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In certain orthodox traditions the five divinities of the main tradition are all worshipped together through a sophisticated ritual called, pancAyatana pUjA, meaning worship at five altars. Here the divinities are worshipped not in their human-like forms but in certain symbols in the form of stones, which are nothing but certain rock formations available in specified locations in India. In this scheme of things, gaNeSa is the red somabhadra stone found in the bed of the river Sone flowing into the Ganges. The pancAyatana pUjA tradition may be taken as an intermediate stage between the worship of Godhead with form and the worship of the formless, because the symbols of worship as rock formations have certainly a form but they are also formless in that they have no parts like face, eyes, body, hands or feet. It is as though the devotee trains himself to tune the mind from the forms to the formless while at the same time allowing full scope for his devotional feelings in favour of worship of the form.

In addition to the five deities in the main tradition, there is one more, devoted to Lord subrahmaNya particularly in the southern states of India. In Tamilnadu the deity is more popularly known as murugan. ‘Murugan’ in Tamil comes from the Tamil word 'murugu' which is said to connote the six qualities: Beauty, Freshness, Fragrance, Sweetness, Divinity, Joy. He is meditated upon by the six-lettered mantra ‘sa-ra-va-Na-bha-va’ . The six syllables connote Him who manifested as a personification of Auspiciousness, Light, Splendour, Bounty, Purity and Infinite Prowess. SaravaNa-bhava therefore means the one who is a combination of all these.

The mythology that goes with the deity is pretty complicated. Lord Siva is the perfect yogi. The divines want a marriage of Siva and Uma so that the war-God may be born out of that divine Union and the enemies Taraka, Surapadma and Simhamukha (who are esoterically the evils Dynamism, Ego and Delusion respectively) may be vanquished. The Love-God Manmatha is set upon by the Divines to disturb Siva’s penance but Siva burns him down to ashes by just a glance. Then Parvati (Uma) undertakes a penance to seek the hand of the Lord and the divine marriage took place. But even after 1000 years of the marriage, no conception takes place. The vIrya (Energy) of the Lord was considered so potent that Uma was scared to receive it. Finally it was deposited with the Fire-God Agni, but the latter, again, was unable to bear it. Lord Siva asked Agni to pour the flaming energy into the bodies of those who were suffering from the cold of the winter. The wives of six of the saptarishis (seven great sages) who were trembling with cold after their early morning bath, basked in the welcome warmth of the Fire. Arundhati, the wife of the seventh sage thought it was not the right thing to do and so did not join the others). In the process, the six Rishi-wives took in Siva’s energy which Agni passed into them through the pores of their skin. From there on the six wives carried the burden. Their husbands, the sages, cursed them that they would become just stars in the sky. That is how they became kRttikAs, (Pleides). But before this the kRttikAs unburdened Siva’s energy in SaravaNa lake (at the southern end of Mount Kailas, according to one trdition and, according to another tradition, near Tiruchendur in the southernmost tip of India). This lake had itself been purified in times of yore by the body of Uma herself. When the demon Bhasmasura was threatening to put his hand on Lord Siva and destroy Him , Siva disappeared and in the agony of that disappearance, Uma split her body into thousand pieces which fell down in this very lake. This was why this lake of Sara grass had divine strength to receive Siva’s seed.

Again in times of yore there was a boy who had seen the torture that the divines suffered under the hands of the demon Taraka. So he did a fierce penance for the purpose of vanquishing Tarakasura and he offered his own body to his sacrificial fire. He was later born as Sanatkumara, out of Brahma’s will. This Sanatkumara taught the supreme wisdom to Narada. In Chandogya Upanishad he is identified with Skanda. The kRttikA sisters saw the falling of the seed in the Sara grass, were excited and themselves begot six children. They breast-fed the children and the six children became one child with six heads. According to another tradition, the scattered energy came together, formed one whole, flowed down the river Ganga, mingled with the Sara grass and a six-headed boy was then born. This boy was nurtured by the kRttikA sisters. He is therefore called kArtikeya. He is also called skanda because the seed of Siva ‘fell’ in this way. (‘skanna’ in Sanskrit means ‘fallen’, ‘emitted’) .The word 'skanda' also means that which is gathered into one. The six divine sparks from the eyes of Siva first took the form of six different babes. The Divine Mother hugged them all at once and the six merged into one form, skanda.

Two goddesses amuda-valli and sundara-valli appeared from the two eyes of mahAvishNu. In the SaravaNa lake these two performed a long penance with the purpose of marrying Lord subrahmaNya. The latter appeared before them and ordained that one of them should be born in the heavenly world and the other in the earthly world. Accordingly amuda-valli became a heavenly child and was adopted by Indra as his daughter. The other one sundara-valli did penance in a hillock in Tamilnadu and was born as vaLLi. These are the two consorts of subrahmaNya. The first one devasenA who sits on the left of the Lord grants us heavenly bliss; the second one vaLLi sits on the right and confers on the devotee all earthly bliss. The spear of the Lord called vEl in Tamil confers moksha on the devotee. The two consorts and the vEl are said to represent the three Saktis -- Energies: Will, Action and Knowledge -- of the Lord namely, icchA-Sakti, kriyA-Sakti, and jnAna-Sakti.

The Chandogya-upanishad speaks of skanda as the Supreme Being. The word subrahmaNya itself means the one who originated from brahman in joy and is inseparable from the Bliss of the ultimate Reality. God subrahmaNya is primarily the preceptor who imparts the highest knowledge. He gave divine wisdom to his own father, Siva, and so, He is swAmi-natha(the Lord of the Lord). He is a yogi and the Lord of palani hills and so He is palani-AnDavan, (the Lord or God of Palani). He is the commander-in-chief of the gods and so He is deva-senA-pati. His six faces confer the light of wisdom, grace, austerity, mantra-Sakti, victory over evil, and love.The six hills which are especially sacred to him are signified by the six chakras in the human body through which the kundalini rises to travel to the Supreme. In the bhagavad-gItA, the Lord says: Among commanders, I am skanda. Sankara says that the six main qualities of Godhead (bhagavAn), namely, lordship, valour, fame, wealth, wisdom and detachment are signified by the six faces of shanmukha, which is again, another name for subrahmaNya, because, it means, the six-faced one.

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