Friday, 7 August 2015

Who is Karupanasamy?

Karupanasamy with his two main weapon. The Aruval and Gadam (Mace). The Mace is generally seen as a weapon of Vishnu and Krishna.Photo Credit : BMShrini Vasan

There are many deities worshiped by the Tamils. Some of these deities are considered as Vedic Gods while some are considered as Folk Gods. 

Among these various deities, Karupanasamy has a very special place. He is among the oldest deities worshiped by the Tamil people. 

Karupanasamy is also called as Karupusamy or Karupar. The Tamil word Karupu means Black. He is described as a fierce looking warrior in black clothes, dark skinned, with a thick moustache and carries an Aruval (Billhook - curved machete).

The worship of Karupanasamy is very ancient. 

During the Sangam Ages (2000 years and beyond), the Tamils of the Mullai region (forest) worshiped a deity called as Mayon or Maal.

ninaindhu naindhu ulkaraindhu urugi imaiyor palarum munivarum 
punaindha kanni nir sandham  pugaiyodu endhi vanangkinal 
ninaindha ellap porulgatkum viththay mudhalil sidhaiyame 
mananjsey njanaththu un perumai  masunadho? Mayone! 
(Verse 2720 of Nalayira Divyaprabandham)

This Mayon or Maal is none other than Vishnu himself. He is also addressed as PeruMaal (the great Maal) and TiruMaal (the respected/sacred Maal).  Like Karupanasamy, Maal is also described as a dark skinned God.

Murugan or Subrahmanya being the nephew and son-in-law of Vishnu, is called as Maal Marugan.

Various Tamil clans worship Karupanasamy. Among them, the most prominent one is the Kallar. They worship him as their tutelary clan deity. 

Karupanasamy is also worshiped by Maravar, Vellalar, Agamudayar, Yadavar and others. Today, many Tamils including those outside India worship him as a guardian deity.

The Kallars are not only people of the Paalai (dry land) region. They were also people of the Mullai region (forest).

The Sangam literature confirms that they once ruled the forest areas around Venkata Hills which is the northern boundary of Tamilakam. The famous Tirupati temple is located on these hills. 

A Kallar chieftain named Maavan Puli was mentioned in Sangam literature.

kalalpunai tiruntatik Kalvar koman
malapulam vankkiya Mavan Puli
vilavutai vluccir Venkatam perinum
(Ahananuru 61:11-13)

The Kallar clan were also known as Kalvar and Kalavar in ancient literature. Koman means king. 

The forest God of the Kallar people, Maal, was also the lord of the Venkata Hills which they ruled. For this reason, he is known as Venkateswara (Eswara here means Lord). 

At present, the Kallar people don't live in the Venkata region. They live in the south. There is an oral history about their migration from north and this is told among the Melur Kallars in Madurai.

The worship of Maal in Venkata Hills and Karupanasamy in the south by the same group of people shows that both can be identical. It connects to Vishnu.

Maal as Venkateswara

It also explains why Karupanasamy is often shown as a Vaishnavite deity with TiruNaamam on the forehead. This is the main form of Karupanasamy although there are other variations including Saivite versions.

The Karupanasamy shrine is located in Madurai near the Azhagar Temple. This shrine is also connected to another Vaishnavite tradition .

I am referring to the worship of Kallazhagar. He is a warrior form of Vishnu who is also worshiped as the tutelary deity of the Kallar community. 

Karupanasamy is also considered as the guardian deity of the Kallazhagar temple. 

Maal as Kallazhagar in his warrior form, riding a horse just like Karupanasamy.
Picture Credit :

The ancient Tamils are also very familiar with Krishna who is considered as an incarnation of Vishnu. They called him Thuvarakai Koman which means King of Dwarka. 

According to Periya Azhwar (circa 785 AD), Arjuna had a Kallar army in the Mahabaratha war. That army was helped by Krishna. This was mentioned by the Azhwar in the Divya Prabandham. 

vellai vili sanggu ven chudar tiruchakkaram endu kaiyan
ulla idam vinavil umakkirai vammin suvaduraikken
vellai puravi kurakku vel kodi ter misai munbu ninru
Kallapadai tunaiyahi paratam kai seyya kandar ular

We can also connect Karupanasamy with Krishna. Krishna is also dark skinned. The people who venerate him would have addressed him as Karupana-Samy which means the God who is dark. 

People venerate heroes according to their own culture. So the thick moustache, Aruval, liqour, animal sacrifice etc are made part of the ritual by these Kallar people who happened to be warriors. 

(Animal sacrifice is not done in Azhagar temple)
As time goes, some of the devotees who worship Karupanasamy named their sons and daughters as Karupan or Karupayee. 

This is how we get Sanggili Karupan.

Sanggili Karupan lived around 400 years ago. He was a hero for the Piranmalai Kallars. After his heroic death, they venerate him as a deity. He then becomes Sanggili Karupanasamy.

Today he is worshiped by a large section of Tamils.

Similarly, many versions of Karupanasamy emerged after the original Karupanasamy. They would have been devotees or warriors who were given the same name. 

Back in the past, warrior communities from Tamil Nadu also migrated to Kerala to serve the local kings. So some of them named Karupan would have been in the army.

They could have been personal bodyguards of kings. This may explain the existence of Karupar shrine in Sabarimalai. 

The Karupar of Sabarimalai is believed to be the bodyguard of Lord Ayyapa. There could be a possible historical explanation for this. The origin of Karuppar-Ayyapan/Ayyanar partnership can be traced back to Kanda Purana. Ayyappan/Ayyanar who is also called as MahaSastha appears to protect the Gods. His bodyguard MahaKala (Great Black) appears to protect Indrani, wife of Indra. This MahaKala is none other that Karuppar himself.

But the main Karupanasamy remains in Azhagar temple. He is connected to Maal, Mayon, Vishnu, Kallazhagar or even Krishna. All pointing to the Vaishnava tradition. 

This Karupanasamy's history is probably as ancient as the people who worships him.

The dark skinned Krishna and Arjuna in the Mahabaratha war

- Comments


  1. Good Day Sir, you have mentioned after his heroic death ( sanggili karuppanasamy ). Would you please shed more details on his life just to make us understand better of him. Thanks Sir.

    1. He was a leader of the Kallars in Piranmalai, a hill located in northern Sivaganga bordering Madurai.

  2. Great to follow your blog. You are unlike others. You are not merely state anything you have wide knowledge in ancient litrature and history. Being history lover I am happy to found your blog. Thank you

  3. Hi...just to share.. there are 22 karuppargal and 4 of them are othukka makes it 18..these 18 of them are in rankings.. some karuppargal may not know each other but the chief Karuppaswamy knows all of them.. sanggili karuppar is among the youngest, the sanggili was given to Him by the chief Karuppaswamy.. there is even Pathinettam padi sanggili karuppar( not chief) who is different than sanggili karuppar...