Category Archives: South Indian Deities

Kingdom of Mysore

The Kingdom of Mysore was founded in 1399 and lasted until 1947. It was a south Indian Kingdom that was located in the region that is now the modern day city of Mysore.  The Wodeyars were the Hindu rulers of the Mysore kingdom and established their capital there in the early fifteenth century. Mysore remained the capital of the kingdom until Raja Wodeyar moved it to Srirangapatna in the upper Kaveri Valley in 1610 (Ikegame 20). Before the Wodeyar dynasty made this move, it was the Vijayanagar kingdom that occupied this space under the Tuluva dynasty. Once the Wodeyar dynasty began to gain interest in the area, they quickly succeeded in replacing Aravidu Tirumala, the provincial governor resident at Srirangapatna, helping them to gain control of the city. By 1612, the Wodeyar dynasty gained a great deal of autonomy. Their independence from the Vijayanagar state was exemplified when they neglected to make regular revenue transfers, compared to the Nayakas, who continued to transfer revenues to the Vijayanagars until the late 1630s (Subrahmanyam 209-210).

By the 1700s, the Mysore kingdom controlled a reasonably sized territory in the core of southern India. It was around this time that a man by the name of Haidar Ali was gaining power within the Mysore military. In the mid eighteenth century that Haidar Ali took over the Kingdom (Ikegame 20). The Muslim warlord held control of the Mysore kingdom until his son Tipu Sultan took over in 1782, which was the time of the second Anglo-Mysore war, fought between Mysore and the East Indian Company (Masani 12). Tipu inherited his father’s creation, which was one of the largest and most skilled armies in the subcontinent. Tipu was a ruthless leader, recognized as the “Tiger of Mysore” because of stories of him keeping chained tigers outside his palace. A story even surfaced that Tipu wrestled and killed a tiger with his bare hands (Masani 13). With all the power the kingdom held in southern India, Tipu found it very difficult to not attack and defeat his weaker neighbors. With every conquest followed major religious and ethnic cleansing, thousands of Christians and Hindus were killed, enslaved, tortured, and deported (Masani 13). The Mysorean army frequently used nose cutting as a form of punishment and humiliation. The nose was targeted because it was viewed as a central part of a person’s identity. In many cases, the nose also represented a person’s status within society, so destruction of the nose represented victory over one’s enemy (Simmons 178-179). This was just one of the various ways in which Tipu Sultan punished his prisoners.

As seen through Sultan’s fights with the East Indian Company he did not get along with the British. That being said, him and the Mysorean army were not necessarily against foreigners in their realm. In fact, he was willing to take help from foreign powers in order to expel those he hated. He is said to have consulted with the French in order to create an alliance to expel the British from India (Sil 2). Tipu Sultan and the Mysorean army were the last regular Indian force to actually stand against the British in their attempts to dominate southern India (Ikegame 20).

The conflicts between the British and the Mysore kingdom were known as the Anglo-Mysore wars, and were fought in four installments from 1767 to 1799 (Barua 23). The first Anglo-Mysore war began when the British became concerned with the increasing power of Haidar Ali, who was the leader of Mysore at the time. Mysore’s boarder began to threaten key trading posts that belonged to Britain. Britain fought back and began to gather important victories eventually pushing Haidar’s military into the Bangalore plain. Due to the craftsmanship of the Mysore leader, Haidar was able to push back out of Bangalore and consequently forced the British to sign a peace treaty (Barua 29). The American Revolution helped spark the second Anglo-Mysore war when tensions between the British and French were on the rise. This war lasted from 1780 to 1784, which included the death of Haidar Ali and the gaining of power for his son Tipu Sultan.  Although Tipu worked to modernize the Mysorean army he was met with defeat in both the third and fourth Anglo-Mysore wars. The fourth war would prove to be the last for Tipu Sultan, as a British invasion of Mysore would be met with little resistance since most of Tipu’s generals had surrendered to the British. Instead of dealing with the humiliation of defeat Tipu was actually killed when the British seized his capital on May 4th 1799 (Masani 15). This marked the end of indigenous rule over the kingdom of Mysore.

Soon after Tipu’s death came the induction of 5-year-old Krishnaraja Wodeyar III as ruler of the Mysore state. Once the Hindu royal house was restored they shifted from the former city of Srirangapatna to their original home in Mysore (Ikegame 20). After Britain’s victory over Tipu Sultan, they did not rule over Mysore directly but did begin to heavily influence the administration and policies of the Wodeyar government, thus beginning the colonial era (Sivramkrishna 699). In 1831, the British took full control of the administration because of the inability of Krishnaraja to subdue a peasant uprising in the northern section of the kingdom. All administration was then moved to Bangalore, and Krishnaraja’s palace, which once held administrative powers, was to be used solely to house the leader. This was intended to help eliminate any influence by the Maharaja (great king) on state level politics. Krishnaraja’s palace was to deal with private affairs and the state would take care of public affairs. For the most part, the British stayed away from the Palace until the death of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III in 1868.  Britain went on to make drastic changes to the palace. First, with the analysis of Krishnaraja’s debts, followed by the examination of his movable and immovable property, and finally the remodeling of the palace establishment (Ikegame 23). Krishnaraja’s adopted son, Chamarajendra Wodeyar X, gained power in 1881. He was re-granted possession and administration of the country, although the British appointed a guardian to educate him. The Mysoreans gradually started to re-gain power in the state level bureaucracy and with this came reform to the management of the palace. In 1910, a new post was formed called the Muzrai Bakshi, also known as the minister of religious endowments. Religious institutions managed by the palace were considered private, while all others were under control by state administration. That being said, the palace steadily gained more power over religious institutions due, in part, to the fact that officials continuously complied to the religious authority of the Maharaja. The palace came to dominate the religious affairs, which gradually became somewhat of its own state within the kingdom of Mysore (Ikegame 25-27).

The Wodeyar dynasty is the only family in Indian history to rule over a kingdom for more than 500 years. The Wodeyar dynasty and the kingdom of Mysore were under the indirect rule of the British from 1799 to 1831, and later from 1881 to 1947. The period between 1881 and 1947 came to be known as the “golden period” for the state of Mysore. During this time, new developments were happening regularly within that state and by the turn of the century, it was known as a “modern state” (Ramaswamy and Asha. S 202). Mysore became one of the most developed and urbanized regions in India. The kingdom of Mysore finally become part of the Union of India in 1948 after its independence from British rule in 1947 (Baweja 4-5). The Joining of Mysore with the Union of India marked the end of the Wodeyar rule after nearly 500 years.


References and other recommended readings



Barua, Prapeep P (2011) “Maritime Trade, Seapower, and the Anglo-Mysore Wars: 1767-1799: Maritime Trade.” Historian 73 #1 (March): 22-40.


Baweja, Vandana (2015) “Messy Modernism: Otto Koenigsberger’s Early Work in Princely Mysore, 1939-41.” South Asian Studies 31 #1 (January): 1-26.


Ikegame, Aya (2007) “The capital of Rajadharma: Modern Space and Religion in Colonial Mysore.” International Journal of Asian Studies 4 #1 (December): 15-44.


Ramaswamy, Mahesh, and Asha. S (2015) “Caste Politics and State Integration: A case Study of the Mysore State.” International Journal of Area Studies 10 #2 (December): 195-219.


Sivramkrishna, Sashi (2009) “Ascertaining Living Standards in Erstwhile Mysore, Southern India, from Francis Buchanan’s Journey of 1800-01: An Empirical Contribution to the Great Divergence Debate.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 52 #4/5: 695-733.


Ikegame, Aya (2007) “The capital of Rajadharma: Modern Space and Religion in Colonial Mysore.” International Journal of Asian Studies 4 #1 (December): 15-44.


Masani, Zareer (2016) “The Tiger of Mysore.” History Today 66 #12 (December): 11-16.


Sil, Narasingha (2013) “Tipu Sultan in History: Revisionism Revised.” SAGE Open 3 #2 (April): 1-11.     


Simmons, Caleb (2016) “The ‘Hunt for Noses’: Contextualizing the Wodeyar Predilection for Nose-Cutting.” Studies in history 32 #2 (August): 162-185


Subrahmanyam, Sanjay (1989) “Warfare and State Finance in Wodeyar Mysore, 1724-25: A Missionary Perspective.” Indian Economic & Social History Review 26 #2 (June): 203-233.


Related Topics for Further Investigation


Wodeyar Dynasty


Anglo-Mysore Wars


East Indian Company


Tipu Sultan and Haider Ali


Noteworthy websites related to topic


Article written by: Landon Hibbs (February 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.



Ayyappan (God)

One of the most widely worshipped deities in the Hindu world is Ayyappan, although where and when this particular god emerged is still very obscure. Ayyappan has a number of different names he is known by, such as: Sasta, Arya, Hari-Hara-putra, Ayya, among many others. This variety of epithets suggests many different versions of his mythic adventures and origins. Ayyappan is probably most well known the Kerala state of South India (Smith and Narsimhachary 221) and as far away as Bombay.

It is intriguing that in some versions Aiyyappan is not truly a god, but merely a demi-god or magic child. In one such version he is the son of Siva and Mohini (female avatara of Vishnu) and after birth he is left on a stream bank to be found by a childless tribal king. Ayyappan (named Ayappa in this version) goes through life healing and slaying demons up until he enters the inner sanctum of Mt. Sabri and disappears.

Another version of Ayyappan’s myth is as follows. Siva calls on Vishnu for help, who appears in the form of Mohini (seductress) to lure away asuras (demons) from the Elixir of Immortality (amrta) when it was extracted from the Ocean of Milk. Siva is then finds himself attracted to Mohini and they mate and produce a child named Ayyappan. Then he is left in the forest and found by a childless king of Madura, who is also part of the royal family of the Pandyas, and named him Manikantha (“mani”, jewel or bell and “kantha”, neck) because the king either had seen the jewel sparkle or heard the bell sound, which was on a string around his neck. He then grew up noble and honorable becoming the king’s Commander in Chief of the army, and doing a great many of other things including healing people and slaying demons. Eventually Ayyappan became the center of jealous attention. A plot was made by the queen and his fellow officers to kill him; they would send Ayyappan on a perilous journey into a jungle known for the abundance of man-eating tigers and leopards. A traitorous physician approached the king telling him that the only way to heal the queen, who had been pretending to be very ill and fainting, was to bring him leopard’s milk within an hour and a half. The king told Ayyappan of the situation he undertook to everyone’s surprise with no hesitation, showing him to be truly dharmic and fearless. Ayyappan entered the jungle and returned to the palace riding a tiger leading many she-leopards. The king then realized that Ayyappan was not an ordinary person. Ayyappan when questioned about this by the king replies that his father and whole world is God (Siva). Ayyappan then returns to Kerala and thereupon meets Parasurama (human incarnation of Vishnu) at the summit of Sabarimala. In the days that followed the kings received a dream from Ayyappan to come to Sabarimala to meet him. The king obeys the request to building a temple to Ayyappan on the mountain (Parmeshwaranand, 5 1120).

Ayyappan is portrayed in depictions as varied as his many legends. In most depictions he is in a seated posture called paryankabanhana or utkutikasana with a band of cloth called yogapatta around his knees (Smith and Narsimhachary 221). He is also invariably dressed in bracelets, armlets, necklaces, crowns, gem studded waistband and a cincture on his chest. Ayyappan is always depicted with one head, which according to Brunce suggest that the god could not lie, for he could only show one face to the world. By contrast to the demon Ravana, with his ten or more heads, deceit comes easily to one who has more than one face to show (Brunce 2000:5470). Ayyappan is also shown as being youthful. Yet sometimes his portrayed fierce to represent the boundless energy of youth and the power to succeed in all things. Ayyappan is also depicted as being white in color according Brunce (54). May suggest his purity and honor, exemplifying his dangerous quest to save a woman he thought was in need of his help. Ayyappan’s vahana is the tiger, although at times he is seated on the lotus flower. The tiger may represent his triumph on his jungle quest and the lotus flower represents his connection to Siva, with whom the lotus is always associated. The urdhva-pundra is depicted upon Ayyappan’s forehead, which connects him to Vishnu. The urdhva-pundra is called the third eye and represents enlightenment and an all seeing awareness according to Smith and Narismhachary (372). Worshippers of Ayyappan undertake a pilgrimage to Mt. Sabarimala twice a year, once in August and September and again with greater numbers from November to January. The pilgrims dress in blue or black, and carry a special cloth bag called irumudi on their head. Within the bag are two compartments, one for items of worship (idols, dhupa). While the other compartment is for personal belongings, such as pictures of their family for the pilgrimage can be extensively long. In some cases the pilgrimage can be long and pilgrims pack pictures of family, books, and clothes. Around each worshipper’s neck are tulasi or rudraksa-beads (Smith and Narsimhachary 224) [Rudraksa- beads symbolize Siva’s tears for Sati, and Tulasi-beads both connect Ayyappan to the gods who fathered/mothered him]. Prior to undertaking these pilgrimages the worshippers fast, eat simple meals, and are not allowed sex or alcohol (Parmeshwaranand, 1121). Upon reaching the mountain temple devotees call aloud Svamiye Saranam Ayyappan! (Oh! Lord Ayyappan! You are our only refuge!)(1120). After reaching the temple the devotee climbs eighteen steps and give offerings of ghee and vibhuti through the priests, the prasadam which is the remnants of the offering are believed by some to have amazing curative powers. After the worshipper has completed prayers to Ayyappan they then retreat back down the eighteen steps backwards. The temple is to be the last thing seen on this pilgrimage by the worshipper. An aspect that is unique to Ayyappan is that all castes and classes are welcome to worship Ayyappan. However women between the ages of six and sixty are not allowed entering the inner sanctum of the temple. The belief behind this tradition is that women may tempt Ayyappan away from his dharmic lifestyle. This is one of the few instances in which all males are free of class restrictions and an attempt to bring unity among Hindu classes and sects in the Kreala region, pulling them together under one god who embodies both Siva and Vishnu. However today we note that Ayyappan did not replace Siva or Vishnu. Rather he accents both of those great gods, for the Ayyappan shrines can be found within temples to both Siva and Vishnu (Smith and Narsimhachary 226).

Skanda (The God of War)

Skanda (Karttikeya), 5th century, Gupta Period (Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi)
Skanda (Karttikeya), 5th century, Gupta Period (Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi)

Also known as Kumara, Subrahmanya, and Murukan, Skanda “has been hunter, warrior, philosopher… He is teacher… He is the eternal child as old as time itself” (Clothey 2005b:1). Obeyesekere writes that Skanda is viewed as possessed of having six faces, twelve arms, and riding a peacock (382). Throughout Skanda’s history, he has been worshipped for several different reasons. He has been worshipped “as a god of hill and hunt… and avenger of ananku and cur, malevolent spirits of the hills” (Clothey 2005a:6240). During the Cankami period of Tamil India “Murukan was known … as the lord of the hunt” (Clothey 2005b:36). According to Clothey, he has also been worshiped in South India as the son of Siva (Clothey 2005a:6240). Through this several other deities related to vegetation and hunting embodied the name Murukan (Clothey 2005b:36). Clothey also writes that the name Murukan has become commercialized with an array of different industries using his name, for songs and films (Clothey 2005b:1).


Skanda’s origin comes from several different epics, most prominently from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The story of Skanda in the Mahabharata is quite long and can be summarized as follows. Indra, god of lightning and thunder and general of the devas, rescued a damsel named Devasena, who wanted a husband that could protect her. Indra felt the Agni, god of fire, had the ability to generate a son suitable to be Devasena’s husband. Agni went to Brahma, the creator god, for his help. While with Brahma and through the aid of seven rsis, seers, thought to compose the Vedas, Agni fell in love with the rsis wives. Svaha, a nymph, loved Agni. She tricked him by assuming the form of six of the rsis wives. After each session of intercourse with Agni, Svaha turned into a garuda bird and carried his semen to Mt. Sveta, where she deposited it into a golden pot, in a place covered with sara reeds. Kumara (Skanda) was born and was strong enough for battle within six days. The gods fearing Kumara would become more powerful than Indra, enticed Indra to slay him. Indra, trying to slay Kumara with his vajra [thunderbolt], managed to only cut off a portion of Kumara’s right side. Through this side of Kumara, Visakha was born bearing a sakti [lance], which causes Indra to surrender. The gods are pleased with how fearless Kumara was. Through the same piece of Kumara that Visakha was born, several more children were then born coming forth to serve Skanda’s army (Clothey 2005b:51-53).

Clothey writes that “Skanda thus comes to be known as a father, and persons wishing children are exhorted to worship him” (Clothey 2005b:52). The story continues with Skanda declaring Svaha to be his mother, and with Brahma’s advice, identifies Rudra “the howler” as his father. Rudra along with Indra, Varuna, the god of the heavens and water, and Yama, the god of death, come to welcome Kumara in a procession. As Kumara is leaving a Deva – Asura, god and demon, battle begins. Mahisa, the chief of the Asuras was causing the Devas to flee, and is about to crush Rudra’s chariot when Kumara comes to his aid and kills Mahisa with his sakti. This story also shows events in a span of Skanda’s life. He is conceived on the first day, visible on the second day, takes form of a child on third day, grows limbs and becomes the general of the army on the fourth day. He bears Siva’s bow, and is regarded by the devas as the one to save their cosmos on the fourth day, and he takes his emblems of war on the sixth day (Clothey 2005b:51-53). This is one account of the origin of Skanda. The author Vyasa, is represented to be the composer of the Mahabharata.

Another foundation of Skanda’s beginning comes from Valmiki’s Ramayana. Valmiki tells the story to Rama and Laksmana, two young princes. His telling of the story encourages the young princes to heroic aspirations (Clothey 2005b:53). The summary of the story is as follows. Rudra marries Uma, daughter of Mt. Himavat. One hundred years pass and no son is born to them. The devas like it this way, and fearing that a son born to Rudra would be more powerful then them, they plead with Rudra to not have a son. Rudra’s seed however remains on the ground. Dhara, the earth, can bear his sons. Because of this, the devas ask Agni and Vayu, the wind god, to enter Rudra’s seed. Through Rudra’s seed Mt. Sveta is created, and on Mt. Sveta, in the forest, Kumara is born (Clothey 2005b:53-54).

A variation to the story above, also in the Ramayana, begins with Rudra retiring as the general of the army. With no one left to lead, Brahma asks Agni to give his seed, along with the waters of the Ganga River to Uma to bear a son. Unable to contain the power of the waters a flood of golden seed escapes from Uma. This golden flood turns everything in its path into gold. In a golden forest Kumara is born (Clothey 2005b:53-54).

The Ramayana epic also tells how those who worship Skanda will “attain long life, happiness in the family, and ultimate union with the god” (Clothey 2005b:54). How Skanda received some of his names is also recorded in this epic. One of his names Gangeya was given to him because he came from the Ganges water. He gets the name Karttikeya because he was raised by the Krttikas (Clothey 2005b:54).

One of the books of the Mahabharata depicts who Skanda would embrace as a father. Vyasa writes that Rudra, Parvati, she of the mountain, Agni, and Ganga each claim to be Skanda’s parent. In order to embrace all these gods Skanda assumes four forms: Sakha, Visakha, Naigamaya and Skanda. Sakha embraces Ganga, Naigamaya to Agni, Visakha to Parvati, and Skanda to Rudra. The devas give Skanda gifts. He receives a dart and banner from Indra, an army of 30,000 warriors from Siva, a cloth from Uma, a garland from Visnu, along with several other gifts from other gods (Clothey 2005b:55). These accounts of Skanda in the epics are but a few of the rich and varied myths telling of Skanda origins.

The worshipers of Skanda in Tamil India celebrate a festival in October or November called Skanda-Sasti. It is celebrated for seven days reenacting the six day cycle of the gods vocation. Sasti is the sixth day of the lunar cycle, representing the sixth day of the god. Sasti is also important because according to the myth of Skanda, he is born on the night of a new moon. Sasti is also the name of Skanda’s wife. She is known “as the giver of lingering (yapya) disease” (Clothey 2005a:242). Clothey writes that the event takes place through “rhythmical patterns” (Clothey 2005a:242). Some of these patterns are repeated daily. Priests preside over each ritual on each day of worship. One such ritual is the lighting of oil lamps. These lamps represents the “the emergence of the god and the cosmos from primordial darkness” (Clothey 2005a:244). Another daily ritual is the reciting of Skanda’s 1,008 different names. Reciting his names reenacts the words that were uttered at the beginning, thus bringing the divinity of Skanda into current time. One of the high points in the festival is the ornamenting the sacred symbol of Skanda. This is known as vastram. The next step is adorning the symbol. This can be done through offerings of song, holy ash or vermillion. These rhythmical steps occur once to twice a day during the Skanda-Sasti festival.

Skanda is the most popular deity in Tamil Nadu , a state in South India. “Three of the six busiest and wealthiest temples in Tamil Nadu are dedicated to Murukan” (Clothey 2005b:1). Gananath Obeyesekere conducted research in Tamil Nadu which shows that the Skanda deity is the most popular in that area. He found that a total of 1,956 of 2,670 worshipers went to the Skanda shrines over the next three most popular shrines (Obeyesekere 379). Obeyesekere’s research also shows that “for every one person visiting the Visnu and Pattini shrines there are five and six persons respectively, visiting the Skanda shrine” in Tamil India (Obeyesekere 379). His research shows that the popularity of Skanda has been on the rise, and continues to rise.

References and Further Recommended Readings

Clothey, Fred (1969) Skanda-Sasti: a Festival in Tamil India. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Obeyesekere, Gananath (1977) Social Change and the Deities: Rise of the Kataragama Cult in Modern Sri Lanka. London: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

Clothey, Fred (1987 and 2005a) Murukan. Detroit, Macmillan Reference USA

Clothey, Fred (2005b) The Many Faces of Murukan. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

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Written by Matt Marchesin (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.