Skanda Shashti, dedicated to Lord Kartikeya, the celestial general, marks his victory over the asuras.
WORDS: MADHURI. Y
Skanda Shashti, or Kanda Shashti is observed in prayer to Kartikeya, son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Kartikeya is the celestial general and the day marks the victory of good over evil through his intervention.
It occurs on the sixth day (shashti tithi) of the waxing moon (shukla paksha) every month. In February this year, it occurs on the 21st. The main Skanda Shashti of the year, also called Sura Samharam, signifies the slaying of asuras by Kartikeya, and falls in November, during the month of Kartika.
Observing Skanda Shashti
The day after the new moon each month, devotees observe the Skanda Shashti vrat with a full or partial six-day fast, which ends on the day of shashti. They chant the Skanda Shashti kavacham. Some chant ‘Om Sharavana Bhava’ 108 times in honour of Skanda. Pooja is performed when panchami tithi (fifth day) ends and shashti tithi starts between sunrise and sunrest.
On the Kartika shashti day, devotees sing bhajans and kirtans. They read and narrate stories of Kartikeya. In temples, his battle with the asuras is enacted. Devotees carry a kavadi (sling with weights on either end), signifying the burdens they carry, in the belief that Kartikeya will lighten them. The person carrying the kavadi performs ritual ceremonies before picking up the burden and after offering it to Kartikeya.
The Arupadaiveedu, the six temples of Murugan, in Tamil Nadu, as well as the Kukke Subrahmanya temple in Karnataka, and other temples of Kartikeya, and Lord Shiva temples celebrate the festival.
Kartikeya who was a child, said with anger, ‘O Brahma! How do you create living beings?’
‘With the help of the Vedas,’ said Brahma.
‘Then recite the Vedas,’ said Kartikeya.
Brahma began the recitation with, ‘Om.’
Om being the Pranava Mantra on which the Vedas rest, Kartikeya said, ‘Tell me the meaning of the Pranava Mantra.’
Brahma could not give the answer. At this, Kartikeya imprisoned Brahma, and began performing the duties of the creator. The devas came to know of this and approached Vishnu for help.
Since Vishnu could not help, Shiva came to Kartikeya.
‘Son, release Brahma,’ he requested.
‘No father,’ said Kartikeya. ‘Brahma does not know the meaning of Om.’
‘Why don’t you explain the meaning,’ said Shiva.
While Kartikeya explained, Shiva, although he is the adi yogi, and the father of Kartikeya, listened with respect, giving rise to another name of Kartikeya—Swaminatha Swami.
Since then, the temple atop the Swamimalai hill has belonged to Kartikeya, with Shiva’s temple at the foot of the hill.
Sometimes, he stands only with the spear, indicating his freedom from maya, or illusion. He is also seen with six heads, which represent wisdom, dispassionate view, strength, fame, wealth and divine powers.
But, destroying Taraka isn’t simple since he has a boon from Lord Shiva, that he can be killed only by Shiva’s son. Trouble was, Lord Shiva did not have a son, and he was in samadhi. The gods were not sure how to awaken Shiva.
On Lord Brahma’s advice, Indra asks Parvati and Kamadeva for help. Kamadeva goes to Mount Kailash, and shoots his arrows towards Shiva while Parvati stands nearby.
A distracted Shiva opens his eyes and seeing Kamadeva, he opens his third eye and burns him to ashes.
It is then that Shiva sees the need for a son of his own to destroy Taraka. Shiva’s seed is cast into agni, the fire god. Unable to hold its heat, agni throws it into the Ganga. Ganga too is unable to bear the heat and throws the seed into a forest of reeds where Skanda is born, for which he is known as Saravanabhava (born in a reed forest).
He divides himself into six forms to be nursed by the six mothers of the constellation Krittika, taking the name Kartikeya after them. When Parvathi comes to take him, she turns him back into one baby with six faces, giving rise to the name Shanmukha.
Kartikeya destroys the armies of Tarakasura, Simhamukha and Surapadma in a six-day battle. The day the asuras are killed is celebrated as Sura Samharam.
Agastya asked Idumban, an asura disciple to carry the Sivagiri and Saktigiri hills to his home in the south. Idumban, who had survived the battle between Kartikeya and the asuras, had repented his actions, and had become a Kartikeya devotee.
He placed the hills in a kavadi (long stick with the weights hanging from either end) slung over his shoulders and went south.
Meanwhile, Kartikeya had lost to Ganesha in a competition and withdrew to Palani, seeking wisdom.
At Palani, a tired Idumban set the kavadi down. When he was ready to continue, he found that he was unable to lift one of the hills. Looking up, he found Kartikeya standing atop the hill and asked him to move.
Kartikeya refused and a battle began between the two. When sage Agastya intervened, Kartikeya cooled down. Realising his mistake, Idumban asked Kartikeya for forgiveness.
He also made a request, ‘Lord, please grant me the privilege of standing guard at the hill entrance.’
Kartikeya agreed and the result is an Idumban temple mid-way up the hill.
Idumban had one more request, ‘Whoever carries a kavadi to the temple, bless them my lord.’
To this too, Kartikeya agreed and the practice of devotees carrying kavadis to the temple began.
On Palani hill, Kartikeya is in a form of renunciation.