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Multi-ethnic deities

July 19, 2011

Murugan is a very Tamil god. Sometimes he is a young, handsome god of war, carrying a spear, astride a peacock. He’s also a slightly petulant little boy, sulking when his goody-two shoes elephant-headed brother wins a mango in a competition. He’s the god who fell in love with the aboriginal girl Valli as she guarded her family’s millet field.

When I was last in Sri-Lanka I went to Ratnapura – a town famous for its gems just outside Colombo. My parents didn’t want me to go. The town had been known for its Singhalese jingoism and they were nervous. I ignored them, booked a taxi and drove off. On the way, the driver stopped at a village Buddhist temple he wanted to show us. IT wasn’t grand _ a few low slung buildings dotted around a field with rich red earth and shadowed dark green leaves. There was a buddha, sitting serenely in one of the side houses. And in the centre was Murugan, standing tall, guarding the other deities. The taxi driver didn’t understand why I was bemused to see him there.

I realised then that Murugan isn’t really a hindu god at all. He’s not Tamil either. He’s the god of the island. I’m sure this proves something. I wish I could figure out what.

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