Shanmukha, the Six Faced Lord

By Gowri Balachandar - 11.4 2017

Shanmukha, the Six Faced Lord – The Legend and the Logic

Legend has it that a demon called Tarakasura had enslaved and tormented the Devas. He had acquired a boon from Brahma that he should be destroyed only by a power equal to Shiva and not even by Shiva himself. Tarakasuran believed that he had outsmarted God and had obtained immortality by asking such a boon for there is none equal to Shiva.

Tarakasuran still had his doubts. He asked Brahma who could be equal to Shiva. Brahma stated that a son born to Shiva would be equal to Shiva in all aspects and that he would destroy Tarakasuran. Shiva had become a recluse after the loss of Sati and Taraksuran was deluded into thinking that a son would never be born to Shiva. It was a shock to Tarakasuran when Shiva married Parvati, who was Sati reborn.

However, there was a curse on Parvati. Rati is the wife of Manmadan, who was burned down by Shiva when at the request of the Devas he had tried to induce lust in Shiva’s mind for Parvati while she was serving him as a devotee. In her grief at the loss of her beloved, Rati had cursed Parvati that she would never be able to bear Shiva’s child even if she eventually won Shiva and married him. Once again Tarakasuran was deluded into thinking that a son would never be born to Shiva.

Tarakasuran had to be destroyed. Rati’s curse also had to materialize and come true. How could a child then be born to Parvati if she could not physically bear the child of Shiva? The all-knowing Shiva found a way. The five faced (panca vaktra) Shiva acquired a sixth face that looked (with concern and kindness) in the downward direction (adho mukha) at the suffering Devas and became Shanmukha (the six faced lord).

Six sparks emerged from the forehead of each of the six faces of Shiva and were carried by Agni (the god of fire) and Vayu (the wind god) to river Ganga. Six of the wives of the Sapta rishis (seven holy sages) held them in their wombs before depositing them on six lotus flowers at the shara vana (the forest of reeds). Six babies then emerged from the sparks that were nurtured by the six Karthigai ladies (a constellation of six stars). These six babies then became Shamukha – the six faced lord who is considered as the son of Shiva and Parvati. Shanmukha is also known as Muruga in the Tamil language. murugu in Tamil means handsome or beautiful and murugA means one who is very handsome. Muruga destroyed Tarakasura and his 2 brothers Simhamukha and Surapadma and freed the Devas.

The logical mind now starts wondering. How could it have been possible for a child to be born without the physical union of a male and a female? What is the logic behind this legend?  Considering the scientific knowledge we have today we know that the physical union of a male and a female is not essential to produce a child.

The ovum of the female can be fertilized with the sperm of the male in an artificial environment – Test tube baby. Usually multiple (more than one) embryos are produced in this way. The embryos thus produced need the correct temperature (agni), vital air (vAyu) and fluids (The river Ganga) to survive. If the female who provided the ova, is unable to bear the embryos in her womb the embryos are placed in another female’s womb – Surrogate mother (the wives of the sapta rishis). If the babies are born prematurely the babies are nurtured in an incubator (shara vana) in a very warm environment (agni), with vital air (Oxygen – vAyu), fluids (the river Ganga) and nutrition (mother earth). The nurses in the neonatal ICU now care for this baby (Karthigai ladies). Even the breast milk for these babies can be provided by any other female other its own mother.

From a psychological standpoint Muruga can be considered as an alter ego of Shiva. In Latin, alter ego literally means the “second I”. According to the English dictionary, alter ego can also be thought of as a person’s clone or a second self. Alter ego can also refer to the second, hidden side of one’s own self, or a person vicariously liable for another. Sometimes parents liver their dreams through their children. They present to their children opportunities that they did not have. They attain joy a when their children achieve what they could not achieve. What Shiva could not achieve, he achieved through Muruga.

Why is this logic not presented to us in the first place? Why are we told the legends? Well, how can this logic be explained to a six year old? Would it even make sense to a six year old? Hence we need legends. We need to keep believing in them and if we keep contemplating on the legends, one day the logic will fall into place.

The handsome Muruga is know by six names – guhA (cave), for he is the secret that lives in the cave of Shiva’s heart, Kumara (the son of Parvati), Skanda – spilling – such as the seminal fluid or seed, as he was carried by Agni and Vayu, Gangeya as he was carried by river Ganga, Sharavana as he was nurtured in the shara vana – the forest of reeds and Karthikeya as he was raised by the 6 Karthigai ladies.