By Swami Harshananda
If Gaṇapati is universally revered by almost all the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, and has followers even abroad in many countries of South East Asia, China, Japan and Afghanistan; Subrahmaṇya his brother, has somehow remained confined to South India only. Historically speaking, he is a much older deity, being mentioned in stone inscriptions and shown on coins of 1st cent to 5th cent. A. D., and was well-known in North India.
The sixth day of a lunar month is considered sacred to him and other serpent deities. He is said to have been married to a forest maid Valliamma. The peacock is his carrier mount. His temples are usually found on hill-tops. All these factors may indicate that he was a sylvan deity connected with serpent worship and tree-worship and hence was more popular among the people of lower strata in the society. However, now all the sections have accepted him and venerated him.
Early Years of Subrahmaṇya
He is said to have been born of Śiva from Pārvatī, to destroy the demon Tārakāsura. Before conceiving him, even they had to perform severe tapas or austerities. This teaches the world significance of the great need for tapas on the part of the parents desirous of excellence of offspring. He is stated to have been born in a forest of arrow-like grass, hence he was named Śaravaṇabhava. He was then grown up by the six divine mothers of the constellation Kṛttikā. This justifies his names ‘Kārttikeya’ and ‘Saṇmātura’. It seems he assumed six faces to suckle the milk of the six mothers and hence got the appellation ‘Saḍānana or Saṇmukha’.
Other Attributes of Subrahmaṇya
He was appointed the commander-in-chief of the gods and thus became ‘Deva-senāpati’. With his matchless weapon, the Śakti or lance, shining brilliantly like fire, he easily destroyed Tārakāsura, thus becoming ‘Śaktidhara’ and ‘Tārakāri’. Being very young and virile he was also called as ‘Kumāra’ or ‘Sanatkumāra.’ When he is as a forceful attacker in war, he is known as ‘Skanda’. ‘Skanda’ also means one who has accumulated the power of chastity. He likes holy people and is always good to them. Hence he is ‘Subrahmaṇya’. Once he broke down the Krauñcaparvata, earning the name Krauñcabhettā. He also exposed Brahmā’s ignorance of the Vedas and hence got the name Brahma-Sāstā. His other names are Guha, Gāngeya and Svāminātha.
Representation of Subrahmaṇya
In icons, he is known as a boy either with one head and two arms or with six heads and twelve arms. His lance and his peacock are also prominently displayed. A fowl adorns his banner. Subrahmaṇya, the son of Śiva and Śakti, represents the highest state to which a spiritual aspirant can evolve.
Etymologically the word ‘Subrahmaṇya’ means ‘the one who tends the spiritual growth of the aspirants’. He has reached the summit of spiritual perfection in this life and is capable of tending the spiritual growth of others.
Mythology describes him as the Son of God begotten to save the world from the tyranny of the fiend Tārakāsura which is more true in the spiritual sense. Subrahmaṇya, the Saṇmukha, is depicted with six heads and twelve hands, all of them being attached to one trunk resting on two feet.
Though his appearance seems impossible, but a concept can be conceded if it fits into useful philosophical postulations. His six heads represent the five sense organs and the mind, which co ordinates their activities. When these are controlled, refined and sublimated, man becomes a superman. This is the implication of the symbology.
Yoga Psychology as per Subrahmaṇya
According to Yoga psychology, there are six centers of psychic energy, of consciousness, in the human body, designated as Cakras. They are:
- Mulādhāra - at the anus
- Svādhiṣṭhāna - at the root of the sex organ
- Maṇipura - at the navel
- Anāhata - at the region of the heart
- Viśuddha - at the throat
- Ājñā - between the eyebrows
- Sahasrāra - at the top of the head which is the destination for this energy
When the yogi successfully raises his psychic energy to this topmost center he has a vision of Śiva-Śakti. Though it is the same energy that flows through all the six centers, in the case of an ordinary being it is concentrated in the three lowest centers. In a perfect being the flow is so refined and uniform, that practically all the centers have been elevated to the highest level. Subrahmaṇya represents this perfected state of spiritual consciousness.
Man has only two hands. But, his superior intellect has enabled him to invent so many tools and instruments through which he can accomplish many manual tasks. Subrahmaṇya with his twelve hands, symbolically represents this power and capacity of man. The combination of the six heads and twelve hands teaches us that the ideal of humanity is the perfected being who is not only a great Yogi but also a great worker.
Consorts of Subrahmaṇya
Subrahmaṇya has two consorts:
- Valli - She is the daughter of a humble chieftain of a race given to agriculture and woodcraft.
- Devasenā - She is the daughter of Indra, the king of gods.
This is to show that God does not make any distinction between the humble folk and the elite. He loves both equally. Alternatively, this can also mean that the true leader of a society will espouse agriculture and industry on the one hand, and the armed forces on the other, in order to develop the society and also to protect it.
- The lance of dazzling brightness is the weapon with which the Devasenāpati vanquished many enemies. It actually stands for knowledge and wisdom with which all the ugly demons of ignorance can be destroyed.
- The peacock is his mount. It is shown as belaboring a snake with one of its legs. The snake stands for time. The peacock that kills it stands for what is opposed to it. By riding the peacock he is showing that he is beyond what is within time and outside it. He is beyond all the dualities.
- If the snake represents lust, as it often does in the symbology of psychology, the peacock signifies the power of celibacy.
- As the Skanda, he is the very personification of the powers of chastity and hence is shown as riding on the peacock.
- Lastly, the peacock, with its beautiful plumage, represents creation in all its glory. Hence he that rides it is the Supreme Lord, the master of creation.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore