Caitanya Mahaprabhu's Tirtha-yatra, Part 51
BY: SUN STAFF
Skanda murti (140 feet high) at Batu Caves, Kaula
Mar 19, CANADA (SUN) A serial exploration of the holy sites visited by Lord Caitanya.
Today we will cover one of the tirthas visited by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in South India about which very little is known. In the Summary of Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya Lila 9, HDG Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur mentions Skanda-ksetra in a series of tirthas located primarily in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Madhya lila 9
"A summary of the Ninth Chapter is given by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. After leaving Vidyanagara, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu visited such places of pilgrimage as Gautami-ganga, Mallikarjuna, Ahovala-nrsimha, Siddhavata, Skanda-ksetra, Trimatha, Vrddhakasi, Bauddha-sthana, Tirupati, Tirumala, Pana-nrsimha, Siva-kanci, Visnu-kanci, Trikala-hasti, Vrddhakola, Siyali-bhairavi, Kaveri-tira and Kumbhakarna-kapala."
Later in Madhya 9 we get a little more information on Skanda-ksetra:
skanda-ksetra-tirthe kaila skanda darasana
trimatha aila, tahan dekhi' trivikrama
skanda-ksetra-tirthe -- in the holy place known as Skanda-ksetra; kaila -- did; skanda darasana -- visiting Lord Skanda (Karttikeya, son of Lord Siva); trimatha -- at Trimatha; aila -- arrived; tahan -- there; dekhi' -- seeing; trivikrama -- a form of Lord Visnu, Trivikrama.
"At the holy place known as Skanda-ksetra, Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu visited the temple of Skanda. From there He went to Trimatha, where He saw the Visnu Deity Trivikrama."
It's interesting to note the transition between the sloka, Srila Prabhupada's list of Synonyms, and the Translation. In the Translation he mentions the temple of Skanda rather than the personality Skanda, the son of Siva, although he mentions Skanda as Siva's son in the Synonyms. The inclusion of skanda darasana in the sloka seems to indicate Skanda, the personality, but that is not necessarily true. In other words, a transcendental personality can certainly be said to be embodied in a place without there being an actual murti or deity installed.
While we can't speculate as to Srila Prabhupada's thinking in this regard, we do know that there is a tremendous range of opinion as to the origination and iconography of Skanda. Although the Mahabharata clearly establishes Skanda as the son of Lord Siva, and Skanda is also mentioned in Ramayana, there appear to be some differing indications elsewhere in the Puranas. We can't begin to address that topic here, but we point it out because it's possible that Srila Prabhupada's choice to not refer specifically to Skanda, the son of Siva, in the translation of Madhya 9.21 has to do with all the controversy. We have noted in previous segments of this series that Srila Prabhupada has similarly handled descriptions of some of the tirthas about which there is great dispute as to location or historical antecedent.
Lord Skanda is known to have been worshipped in Tamil Nadu for many centuries, since long before the advent of Christ. He is known by many names, including Karttikeya, Murugan (Murukan), and Subramaniyan. Some scholars are of the opinion that worship of Skanda originated with the ancient Tamil people as a form of nature worship. In particular, hills were worshipped as beautiful manifestations of a Supreme creator, and rocks were often placed beneath trees as worshipable altars. These unformed deities eventually became associated with Skanda. This line of thinking is not unlike the tribal stories of Lord Jagannath's manifestation in Orissa.
Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Temple, Southern Mathura
In his article, "The Story of Skanda" by P.R. Kannan, we read this description of how Skanda is introduced in the Mahabharata:
"Markandeya instructs Yudhishthira on various divine stories of the past in Vanaparva. Chapters 224 to 232 cover the story of Skanda. Swaha Devi, daughter of Daksha Prajapati, was in love with Agni. Once she noted that Agni came under the sway of lust after seeing the wives of the great Saptarishis in a yagna. In order to lure Agni, Swaha Devi took the forms of the wives of six of the Saptarishis one by one, and joined Agni. She could not adopt the form of Arundhati, wife of Vasishta, owing to her unparalleled chastity. Swaha Devi dropped Agni's virya in a golden pond in Swetaparvata. Skanda with six heads was born in the pond. Krittikas brought him up. At the behest of Indra, they later became stars in heaven by the grace of Skanda and filled the gap left by Abhijit, who had gone for tapas in the forest. Viswamitra performed jatakarma of the baby and praised Skanda as Siva himself. Swaha Devi became Agni's consort.
Agni is known in Vedas as a form of Siva and Swaha Devi as Uma. Skanda is hence regarded in Mahabharata as Siva's son. Skanda's divine boyish sports showed his extraordinary power. He even fought Indra once. From Skanda's body Visakha and other warriors, collectively known as Navaviras, emanated. Later Skanda was made the commander of Indra's forces. He married Devasena, brought up by Indra as his daughter after he had rescued her from the clutches of the asura, Kesi. After worshipping Siva, Skanda led the devas' war with asuras. When the head of asuras, the terrible Mahishasura started attacking Siva himself during the war, Skanda killed him and vanquished all asuras. There is again no mention of Tarakasura or Surapadma in this account. However, in the Salyaparva, the asuras killed include Mahisha and Taraka. In the Anusasanaparva, Skanda is hailed as the destroyer of the dreaded Tarakasura."
Skanda Temples in Tamil Nadu
Although no information is provided in Madhya 9.21 as to the specific location of the Skanda-ksetra visited by Caitanya Mahaprabhu, we do know that prior to visiting Skanda-ksetra the Lord visited Siddhavata in Andhra Pradesh, and His next stop after Skanda-ksetra was at Trimath in Tamil Nadu.
Of the multitude of temples in South India dedicated to Skanda, the six most important ones in Tamil Nadu are the Aaru Padai Veedu shrines, where it is believed that Skanda, as commander of the demigods, sojourned during his battle with the demon Soorapadman. These shrines have been revered in 2,000-year old Tamil poetry from the Sangam age. The six Aaru Padai Veedu temples are as follows:
Palani near Madurai enshrines Dhandayutapani in a hill temple. At the foot of the hill is Tiru Aavinankudi.
Pazhamudircholai near Alagar Koyil near Madurai is a simple shrine on the Pazhamudircholai hill enshrining Skanda.
Swamimalai in the Chola Kingdom enshrines Swaminathan in a temple built on an artificial mound accessed through a flight of 60 steps, which symbolize a 60-year cycle.
Tiruttani near Tirupati and Chennai enshrines Subramanya in a hill temple accessed through a flight of 365 steps. It represents the site of Skanda's marriage with Valli.
Tirupparamkunram near Madurai enshrines Subramanya celebrating his marriage with Devasena, the daughter of Indra.
Tiruchendur enshrines Subramanyar and Senthilandavar in a vast temple with a lofty gopuram visible for miles, on the shores of the ocean in Southern Tamil Nadu.
In Andhra Pradesh there is another famous group of temples known as the Pancharama temples, which are associated in several Puranic legends with Skanda's destruction of the demon Tarakasura. Some say the Pancharama group is comprised of five temples, while others argue it is six. The six include the following: Amareswara, Draksharama, Kumararama, Bheemarama, Ksheerarama (or Palakollu), and Somarama (which is not included in the group of five).
Whether or not any of these Skanda temples is the one that Lord Caitanya visited, we do not know. We list them here only because they are considered to be the most prominent of all South India's ancient Skanda-tirthas.
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