare loin-cloth. He remains there as Andi Pandaram (penniless mendicant). The message he gives us is loud and clear. “Do not go after material objects. They are as transitory as bubbles in the water”. Arunagirinathar says: “Just as your own body is not able to give you shelter, your material possessions too would be of no use”. “I go to Palani every auspicious day of Thaipusam not to seek favours. Rather than praying for fulfillment of wishes, I pray that I should be blessed with a mind free from desires”, said Lakshminarayanan, an ardent devotee of Muruga, hailing from Thrissur, Kerala.
There are many devotees like Lakshminarayanan coming to Palani from different parts of India and abroad just to get the divine ‘Muruga experience’. They believe that Muruga is their saviour and completely surrender unto Him. Muruga, the Lord of infinite grace exercises enormous influence on the lives of millions of devotees. They are divided by caste, class and regions but when it comes to Muruga worship; they sink all their differences and united in single-minded devotion. There are many who undergo great physical hardship just to give expression to their devotion. With the advent of Thaipusam, devotees start making preparations for their journey to Palani. They start observing austerities 41 days in advance. During this period they observe strict silence and celibacy. According to them the body which grows and perishes is not real. Body should be used as a medium to reach Muruga, the ultimate reality. They therefore take only what is necessary for bare subsistence. They pierce the lance through their cheecks to highlight the fact that they would bear pain in order to express their devotion to Muruga. They start their long journey with white ashes (vibhuti) smeared all over their body, with devotion in heart and Kavadi on their shoulder. With great will power and determination, they walk the long distance, chanting the names of God; “Hara Haro Hara Hara”. They never care about food or shelter and their only objective is to immerse themselves in the grace of Muruga.
How the practice of Kavadi offering got started? According to legend, Saint Agasthiar, an ardent devotee of Lord Siva, had asked his disciple, Idumbasuran to bring the two hillocks, Sivagiri and Sakthigiri from Kailash to the South for his worship. Idumban connected the two hillocks with the help of a wooden piece in the centre and tied the loose ends with a snake and proceeded towards South. On reaching South, he placed them at a spot to rest for a while. But later, when he tried to lift it, he could not do so. He then spotted a youth wearing a piece of loincloth and holding a staff (dhanda) atop the hill. He asked the lad to move away. But the child, claiming right over the hill, refused to oblige. Soon Idumban realized that the boy was none other than Lord Muruga and paid obeisance to Him. Lord Muruga showered His blessings and proclaimed that anyone coming to his place with similar arch-like objects would get prosperity and upliftment. Thus was born the Kavadi pattern of worship. The Kavadi gets its name by its contents such as milk, flower, rose water, etc. In some rare cases they are said to contain fish (Matsya Kavadi) and snake (Sarpa Kavadi). There are artistes who swing and dance balancing the Kavadi on their head.
Generally, there is a misconception that by going to Palani, one may gain something or succeed in achieving something. No, we would not gain anything by going to Palani. In fact, we will be losing many things; things which obstruct our vision and prevent us from reaching Muruga; such as our ignorance, our attachments and aversions, our Karmas, our mind that chain us into the world of illusion (Maya) and last but not the least, our ego.