How Kartikeya came home

Kartikeya was once widely worshipped across North and East India, and in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Kashmir.

Published: 08th August 2022 01:33 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th August 2022 09:43 AM   |  A+A-

Kartikeya Skanda Sculpture, Meenakshi Temple, Madurai.

Kartikeya Skanda Sculpture, Meenakshi Temple, Madurai. (Photo | Wikimedia Commons)

It was Skanda Shashti last week, which brings to mind an amazing story about how Kartikeya unites the North and South in a popular Delhi landmark called Uttara Swami Malai or ‘Malai Mandir’ (hill temple). If we step back from present-day politics, we are free to enjoy the story for what it is—the legitimate lore of the land. Murugan, the poetry-loving warrior god, also called Kartikeya, Subrahmanya, Kumara and Skanda, is the darling deity of the South. 

There are ancient temples to him all over the Deccan, and new temples in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, the UK, the USA and Canada. But for years, the only temples to him in the North, of relative obscurity, were at Pehowa near the Punjab-Haryana border, where Kartikeya is a bachelor god, and at Chamba in Himachal Pradesh. Women were not allowed at Pehowa, possibly because of the turbulent history of the region.

However, Kartikeya was once widely worshipped across North and East India, and in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Kashmir. Old sculptures and texts tell us so. He was the favourite god of the Yaudheyas, the warlike clans of Haryana and Punjab. A branch of the Yaudheyas, called Mahamayurakas, were champion horsemen and horse-breeders around modern Rohtak city in Haryana. 
It says so in the Mahabharata, in the section called the Rajasuya Parva. ‘Rohitka’ as Rohtak was once known, was apparently Kartikeya’s favourite city in the northern plains. Ancient Buddhist texts are also known to talk about Kartikeya’s popularity in the North. 

Sri Krishna says of his own best qualities in the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter Ten, Verse Twenty-four, ‘Senaninaam aham Skanda’, ‘Of generals, I am Skanda’. In the Valmiki Ramayana, when Kausalya blesses Sri Rama before he departs to the forest, the first divinity she invokes is Skanda.

Love for Murugan burned in the hearts of some young Tamilians who moved to Delhi in the 1940s. They observed Skanda Shashti with fervour and sang from the Tiruppugazh and Thevaram. They carried with them, like a precious jewel, the ancient shadaakshari or six-syllable mantra, ‘Om Saravana Bhava’, just as they carried the powerful panchaakshari or five-syllable mantra, ‘Namas Shivaya’.

They were simple, salaried people, not maharajas or wealthy merchants who could build and endow temples. But a great ambition arose in them to build a temple to Murugan in Delhi. Years passed. They looked for a suitable hillock to build it since Kartikeya temples are often atop a kunram or hill. In 1961, they spotted a hillock of wild scrubland on the outskirts of Delhi, in the area now called Ramakrishnapuram. A devotee had a dream that an old man took him to that hillock and vanished, saying, “This is my home”. Taking that as confirmation, the group sought permission to build. Old ASI maps marked it as ‘RP’, meaning ‘religious place’. They were astounded to discover the ruins of an ancient shivala or Shiva temple on that site, over a thousand years old. 

They also found that a medieval chieftain called Surajmal had wanted to make a pleasure pavilion there, but his father had a dream about the ruined shivala and forbade him. Now, another dream had discovered the place.

Forming a registered society as per law, the devotees bought the site for Rs. 25,000. But how were they to build a proper South Indian temple with all its resources and running costs? Miraculously, the cause found support across society from the highest to the humblest. People gave small sums, saying, “Take this for a few bricks at least.” Then, the big guns stepped in. There was a generous contribution by the Government of Tamil Nadu. The Central Government supported it, with the participation of two Prime Ministers, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi, and President R Venkataraman.

Meanwhile, what about the central image in the sanctum? The Kanchi Mahaswami told the temple committee to find a certain block of granite with its corner cut off in the bed of the river Tamaraparani. By ‘chance’, they were able to locate that very rock. An old, bedridden man, also found by ‘chance’, told them its location, heard from the village lore of his youth. He wept with joy when told the purpose, saying, “Now I know why I have stayed alive so long, I can die happily now.” 
When the rock was brought out, V Ganapati Sthapati, the master stone carver, found that it was perfect according to the rules of the Shilpa Shastra. The sthapati did such a fine job that he was given the 
National Award next year. The image, called Somaskanda Murti, was duly installed, and kumbhabhishekam or consecration performed in June 1973, with M S Subbulakshmi singing. In this incredible fashion, Kartikeya came back to the North, to the Republic’s very capital.

Renuka Narayanan


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