The Many Faces of Murugan: The History and Meaning of a South Indian God

Clothey, Fred W.

     One of the most persistent and significant deities of the Tamil peoples in South India is Murugan, also known as Skanda, Subramanya, Karttikeya, Velan, and a host of other names. The basic intent of this dissertation is to understand the history and meaning of this god. It is an attempt to understand and interpret a particular phenomenon by determining as closely as possible, first, how the phenomenon has developed historically and, secondly, how the response of peoples to it expresses something of their total religious perspective and hence of the meanings by which they live. That is to say, in trying to understand what Murugan is in the South Indian context I am primarily interested in two interrelated problems. On the one hand, I believe the ways in which the human apprehension of Murugan has developed historically and has changed as cultural, historical settings have changed provides some clues both as to the history of Tamil religion as a whole and to the ways in which the gods to which man responds change and adapt themselves to changing historical situations. And, on the other hand, I believe this study provides some clues as to how a people's response to a deity constitutes religion -- that is, how the ways in which the meaning of a deity is understood embodies something of a community's total understanding of ultimacy, the world, themselves, etc. In other words, this study hopes to be more than the study of a particular god -- it hopes to be the study of the human spirit and its ordering of time and space as that spirit is evidenced in a particular South Indian community.

Mircea Eliade