Borrowing from the Tamil legend on Murugan, son of Shiva…

pumpkins, act 2 - I love carving pumpkins for Halloween, and rarely pass up an opportunity to share a story or snippet from Indian mythology with my boys. As a result, we’ve had some unusual pumpkins over the years. This is the second of our distinctly Indian Halloween pumpkins.

Last year, I'd had enough of the boys’ favourite arch-villain Ravana, and wanted to introduce some diversity in their demons. I told them the story of Murugan, son of Shiva, and the festival called Soorasamharam (“the destruction of Soora”) which conveniently falls close to Halloween each year.

The legend talks about the demon Soorapadman (Sanskrit - Padmasura) and his brother Tarakasuran (Sanskrit – Tarakasura), both great magicians and warriors. They were devotees of the god Shiva, and after many years of penance and meditation, received a boon of immortality from him.

Like all divine boons, this one too had a loophole. They could not be killed by any animal or human being or god. They could only be killed by a child born of Shiva, but not to any mother. The brothers assumed that such a child was impossible, and that they would never be killed or defeated.

This went to their head, and they used their power with impunity to harass the rest of the world. Soon, the two demon brothers became so unbearable that Shiva decided to step in. He used the power of his third eye on his forehead to produce six sparks. Agni, the god of fire, and Vayu, the god of wind, carried the sparks to the river, and placed them on six lotuses. The sparks turned into six lovely babies. Parvati, Shiva’s wife, scooped up the babies and hugged them in joy. All six then turned into one special child, with six heads, and twelve arms!

This child was Murugan.

When he was a big boy, and the gods and people could not bear the misbehaviour of the demon brothers any longer, Murugan went to battle with them. The brothers used their magic to hide from Murugan. Tarakasuran created an illusory mountain around himself, but he could not trick Murugan and was killed.

Soorapadman used his magic to turn into a mango tree and hide at the bottom of the ocean. Murugan found him, and used his ‘vel’, or spear, to split the tree in half. Soorapadman realised how arrogant and wicked he had been, and apologised to Murugan. Murugan turned one half of the tree into a peacock, which became his ‘vahana’ or vehicle, and the other half into the rooster that sits on his staff.

This myth is celebrated as Soorasamharam each year. We "celebrated" by learning the story, and modelled our Halloween pumpkins after Soorapadman and Tarakasuran. And that is the story of our South Indian Jack’O’Lanterns which sport vibuthi-pattai (holy ash) and kunkumam (vermillion).