Symbolism of Murugan Worship
உருவாய் அருவாய், உளதாய் இலதாய்
மருவாய் மலராய், மணியாய் ஒளியாய்க்
கருவாய் உயிராய்க், கதியாய் விதியாய்க்
குருவாய் வருவாய், அருள்வாய் குகனே.
uruvAi aruvAi uLadhAi iladhAi maruvAi malarAi maNiyAi oLiyAy karuvAi uyirAik gadhiyAi vidhiyAi guruvAi varuvAi aruLvAi guganE!
You are the Supreme Being, who has form, and who has no form! You are an existent being, and You are also an invisible being! You are the fragrance, and You are also the flower having the fragrance! You are the precious gem, and You are also its lustre! You are the cosmic embryo, and You are also the life that moves the embryo! You are the ultimate refuge and You lead the path of the destiny of jeevatmas towards salvation. May You be gracious enough to appear before me as the Preceptor, and bestow on me Your grace!
Brahman is the Absolute Reality, the source of all things into which all things will eventually go back. It is a pure, blissful consciousness that is infinite, eternal, and unchanging. Advaita philosophers believe the Brahman to be Nirguna or without attributes. Saiva Siddhanta texts would refer to Brahman as Para Brahman or Para Shivam. Its inherent nature of transcendence and immanence is its swaroopa lakshana. The three basic qualities of Brahman are sat, chit, and ananda. Sat is the being or existence of Brahman, chit is the consciousness Brahman, and ananda is bliss. This is a state of being in which all distinctions between the subject and the object, between the seer and the seen, are obliterated. Because of this, one might say It has all the qualities or has no qualities. This seemingly paradoxical statement explains why Saint Arunagirinathar’s Anubhooti above refers It as ‘uLathaay ilathaay’.
When one tries to ascribe Brahman with descriptive qualities that help us to visualize and communicate with it, we refer to Saguna Brahman. Saguna Brahman is “the Supreme or the universal principle endowed with cosmic functions as creation, maintenance, and dissolution. To create a world of multiplicity and separate selves that we perceive with our senses, Brahman has to become self-aware and superimpose on Itself the illusory maya. The key to understanding the nature of maya from a scientific viewpoint comes from modern Quantum Physics which shuns from using deterministic terminology and talks of probabilities alone. Scientists theorize that matter is not solid at all, being mostly space in which infinitesimally small sub particles are suspended and which behave sometimes as waves and sometimes as particles. Interestingly, sub atomic particles settle down from their constant movements and take on solid shapes only when we observe them. In other words, the world we observe is only an illusion projected by our senses. Thus each of us create our own reality!
To help us visualize such abstruse concepts, sages in ancient times came up with Puranas which are mostly allegorical. Let us understand the metaphysical interpretations of the “birth” and life of Murugan, His consorts, and other symbols such as the vel, the peacock and the rooster banner.
Birth of Murugan
Devas approach Shiva to give them a son who can vanquish the treacherous demons. Shiva’s five heads represent the five elements (Panch Mahabhoota - Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether) in nature. Shiva meditates and sparks of divine fire emanate from His third eye (representing the akasha element) as a result of the union of the five elements with Shakti (Pure Consciousness). Agni, representative of the element fire, and Vayu, representative of the element air, carry the fiery sparks and drop them into the sacred river Ganges, representative of the element water. Mother Ganga carries them further to Lake Saravana, which represents the earth element. The sparks then transform into six baby boys lying on lotus flowers growing in the lake. Then Goddess Parvati, consort of Shiva, gathers the babies into her arms and they became one beautiful child with six heads.
We can also look at Murugan’s birth from a yogic view point. Our bodies have seven chakras or energy centers, starting at the base of the spine and moving all the way up to the top of the head through which prana or the life force flows. Ganesha controls the first chakra called muladhara. In passive or sleeping mode, Devi Parvathi also dwells in muladhara as a serpent called kundalini. In the awakened state, this Shakti or energy moves as kundalini power in sushumna. She goes up and merges with her beloved Lord Shiva at sahasrara.. This union of Shiva and Kundalini Shakti (power) leads a sadhaka to turiya state of infinite bliss.
Even the aru-padai veedus or the six places of military sojourn of the warlord Murugan have a yogic connotation. Each of these camps has a temple and it is said to correspond to a specific chakra in the subtle body of man:
Consorts of Murugan
Murugan is the very embodiment of knowledge. For utilizing that knowledge, one needs will power and determination as well as the strength or capability of action. Murugan’s consorts Valli and Deyvayanai represent Iccha-shakti and Kriya-shakti, the two energies which come together with the Kundalini shakti of Murugan to bring knowledge to fruition.
Vel, Mayil and Seval
A peacock dances, spreading its beautiful plumes in a circular form that is reminiscent of the pranava manta AUM. Being a very heavy bird, it has to strive to maintain its balance on its two slender feet. Thus we can also interpret the peacock as symbolizing mental equipoise, where the sattva guna predominates over the rajas and tamas gunas and facilitates the acquisition of True Knowledge, which is the Lord Himself. In fact, Mayurasana is said to kindle kundalini shakti.
Humans pride themselves on the transient beauty of their body and their sharp intellect. Because of maya they are unable to identify themselves with the unchanging and eternal Atman dwelling within. That can happen only when the lord rides on our vain and egoistic mind like He rides the peacock and keeps it under check. The subordinated serpent under the peacock’s feet shows that the power of Pranava has overpowered the Maya impurity completely.
If peacock is the visual symbol of Pranava, the crowing of the cock is its aural representation. It crows in the morning and heralds the rise of the sun that dispels the darkness of ignorance.
Vel is the divine weapon Devi bestowed on Her son. It is indeed with this Gnana Shakti that Murugan could conquer evil forces. Vel is synonymous with victory. It is also a symbol of Knowledge, and is often used as a metaphor for Murugan himself. Vel removes the limiting conditions of malas created by samskaras/vasanas of our past and present lives. Malas are the reason we believe ourselves to be the body and we attribute all our actions to the limited "I" consciousness of our own ego. By destroying the malasVel helps us to see ourselves as we truly are – as Pure Consciousness