kartikeya

Wives of the Bachelor God

Indian Mythology 17 Comments

Published in Speaking Tree, October 09, 2011

 

After the great war at Kurukshetra, the Pandavas were haunted by dreams of dying warriors. To help them heal and sleep well, they were advised to pour sesame oil on the image of Kartikeya that is now enshrined in the city of Pahowa in Kurukshetra district of Haryana.

Kartikeya or Kumara was once a popular god especially during the Gupta period. He was the god of warriors, resplendent on his peacock, bearing a lance in his hand and a flag displaying the image of a rooster. He was associated with the planet Mars and qualities of agressiveness. He was the patron of warrior communities. He was handsome, athletic and virile. So virile that to create him, Shiva’s seed had to be incubated in several wombs: those of fire, wind, and water, before being nurtured by the stars of the Krittika constellation, hence the name. He was six men rolled into one, hence often called the six-headed one, Shanmukha. According to some, his name Skanda linked him with Sikander, Alexander, whose love for war and blood brought him to India.

But then his popularity waned, perhaps because of the rise of monastic orders and pacifist movements. They say he shunned the company of women, and women shunned him. He was the warlord and widow-maker. In fact, one legend says, he wanted to stay away from women completely and so renounced his flesh and blood, parts of the body that come from the mother, which is why the image in Pehowa is said to be Kankal, made of bones alone.

In Maharashtra, the women worship him only on the full moon day of the month of Kartik following the Diwali-Dassera festival season. He is seen as a monk-warrior, a fierce ascetic god, who became so when his parents, Shiva and Shakti, allowed his brother Ganesha to get married before him.

So he moved south, away from his parents. And in the south, especially on the hills of Tamil Nadu, such as those in Palni, he was adored very differently. He was the boy god, the cherubic child-warrior, who was also the romantic youth, Murugan, dark and beautiful and seductive and powerful, who danced with peacocks and local tribes. He participated in epic battles against demons, accompanied by Kottravai, the local more fierece version of his warrior-mother, Durga.

In Tamil Nadu, he was associated with chastity as well as marriage. Images of the celibate warrior who held his spear in his hand were given to merchants making their sea voyages to South East Asia so that they did not lose their character on foreign shores, like common sailors. But atop the hills, in the mainland, he was seen with two wives: Sena and Valli.

Sena was the daugher of Indra, king of the gods. Indra made Kartikeya his son-in-law in gratitude for leading his armies into many a successsful battle against demons such as Taraka and Surpadman, the latter referred to only in Tamil chronciles. But the wife who fired the imagination of the local people was Valli. Tales of how the god seduced the spirited tribal lass in her father’s millet field is the stuff of many ballads.

In time, Kartikeya-Murugan became the most popular Hindu deity in Tamil Nadu, rivalling Krishna as well as his father, Shiva. He was the perfect child to mothers, a strong upright friend for men, a noble chaste warrior to married women, and the romantic youth from the north to unmarried girls. He was Subramanya, the perfect jewel, much loved by all.

  • aarthi raghavan

    Hi Devduttji,
    Being from Tamilnadu, I already knew that Karthikeya had 2 wives. But his image as a celibate God is new to me. I didn’t know about this before. So, I guess I learnt something today!

    • Veda

      Hello,

      I too hail from South Tamil Nadu. Lord Muruga (Karthikeya), resides as a Bachelor in 5 of His 6 holy temples (Arupadai Veedu) in Tamil Nadu. And only in Thiruththani He resides with his consorts.

      • aarthi raghavan

        I agree with you. Yet we do know about Valli’s story, right? But Him as a celibate fierce warrior with no women at all was a bit surprising!

  • Chintan

    In the last paragraph, you have mentioned, ‘rivalling Krishna as well as his father, Shiva.’… thats something I have read for the first time.

    Can you please provide some reference to read on this.

    Thank you

  • Gaurav

    The maharashtrian part was new to me. I didn’t knew it.

  • R.Nataraja

    Hello Sir,
    Skanda linked with Sikander, Alexander was new to me. Thanks for the info. He indeed was a celibate God n warrior as we have never heard about his generations.

  • karthik27061973@gmail.com

    You have said “According to some, his name Skanda linked him with Sikander, Alexander, whose love for war and blood brought him to India.”

    Can you elaborate the exact the source of this information.

    Because this in a way trivializes an already remote mythology, too much.

  • Hello Sir:

    I’m a Tamil.

    You have written in the last paragraph, “…the romantic youth from the north to unmarried girls.”

    In my opinion, half is incorrect/ wrong. Murugan is the romantic youth to unmarried (Tamil) girls. But not the romantic youth from “north,” as you have written.

    Thank you.

    • Devdutt

      I meant the metaphorical north, not the geographical north……but there is always confusion between symbol and meaning in mythology…even man and girls are not to be taken literally….but we do.

  • anusha

    Hello sir,
    i am a malayalee. we also have a temple for Subramaniyan whom we fondly call Ayappan at sabarimala on the banks of Pampa.He’s worshipped in his bachelor warrior form.

  • KT

    If this story means some thing symbolic then can you please elaborate and relate to our present life, otherwise it will be another fairy tale.

  • shirish

    very nice devduttaji..
    But didn’t understood what can i get from this story.

  • Raghav

    Quote:”ho became so when his parents, Shiva and Shakti, allowed his brother Ganesha to get married before him.”

    In Tamilnadu, perhaps Devdutt ji must be knowing, Ganesha is the elder brother of Muruga and is a bachelor, waiting under the ‘Arasa maram’ (Peepal) on the banks of rivers and ponds – to check if there is one woman as good as his mother for him to marry. Shiva and Parvathi are the world to him, as he went around them when in race with his brother. He still sits under the tree, has not met Sidhi n Bhuthi yet.

    @anusha: Ayyapan is in Tamilnadu and in Kerala, a form of Shiva and Vishnu’s union. However in both states he is related to Dharmasastha/ Ayyanar etc. who in general is a guardian deity of villages/ rural areas. Or this is what id the idea in general.

  • Raghav

    However “To help them heal and sleep well, they were advised to pour sesame oil on the image of Kartikeya that is now enshrined in the city of Pahowa in Kurukshetra district of Haryana.” – this was very new to me!

    Thank you!

  • Vaibhav Parikh

    The boy god who got angry with his parents because Ganesha was married first though he was the eldest son.

  • Hobbyist

    When Skanda became united to Devasena in indissoluble bonds of matrimony, then the gods of prosperity in her own personal embodiment began to serve him with diligence.

    The Mahabharata Vana Parva SECTION CCXXVIII

    He is not a bachelor.