Muruga masquerades as an old man to marry valli

Thanks to Satheesh, today we return to Tanjore Big temple – for another visual feast. The marriage of Valli with Muruga. ( the Tamil portion of this post has been composed – couldnt call it written, by Sri Dhivakar sir). First to give you an idea of the location of the main sculpture of Muruga on his peacock mount and the story panel sculptures around it.

I am basing the explanation of the legend, using the text of Mr. Zvelebil from below site with some slight modifications to suit `our’ audience::

There is a mountain called Valli Malai or Valli Verpu, not far from the village of Merpati, in the Tontainatu country. In a village beneath the hill lived a hunter called Nampi; all his children being boys, he longed for a little girl. On the mountain slope, an ascetic by name of Śivamuni was engaged in austerities. One day a gazelle went by, and the ascetic was aroused by its lovely shape; his lascivious thoughts made the gazelle pregnant.

In due time, the gazelle gave birth to a girl in a pit dug out by the women of the hunter-tribe when they searched for the tubers of edible yam (valli kodi – yam creeper in tamil). The female deer, having found out that she had given birth to a strange being, abandoned the child which was discovered by the hunter-chief Nampi and his wife. Overwhelmed with joy, they took the little girl to their hut and named her Valli.

When Valli reached the age of twelve, she was sent to the millet field – in agreement with the custom of the hillmen – to guard the crop against parrots and other birds, sitting in an elevated platform called itanam (paran), and chasing the birds and other beasts away.

Watch the lovely depiction of valli on the platfrom down to even detailing of the sling.

The sage Narada, who visited Valli-malai and saw the girl, went to Tanikai to informed god Murugan about Valve’s exceptional beauty and her devotion to the god of the hunters.

Murugan assumed the form of a hunter and, as soon as he arrived at Valli’s field, he addressed the lovely girl enquiring after her home and family. However, at that moment Nampi and his hunters brought some food for Valli (honey, millet flour, valli roots, mangoes, milk of the wild cow) and Murugan assumed the form of a tree (venkai, Pterocarpus bilobus).

Watch the sculpture of the tree, at first it puzzled me as to why a tree must be sculpted in a millet field – but after reading more, found the sculpture has gone to the minutest detail …

When Nampi and his company disappeared, the god reappeared in human form, approached Valli and proposed to her. Valli was shocked, lowered her head, and said she would only wed the Lord Muruga. At that moment they heard the sound of approaching drumming and music. Valli warned Murugan that the hunters are wild and angry men, and the god transformed into an old Saiva devotee. Nampi and his hunter’s took his blessings and returned home.

The old man asked Valli for food, and she gave him some millet flour mixed with honey. Then she took him to a small forest pond, where she quenched his thirst from the palms of her hands. Then he told her, “Now that you have satisfied my hunger and my thirst, do satisfy my love for you.” Valli reproached him, and wanted to return to her field.

At that moment, Murugan invoked the help of his brother Vināyaka who appeared behind Valli in the shape of a frightening elephant. The terror-stricken girl rushed into the arms of the Saiva ascetic for protection. The Ascetic asked her to promise that she would marry him, terror stricked ( another version is that the Elephant actually lifted valli in his trunk was about to fling her – and when she accepted, dropped her into the hands of muruga) – she agreed.

See the lovely depiction incl the expression of great fear in valli and the calming ( watch the protective hand over her – a la MGR).

The last panel shows the Old ascetic in the act of throwing is disguise – as you move from right to left, you see him still in his aged form but going into his classic benevolent stance – and above removing his full disguise.

He then embraced valli revealing his real form, with six heads, twelve arms, and seated on his peacock.

7 thoughts on “Muruga masquerades as an old man to marry valli

  1. நல்ல தமிழ் நடை! எம்பெருமான் முருகவேள் கட்டிக்காத்த தமிழை, அகத்தியரும் அதன் பின் வைசாக் (வைசாக?- முருகன்?) திவாகரும் காத்துவருகிறார்கள்!

  2. Yes dear VJ,

    Exquisite capturing of the story, architectural panel by Satheesh. Especially the main sculpture of Lord Murugan with his vehicle the peacock and in the panel where he saves Valli from the elephant all the three, Valli, elephant and Lord Muruga as the old man have been sculptued and needless to add, have been captured beautifully.

    I just have a doubt dear VJ, which I think a knowledgeable person like you or others like Satheesh or Reach Chandra can clarify and enlighten me more.

    I heard that other than the main shrine of Shiva, the front Mandapam which earlier had a smaller Nandi (which was replaced by a bigger Nandi installed by the Nayaks (or Vijayanagara kings) and other shrines within and outside the main temple (or Dakshina Meru – which was its most popular name during and after the Chola rule) was constructed by the Cholas, and that the other temples (separate) in the complex, including the one for Ganesha, Varahi, Durga etc. were built by the Nayaks. Was the temple/shrine of Muruga (which probably is on the main Vimana of the Periya Koil in Tanjore) built by Raja Raja I only or was it added on later by the Nayaks or Vijayanagara kings?

    Probably my question may seem stupid or trivial, but why I asked it was because the sculpture of Muruga, idiom-wise is certainly Chola (or Pallava-Chola in case the connotation is not objected to), with flowing, artistic movements with there being no hint of over-ornamentation, there is no over dressing but the robes of the Lord are very elegant. Where the overall (Muruga panel only) doubt crept into my mind was that while the peacock is indeed very beautiful, it seemed a bit sharply sculpted, chiselled or carved (as one may like to call the peacock sculpture), if not over artistic…. I repeat it is very beautiful, but (mainly its decoration part) seems a trifle to contrast with the serene look on the face of Lord Muruga.

    Can you pls. enlighten me?

    Srinivasan (Cheenu)

  3. Hi cheenu

    Very important question. and good observation of the difference in styles.

    In the book, The royal temple of Rajaraja by Geeta Vasudevan. ( pg 44) she writes thus:

    Rajaraja built the temple complex complete with additional shrines fro Candeswara and nandhi – mandapa, eight shrines for the dikpalas, shrine for the royal preceptor, karur devar adn the two walls surrounded by a moat. The shrine for amman, Ganesha and Subrahmanya were later additions.

    The Subramanian shrine is located on the north-west of the Brihadisvara temple, constructed during 16th century A.D. by Sevappa Nayakkar period.

    The nandhi – was replaced during the nayak period and the old one was placed here

    (This site wrongly says that this nandhi is from the vimanam.)

    Now back to the Valli Thirumanam – there is another panel from the vimana depicting the same – which most probably is the original chola version – we will see that shortly and will compare it with this depiction.

    Thanks again for your interesting and though provoking questions.


  4. Thanks for the reply… So the photo captions accomkpanying the articles are not from the main Vimana of the Brihadiswara but from the Subrahmanya temples built by the Nayaks.. am I right in my understanding…. Because while the Nayaks (aided by local artisans from Tamizhagam of course), have stuck to the Chola-Pallava idiom with regard to Muruga (even the elephant) and other human figures plus the parrots, I thought (somehow, but really dunno how- ha ha) the peacock was just too sharply carved — though I must add, that from my own visit to a later temple (but earlier one than the Nayak creations in Tamil Nadu) i.e. the Darasuram temple there are some miniature peacocks which seem as sharply carved as the bigger peacock covered by you and Sateesh from Tanjore.

  5. hi arun

    Thanks for leaving the comment. There are many contentious claims about the vimana of the big temple. Sadly all these could have been easily set to rest if the ASI could bring out a comprehensive work or publish it on the net. on your particular comment…with due respects to the site ( one of the very best on the net for temples in and around tanjai – quite an inspiration) – the nandhi shown on the corridor is definitely much much larger than the one on the vimana. I had checked this with a few scholars – maybe we will seek the actual dims from them and post is shortly. If you have addnl info please do share, as we have seen in past even in the early part of the last century – we did’nt know who built the big temple !!


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