Skanda Shashti is a festival held in honor of Lord Kartikeya, also known as Skanda, the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. It is the birthday of the Lord who is also known as Muruga in Tamil Nadu. On Skanda Shashti, people observe a vrat or fast. There will be grand celebrations in Muruga temples on this day. Skanda Shashti is celebrated in the Tamil month of Aippasi (October-November).
Legend behind Skanda Shashti
Once there was a demon called Soorapadman who was terrorizing the three worlds. As he had a boon from Lord Shiva that only the lord’s power could destroy him, he became very arrogant. Finally, when even the gods could take it no more, they went to Lord Shiva and begged him to destroy the demon. Shiva agreed and six sparks came out of his third eye. They were very hot but when they entered the waters of the Saravana river, they turned into six babies. They were looked after by six maidens called Karthikai Pennkal. It so happened that Goddess Parvati once came to see them and embraced them all at once. When this happened, the six children fused into one, but with six faces. Even as a slip of a child, Skanda was blessed with great knowledge. He was born perfect and even knew warfare. Goddess Parvati gave him a divine weapon called ‘Vel’. When Skanda turned into a youth, he was made the commander-in-chief of the gods. Skanda led his army against the army of the demons with great valor.
Having killed Simhamukha and Tarakasura, the brothers of Soorapadman, first, Skanda finally fought Soorapadman and killed him after a fierce battle. He cut the demon’s body into two pieces with his vel or lance and a cock and a peacock emerged from the demon’s body. The peacock then became Skanda’s vehicle while the cock took its place on Skanda’s flag and sang his praises.
Skanda Shashti festival is celebrated for 10 days. It is celebrated very grandly in the Subramanya (another name for Skanda) temple in Thiruchendur. On the final day, there is an enactment of the killing of the demon, Soorapadman, called Soorasamharam. A lot of devotees flock to the temple to witness this spectacle.
According to Vedic texts, praying to Lord Muruga confers certain benefits to those who are honest and dedicated. The belief is that if a person with a pure heart prays to Lord Karthikeya and observes the fast, Muruga will bless them abundantly on this day.
Skanda Shashti Rituals
Fasting is a very important ritual on the day of Skanda Shashti. On this day, devotees maintain a full or partial or full fast to please Lord Muruga. The fast begins at sunrise and ends on the following day after prayers are offered to the Sun God. Some keep strict vrat and avoid food for 24 hours. Some others observe a partial fast and eat only fruits. People with health problems can observe the fast by eating just one meal during the day.
Those who observe the Shasti vrat do not eat certain spices on this day. Apart from this, non-vegetarian food and alcohol are also strictly avoided. On this day, devotees also recite the Skanda Shashti Kavacham and read ‘Skanda Purana’. They also visit the temples of Lord Muruga in the evening as it is believed to be very auspicious to do so.
In many places, Skanda Shashti commences six days before the Shashti day and ends on the day of Shashti. During this period, devotees chant hymns, read stories of the Lord and enact his heroic feats. People gather for elaborate feasts as well. The most famous temples of Lord Subramanya are found in Udupi, Palani, Tiruchendur, Tiruparankundrum and Kathirgamam in South India. There are Muruga temples in Malaysia and Sri Lanka too. Large festivals and fairs are held in these temples on the occasion.
Some devotees undergo penance on Skanda Sashti by carrying a ‘Kavadi’ and visit various Subramanya shrines. They may also pierce their cheeks, tongue and lips with needles and go into a trance.
The number 6 represents Muruga symbolically. The festival goes on for six days and Lord Muruga has 6 heads. He also has 6 Arupadaiveedus or powerful abodes. There are six syllables in his powerful mantra - ‘Sa Ra Va Na Ba Va’. He is also the deity of our 6th sense.