Tamil mythology

Tamil mythology refers to the folklore and traditions that are a part of the wider Dravidian pantheon, originating from the Tamil people.[1] This body of mythology is a fusion of elements from Dravidian culture and the parent Indus Valley culture, both of which have been syncretised with mainstream Hinduism.[2]


Procession of the Tamil deity Perumal, identified with Vishnu

Tamil literature, in tandem with Sanskrit literature, forms a major source of information regarding ancient Hindu culture. The ancient epics of Tamilakam detail the origin of various historical figures in Hindu scripture, like Agathiyar, Iravan, and Patanjali. Ancient Tamil literature contains mentions of indigenous deities like Perumal, Murugan, and Kotravai. Tolkappiyam hails Shiva as Brahman, Murugan as Seyyon (the red one), and Kotravai as the goddess worshipped in the dry lands. This literature serves as a springwell of history, as referenced by inscriptions upon major temples like the Pundarikakshan Perumal Temple, Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram, Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, Tirupati, Meenakshi Temple, Madurai Koodal Azhagar temple.


Murugan (Sanskrit: कार्त्तिकेय, IAST: Kārttikeya), also known as Kandhan, Kumaran,[3] Murugan and Subramaniyan, is the Hindu god of war and victory.[4][5][6] He is the son of Parvati and Shiva, brother of Ganesha, and a god whose life has many versions in Hinduism.[7] An important deity around South Asia since ancient times, Karthikeyan is particularly popular and predominantly worshipped in South India, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia as Murugan.[4][7][5]

Karthikeya is an ancient god, traceable to the Vedic era. Originally a god of the Kurinji hillfolk of Tamilakam, this Dravidian deity of Murugan was syncretised with the Vedic god known as Subramanya. Archaeological evidence from 1st-century CE and earlier,[8] where he is found with Hindu god Agni (fire), suggest that he was a significant deity in early Hinduism.[4] He is found in many medieval temples all over India, such as at the Ellora Caves and Elephanta Caves.[9]

The iconography of Karthikeyan varies significantly; he is typically represented as an ever-youthful man, riding or near a peacock, dressed with weapons sometimes near a rooster. Most icons show him with one head, but some show him with six heads reflecting the legend surrounding his birth.[4][7][5] He grows up quickly into a philosopher-warrior, destroys evil in the form of asuras Taraka, teaches the pursuit of ethical life and the theology of Shaiva Siddhanta.[5][6] After defeating the asura Surapadman, Murugan marries the two daughters of Vishnu, Devasena and Sundaravalli. He has inspired many poet-saints, such as Arunagirinathar.[6][10]


Ayyappan (Malayalam: അയ്യപ്പന്‍),(Tamil: ஐயப்பன்) (also called Sastavu, or Sasta) is a Hindu deity predominantly worshipped in Kerala, an erstwhile region of Tamilakam. Ayyappan is believed to be an incarnation of Dharma Sasta, who is the offspring of Shiva and Vishnu (as Mohini, the only female avatar of Vishnu) and is generally depicted in a yogic posture, wearing a jewel around his neck, hence earning him the moniker Manikandan. Ayyappan may bear a historical relationship to the tutelary deity Ayyanar in Tamil Nadu.[11] According to tradition, the asura princess Mahishi was enraged at the trick the gods had pulled on her brother, the asura king Mahishasura. As Mahishasura was blessed with invulnerability against all men, the gods had sent goddess Durga, to fight and kill him. Thus, Mahishi began performing a fearsome set of austerities, and pleased the creator god Brahma. She asked for the boon of invulnerability, but Brahma said it was not possible. Mahishi hence instead asked for invulnerability to all men, except by the son of Shiva and Vishnu. This was believed to be ingenious since both the aforementioned deities were males, and thus incapable of bearing offspring. He granted her the boon of ruling the universe and being invulnerable to all, but the son of Shiva and Vishnu. Since such a person did not exist, she thought that she was safe and began conquering and plundering the world.

,The gods implored Shiva and Vishnu to save them from this catastrophe. Vishnu found a possible solution to the problem. When Vishnu had taken on the Kurma Avatar, he also had to manifest himself as Mohini, the enchantress, to save the nectar of immortality, amritam, from the demons who were not willing to share it with the gods. If he were to taken on the form of Mohini again, then the female Mohini and the male Shiva could have the divine child who would combine their powers and vanquish Mahishi.

Some versions give a slightly more detailed version of the union of Shiva with Vishnu. One version tells of the asura Bhasmasura, tho had so pleased Lord Shiva with his austerities that the latter offered him a boon of anything he wished. So, Bhasmasura asked for the ability to burn to ashes anything which he placed his hand over. No sooner had Shiva granted this, than Bhasmasura ran after the god, threatening to turn him into ash.

Shiva called on Vishnu for help. He hid himself in a peepal tree as Bhasmasura followed him, and there began to search for the destroyer. Vishnu became aware of these events, and decided that he would take the female form Mohini, "the enchantress", to neutralise the asura's powers. When Bhasmasura saw Vishnu in this form, he was bewitched by her beauty. He earnestly tried to court her. Mohini instructed Bhasmasura to hold his hand over his head, and vow fidelity. With this act, Bhasmasura was reduced to ashes.

Vishnu found Shiva and explained the whole affair to him. Shiva asked if he too could see Vishnu in this female form. When Vishnu appeared thus, Shiva was overcome with passion, and the two engaged in intercourse. The two gods thus became "Harihara Murthi", that is, a composite form of Shiva and Vishnu as one god.

From this union, Dharma Sastha was born. He combined in himself the powers of both Vishnu and Shiva. Lord Ayyappan is an incarnation of Dharma Sastha and is a visible embodiment of their essential identity. Vishnu gifted the new-born deity with a little bejeweled bell necklace, and so this god is called Manikandan.[12] He is also known as Dharma Shasthavu, and Kerala Putran.


Perumal (Tamil: பெருமாள்), also Thirumal (Tamil: திருமால்), is the Hindu deity venerated in the Sri Vaishnavism sect of Hinduism.[13] Perumal is considered to be another name of Vishnu, and was traditionally the deity associated with the forests.

Mentions in Sangam literatureEdit

Tamil Sangam literature (200 BCE to 500 CE) mentions Mayon or the "dark one," as the supreme deity who creates, sustains, and destroys the universe and was worshipped in the mountains of Tamilakam. The verses of Paripadal describe the glory of Perumal in the most poetic of terms.

தீயினுள் தெறல் நீ;
பூவினுள் நாற்றம் நீ;
கல்லினுள் மணியும் நீ;
சொல்லினுள் வாய்மை நீ;
அறத்தினுள் அன்பு நீ;
மறத்தினுள் மைந்து நீ;
வேதத்து மறை நீ;
பூதத்து முதலும் நீ;
வெஞ் சுடர் ஒளியும் நீ;
திங்களுள் அளியும் நீ;
அனைத்தும் நீ;
அனைத்தின் உட்பொருளும் நீ;

In fire, you are the heat;
in blossoms, the fragrance;
among the stones, you are the diamond;
in speech, truth;
among virtues, you are love;
in valour—strength;
in the Veda, you are the secret;
among elements, the primordial;
in the burning sun, the light;
in moonshine, its sweetness;
you are all,
and you are the substance and meaning of all.

Paripadal, iii: 63–68 —F Gros, K Zvelebil[14]

Veneration in Tamil NaduEdit

Perumal (Vishnu) was the only deity who enjoyed the status of Paramporul during the Sangam age. The reference to Mukkol Bhagavars in Sangam literature indicates that only Vaishnavaite saints holding Tridanda existed during the age and Perumal was glorified as the supreme deity, whose "divine lotus feet can burn all our evils and grant moksha" (maru piraparukkum maasil sevadi). During the post-Sangam period, his worship was further glorified by the alvars and Vaishnavite acharyas. The veneration of Perumal is primarily performed in Tamil Nadu in sacred ceremonies and temples by the Iyengar community.[15]


The story of Chidambaram begins with Lord Shiva strolling into the Thillai Vanam (vanam meaning forest and thillai trees – botanical name Exocoeria agallocha, a species of mangrove trees – which currently grows in the Pichavaram wetlands near Chidambaram). In the Thillai forests resided a group of sages or 'rishis' who believed in the supremacy of magic and that God can be controlled by rituals and mantras or magical words.[16] Lord Shiva strolled in the forest with resplendent beauty and brilliance, assuming the form of Bhikshatana, a simple mendicant seeking alms. He was followed by His consort, Vishnu as Mohini. The sages and their wives were enchanted by the brilliance and the beauty of The handsome mendicant and His consort. On seeing their womenfolk enchanted, the rishis got enraged and invoked scores of serpents (nāgas) by performing magical rituals. Lord Shiva lifted the serpents and donned them as ornaments on His matted locks, neck and waist. Further enraged, the sages invoked a fierce tiger, whose skins and dons were used by Lord Shiva as a shawl around His waist and then followed by a fierce elephant, which was devoured and ripped to death by Lord Shiva (Gajasamharamurthy).

The rishis gathered all their spiritual strength and invoked a powerful demon Muyalakan – a symbol of complete arrogance and ignorance. Lord Shiva wore a gentle smile, stepped on the demon's back, immobilized him and performed the Ánanda Tandava (the dance of eternal bliss) and disclosed his true form. The sages surrender, realizing that Lord Shiva is the truth and He is beyond magic and rituals.[16]


Once Indra killed a demon, even though the demon did not harm anyone. This act brought a curse upon Indra that forced him to continue wandering until he was walking around looking for a way where no one would tell him which way to go will redeem him from his sin. After much wandering, Indra was freed from his suffering through the power of a Shivalingam in a forest, and so he built a small temple at that site.

It so happened that at that time in South India there was a Pandyan king called Malayadhwaja Pandiyan[17] ruling a small city by the name Manavur, which was quite near to this Shivalinga. He was the son of Kulashekara Pandyan. He came to know about the Shivalinga and decided to build a huge temple for Shiva in the forest Kadambavanam (vanam means forest). He also developed the region into a fine princely state called Madurai.

The king was childless and sought an heir for the kingdom. Shiva granted him his prayers through an Ayonija child (one born not from the womb). This child was three years old and actually the incarnation of goddess Parvati the consort of Shiva. She was born with fish-shaped eyes. It was said that the extra breast would disappear when she met her future husband. She was named Mīnakshi, (meaning fish eyed) from the words mīna (meaning fish) and akṣi (meaning eyes). Mīnakshi also means "the one who has eyes like that of a fish". Fishes are said to feed their younger ones with their eyes, similarly goddess looks after her devotees. Just by her sight our miseries disappear.

Shiva the Nataraja performing the Universal dance

She grew up to be a Shiva-Shakti personification. After the death of the king, she ruled the kingdom with skillful administration.

In one of her expeditions she went to the Himalayas and there, on seeing Shiva, her extra breast disappeared. Many of the gods and goddesses came to witness their marriage.

At the wedding celebrations the gods refused to have the served food unless Shiva performed a majestic dance for everybody gathered at the place. At this there was the dance of Chidambaram, the cosmic dance in front of his wife Minakshi. It epitomised and merged all life force and beauty into one whole. In the end Minakshi was merged with the shivalingam and became the representation of life and beauty.


Kannagi or (Kannaki), a legendary Tamil woman, is the central character of the South Indian epic Silapathikaram (100–300 CE). The story relates how Kannagi took revenge on the early Pandyan King of Madurai, for a mistaken death penalty imposed on her husband Kovalan, by cursing the city with disaster.

Kannagi Statue in Marina Beach, Chennai

Kodungallur Bhagavathy Temple was built to commemorate the martyrdom of Kannagi. It is said that sixth avatar of Vishnu, Sage Parasurama built this temple for the prosperity of the people. According to the old chronicles, this Bhagavathi temple was created in the heart of the town many centuries ago to serve a special purpose.[18]

Deity of Kodungallur Bhagavathy in the temple

Legend says that, after the creation of Kerala by Parasurama, he was harassed by a demon called Daruka. To kill this evil demon, Parasurama prayed to Lord Shiva for help. As advised by Shiva, Parasurama constructed the shrine and installed the Shakti Devi as Bhagavathi. The deity in the temple, it is believed, is Parashakthi herself. According to legends, it was Bhadrakali who killed the evil demon Daruka. She is worshiped as goddess Pattini in Sri Lanka by the Sinhalese Buddhists, Kannaki Amman by the Sri Lankan Tamil Hindus' (See Hinduism in Sri Lanka) and as Kodungallur Bhagavathy and Attukal Bhagavathy in the South Indian state of Kerala.[19]

Kannagi is also viewed as a brave woman who could demand justice directly from the King and even dared to call him "unenlightened king" ("Thera Manna", Vazhakkurai Kathai, Silappathikaram).


Mariamman is a Hindu goddess of rain, predominant in the rural areas of South India. Mariamman's worship originated in the traditions of Dravidian folk religion, the faith practised by the inhabitants of the south before its syncretism with Vedic Hinduism. She is the main Tamil mother goddess, predominant in the rural areas of South India. Mariamman is usually pictured as a beautiful young woman with a red-hued face, wearing a red dress. Sometimes, she is portrayed with many arms—representing her many powers—but in most representations she has only two or four.[20]

Mariamman is generally portrayed in the sitting or standing position, often holding a trident (trisula) in one hand and a bowl (kapala) in the other. One of her hands may display a mudra, usually the abhaya mudra, to ward off fear. She may be represented with two demeanours—one displaying her pleasant nature, and the other her terrifying aspect, with fangs and a wild mane of hair.

The AlvarsEdit

Rama and Hanuman fighting Ravana, an album painting on paper from Tamil Nadu, ca 1820.

The Alvars (Tamil: ஆழ்வார், romanized: Āḻvār, lit.'The Immersed') were Tamil poet-saints of South India who espoused bhakti (devotion) to the Hindu god Vishnu in their songs of longing, ecstasy, and service. They are venerated in Vaishnavism, which regards Vishnu as the Ultimate Reality.[21]

The devotional outpourings of the Alvars, composed during the early medieval period of Tamil history, were the catalysts behind the Bhakti movement through their hymns of worship to Vishnu and his avatars. They praised the Divya Desams, the 108 divine realms of deities affiliated to Vaishnavism. The poetry of the Alvars echoes bhakti to God through love, and in the ecstasy of such devotions they sang hundreds of songs which embodied both depth of feeling and the felicity of expressions. The collection of their hymns is known as the Naalayira Divya Prabandham. The bhakti literature that sprang from Alvars has contributed to the establishment and sustenance of a culture that deviated from the Vedic religion and rooted itself in devotion as the only path for salvation. In addition, they contributed to Tamil devotional verses independent of a knowledge of Sanskrit. As a part of the legacy of the alvars, five Vaishnavite philosophical traditions (sampradayas) developed over a period of time.

The SiddharsEdit

Siddhars (Tamil: சித்தர்) are saints in India, mostly affiliated with the Shaivaite denomination in Tamil Nadu, who professed and practised an unorthodox type of Sadhana, or spiritual practice, to attain liberation. Yogic powers referred to as Siddhis are believed to be acquired by constant practice of certain yogic disciplines. Those who acquire these Siddhis are called Siddhas.[22] These Siddhars can be compared to mystics of the western civilization. Siddhars are people who are believed to control and transcend the barriers of time and space by meditation (yoga), after the use of substances called rasayanas that transform the body to make it potentially deathless, and a particular breathing-practice, a type of Pranayama. Through their practices, they are believed to have reached stages of insight which enabled them to tune into the powers hidden in various material substances and practices, useful for the suffering and ignorant mankind. Typically, Siddhars were saints, doctors, alchemists, and mystics all at once. They wrote their findings in the form of poems in Tamil language, on palm leaves that are collected and stored in what are known today as the palm leaf manuscript, today still owned by private families in Tamil Nadu and handed down through the generations, as well as public institutions such in universities all over the world (India, Germany, Great Britain, U.S.).[23]

In this way, Siddhars developed, among other branches of a vast knowledge-system, what is now known as Siddha medicine, practised mainly in Tamil Nadu as traditional native medicine. A rustic form of healing that is similar to Siddha medicine has since been practised by experienced elderly in the villages of Tamil Nadu. (This has been misunderstood as Paatti Vaitthiyam, Naattu marunthu and Mooligai marutthuvam. While paati vaitthiyam or naatu marunthu is traditional Tamil medicine and mooligai marutthuvam is ayurvedic medicine.) They are also founders of Varmam – a martial art for self-defence and medical treatment at the same time. Varmam are specific points located in the human body which when pressed in different ways can give various results, such as disabling an attacker in self-defence, or balancing a physical condition as an easy first-aid medical treatment.

Tamil Siddhars were the first to develop pulse-reading ("naadi paarththal" in Tamil) to identify the origin of diseases. This method was later copied and used in ayurvedha.[24]

Siddhars have also written many religious poems. It is believed that most of them have lived for ages, in a mystic mountain called Sathuragiri, near Thanipparai village in Tamil Nadu.

One of the best-known Siddhars was Agasthyar or Agasthya, who is believed to be the founding father of Siddha culture.

Abithana Chintamani states Siddhars are either of the 9 or 18 persons enlisted, but sage Agastyar states that there are many who precede these and follow 9 or 18 persons. Many of the great Siddhars are regarded to have powers magical and spiritual.

Some SiddharsEdit

The 9 siddharsEdit

The 9 listed as Abithana Chintamani states is as follows:

  1. Sathyanathar
  2. Aadhinathar
  3. Bogar
  4. Vegulinathar
  5. Madhanganathar
  6. Machaendranathar
  7. Gadaendranathar or Gajendranathar
  8. Korakkanathar

There are totally 18 siddhars in the Tamil siddha tradition.see Siddhar

Powers of SiddharsEdit

The Siddhars are believed to have had powers both major and other ‘minor’ powers. They are explained in detail in various yogic as well as religious texts.[25] They also have the power converting their mass to energy and thereby travel in space in light speed to different universe.

  1. Anima (shrinking) – Power of becoming the size of an atom and entering the smallest beings
  2. Mahima (illimitability) – Power of becoming mighty and co-extensive with the universe. The power of increasing one's size without limit
  3. Lagima (lightness) – Capacity to be quite light though big in size
  4. Garima (weight) – Capacity to weigh heavy, though seemingly small size
  5. Prapthi (fulfillment of desires) – Capacity to enter all the worlds from Brahma Loga to the nether world. It is the power of attaining everything desired
  6. Prakasysm (irresistible will) – Power of disembodying and entering into other bodies (metempsychosis) and going to heaven and enjoying what everyone aspires for, simply from where he stays
  7. Isithavam (supremacy) – Have the creative power of god and control over the sun, the moon and the elements
  8. Vasithavam (dominion over the elements) – Power of control over kings and gods. The power of changing the course of nature and assuming any form

These eight are the Great Siddhis (Ashtama siddhis), or Great Perfections.[26]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Shulman, David Dean (1979). Tamil Mythology: An Interpretation of a Regional Hindu Tradition.
  2. ^ Leeming, David (24 May 2001). A Dictionary of Asian Mythology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-976149-4.
  3. ^ James G. Lochtefeld 2002, p. 377.
  4. ^ a b c d Asko Parpola 2015, p. 285.
  5. ^ a b c d James G. Lochtefeld 2002, pp. 655–656.
  6. ^ a b c Fred W. Clothey 1978, pp. 1–2.
  7. ^ a b c Constance Jones & James D. Ryan 2006, p. 228.
  8. ^ G Obeyesekere (2004). Jacob Kẹhinde Olupona (ed.). Beyond Primitivism: Indigenous Religious Traditions and Modernity. Routledge. pp. 272–274. ISBN 978-0-415-27319-0.
  9. ^ T. A. Gopinatha Rao 1993, p. 40.
  10. ^ Mohan Lal 1992, p. 4339.
  11. ^ "Ayyappan." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2011. Web. 23 Dec. 2011.
  12. ^ "Why Ayyappa is called Manikandan".
  13. ^ Jayaraman, Dr P. (2019). A Brief History of Vaishnava Saint Poets : The Alwars. Vani Prakashan. p. 39. ISBN 978-93-89012-69-9.
  14. ^ Kamil Zvelebil (1974). Tamil Literature. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 49. ISBN 978-3-447-01582-0.
  15. ^ Mother India: Monthly Review of Culture. Sri Aurobindo Ashram. 2007.
  16. ^ a b Anand 2004, p. 149
  17. ^ Pandya Kingdom#Pandyas in Kurukshetra War
  18. ^ "Kodungallur Kurumba Bhagavathi Temple". Temples of Kerala. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  19. ^ Shankar Radhakrishnan HAI Bubbling over with devotion The Hindu news.
  20. ^ Neuenhofer, Christa (27 November 2012). Ayyanar and Mariamman, Folk Deities in South India. Blurb, Incorporated. ISBN 978-1-4579-9010-6.
  21. ^ "Wayback Machine" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 7 July 2022.
  22. ^ "The Science of Pranayama" (PDF). Retrieved 22 June 2013.
  23. ^ V.Jayaram. "Study of siddhas". Hinduwebsite.com. Retrieved 22 June 2013.
  24. ^ Dr.J. Raamachandran, Herbs of Siddha Medicines Herbs of Siddha Medicine/The First 3D book on Herbs, pp.iii
  25. ^ Thirumandiram 668
  26. ^ "Ashtama Siddhis". Siddhars.com. Retrieved 22 June 2013.