Skanda Shasti or Kanda Shasthi is a most important festival dedicated to Lord Muruga or Karthikeya. It is observed in the month of Aippasi (October-November) and commemorates the victory of Lord Skanda over the Demon Surapadma. One should try visiting all the 6 abodes of Muruga atleast once in the lifetime to get the Lord's grace bestowed upon you! Skanda Sashti, the sixth day in the bright half of the month of Aippasi (Oct 15 - Nov 15), is celebrated in the Shaivite temples across Tamil Nadu, and with an extra measure of grandeur in temples dedicated to Subramaniya. Skanda Sashti commemorates the destruction of evil by the Supreme General Karthikeya, the younger son of Shiva, and is celebrated with the dramatic enactment of “Soora Samhaaram” (a play where Muruga kills the demon). Mention must be made of the grand celebrations at the special 6 abodes of Lord Muruga.
The Story of Skanda Shasti:
This is the story of the birth of Skanda or Kumara and the fulfillment of the purpose of His divine incarnation. "Tormented by the asura (demon/anti God) Sura padma, the devas with Indra as the leader, went to the world of the creator" (dated back to the history of Kumara Sambhava 2.1) The creator said “only the spark of Shiva can produce the hero who will defeat the powers of the evil" Unfortunately, Shiva The king of the yogis was lost in a deep state of meditation. None of the Devas dared to disturb him... least of all convince him to create a progeny.
Upon Brahma's suggestion, they sought the help of Parvathi and Kama (the god of love). Parvathi agreed to help and engaged herself in severe penance to attract Shiva's attention. Kama also agreed to help and engaged himself in the suicidal mission of arousing Shiva from His state of Samadhi.
The penance of Parvathi and the sacrifice of Kama paid off. Shiva was aroused from his Samadhi. However, none could bear the sparks of His fiery seed. Thus Saravanabava was born. He was also Skanda - Shiva's power of chastity preserved through penance. Skanda was raised by the six mothers of the divine constellation of Krithika (Pleiades). Karthikeya divided himself into six babies to be nursed by six mothers. When Parvathi gathered all the six babies, He became Shanmukha - the one with the six faces and one body. Shanmukha became Kumara - the powerful virile adolescent who was also the beautiful and the handsome (Muruga).
Indra was restored to his kingdom and gave his daughter Devayanai or Devasena in marriage to Skanda. In order not to discriminate between the rich and the poor, Muruga also married Valli the gypsy damsel.
Skanda Sashti Celebrations
Corresponding to the six days of the war over the evil forces, devotees undertake fasting, prayers and devotional singing to Lord Muruga. The 6 abodes of Muruga overflow with crowd during this period, to attain his divine grace.
Who is Lord Muruga?
Lord Muruga, the younger brother of Lord Ganesha, is the protector of our earth plane. He has always been concerned about the progression of human beings and the planet earth we live in. Muruga is also the Lord of the Pleiades (A star cluster in the constellation Taurus). Lord Muruga is associated with the birth star Krithika; a very precious birth star. Thus, he is an epitome. He represents the primordial energy and force in its own imagery. Muruga is also addressed as "Lord Subramanian/ Aarumugam (the six faced deity), Karthikeyan, Muthu Kumaran" and so on. As per the myths and Indian epics, he is well known for having played a major role in taming the humans towards a higher life. He is basically a celestial warrior, constantly involved in killing demons that prevent good things (the grace of light) from entering the earth plane. It is believed that during the Nine Nights of the Goddess (Navaratri), the three goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi get involved in destroying the dark forces; and from the start of October, Lord Muruga takes over - Lord Muruga the Protector and Guardian Angel for our peaceful living!
The Legend and his "6 Battle Houses":
Legends state that Lord Muruga emerged as six sparks of flame from the third-eye of Lord Shiva to destroy the demons. The Lord is well known for his extraordinary energy for defeating the evildoers in order to save his devotees and disciples. The popular south Indian maxim goes, "Wherever there is a mount, there is a shrine for Lord Muruga; the omnipresent!" There are numerous temples for Lord Muruga across the globe; still the 6 Battle Houses (Arupadai Veedu), holds a special emphasis among the group of shrines.
Pazhani (120 Km west from Madurai):
Significance: Pazhani is one of the most visited temples in Tamil Nadu and is one of the revered shrines of Lord Muruga. The Dhandayudhapani Temple dedicated to Lord Muruga, and regarded one of his Arupadai Veedu (Six Battle Camps), is situated here. The temple situated atop the Sivagiri hills is small but attracts a flood of devotees from all over the country. The architecture of the temple dates back to Pandya Kingdom. The temple is famous for its gold gopuram (temple tower), most admirably worked. Steps are hewn into the rock, besides a wide path meant for the ascent of elephants, up the hill. In addition, a funicular railway with three tracks and a rope-car have been provided more recently for the comfort of the pilgrims. To keep up with the traditions of all the temples of the God Subramanian, another temple is dedicated to his worship near the foot of the Sivagiri mound. It goes by the name of "Thiru Avinankudi", and is remarkable for the exquisite appearance of the chief deity besides the other sculptures.
Pazhamudircholai (10 miles north of Madurai):
Significance: Located near Azhagar Kovil near Madurai, is a simple shrine on the Pazhamudircholai hill with dense forests, enshrining Lord Muruga. One of the six important abodes Arupadaiveedu of Lord Muruga, it is very close to the Vishnu temple of Azhagar Kovil. One can reach Pazhamudircholai by car, van, two-wheeler or bus. There is a bus shuttle for every 20 minutes from the foot of the hill to the Temple. It takes approximately 15 minutes to reach the temple.
At the entrance of Pazhamudircholai there is a temple called Azhagar Kovil; the deity being Lord Vishnu in the form of a protector, safeguarding Lord Muruga. Pazhamudircholai is a hill, which is rich in fruits, vegetables and flowers. It is a dense forest where "Valli" is supposed to have lived. It is a small temple with Valli, Deivanay, and Lord Muruga in a separate shrine. Lord Ganesha is also present in a separate shrine. There is a Temple Tower and monkeys play around the area. There is another small temple above Pazhamudircholai. Local tribes lead their lives here. It is a fertile hill with many natural springs and herbs.
Although there are hundreds of Temples in Tamil Nadu for Lord Muruga, particularly these six temples called the "Arupadaiveedu" are very famous among them. Important events in Lord Muruga's history happened in these places. Among the Arupadaiveedu (Six Temples), Pazhamudircholai is said to be the last abode. The great Tamil poetess and saint Avvaiyar had been tested for her knowledge by Lord Muruga here by an intelligent play. It is believed that the play took place in this abode dedicated to Lord Muruga. Here is where Lord Kanda blessed the old Tamil Poetess with bountiful knowledge.
Swamimalai (Near Kumbakonam):
Significance: Swamimalai Murugan Temple is a Hindu temple located near to Kumbakonam and Thanjavur in India.
It is one of the "Arupadaiveedu", believed to be one of the six main abodes of Muruga. According to Hindu belief, Swamimalai is where Muruga preached; what is called as "Pranava mantra" to his own father, Shiva, at a tender age, after arresting 'Brahma' for not answering his question about Pranava Mantra.
In Swamimalai the Lord Murugan is called as "Balamurugan" and "Swaminatha Swami". The Chola Kingdom enshrined Swaminathan (one of the names of Lord Muruga), in a temple built on an artificial mound, accessed through a flight of 60 steps symbolizing the 60 years that constitute the cycle of years as per the Indian almanac.
The history for the temple is generally called as "Sthala Puranam", and is as follows: One day Lord Brahma, the creator of living things, failed to give due respect to Lord Muruga who is the younger son of Lord Shiva. Hence, Lord Muruga got angry with Lord Brahma and questioned him about his creating procedure. Lord Brahma said that he was creating livings with the help of Vedas (The Holy Hinduism Books). Upon hearing the reply, Lord Muruga asked Lord Brahma to tell the Slogans from such Vedas. Brahma started reciting slogans with the Holy word called "Om"; the Pranava mantra. Still, Muruga wanted to learn the meaning behind the word "Om". Lord Brahma did not have a solid explanation for this; and so the annoyed Muruga punished him with an imprisonment and began to work over the process creating livings himself.
Lord Shiva came to know about the incident and requested Lord Muruga to release Lord Brahma. Lord Muruga refused to his father's request on the grounds that Lord Brahma was not a capable creator as he himself didn't know the meaning of the Pranava Mantra. Upon hearing to this, Lord Shiva wanted to know if Lord Muruga knew the real meaning of the mantra. Lord Muruga, who knew the real meaning of the word, laid a condition that he would reveal the answer but only if Lord Shiva was ready to listen to it by paying the due respect as a disciple would do to his teacher. Lord Shiva, felt proud about his son's knowledge and agreed to the condition. This important and interesting incident is believed to have taken place at "swami Malai"; the meaning of which is "The Teacher of Lord Shiva". Thus is the significance of the place. The temple is very famous for its other properties like the Golden dress for the deity, a Golden crown and Diamond Vel/ Lance for the Lord.
Tiruthani (50 Km north of Chennai):
Significance: Located near Tirupathi and Chennai, enshrines Lord Subramanian in a hill temple accessed through a flight of 365 steps. It represents the site of Muruga's marriage with Valli. Apart from its historical greatness, Saint Arunagirinathar has praised this hill as the chosen place for worship by the great devas and the favorite abode of saints to perform prolonged tapas (meditating on God for years together at a stretch). Sri Muttuswami Deekshitar, who lived 200 years ago (one of the trinity of the "Carnatic music'- the Traditional music of south India) had his inspiration in Tiruthani when the Lord Muruga (in the disguise of an old man) met him on the steps of the temple and sweetened his tongue with the prasad of this temple, which provoked him to sing his first song on Lord Muruga of Tanikai.
Thiruparamkundram (5 Km from Madurai):
Significance: Located near Madurai, this power vortex enshrines Lord Subramanian celebrating his marriage with Deivanay, the daughter of Lord Indra. The shrine to Shiva here has been revered by the Devaram hymns by the community of people called the "Nayanmars."
Saint Gnana Sambanda, the famous Saint of the 7th Century, has visited Thiruparamkundram and has sung the Devaram song on Lord Shiva. Probably, this Shiva temple is the present temple in the main road near the entrance to the Thiruparamkundram Murugan temple. The structure and the legend behind the temple are quite old and ancient. Gnana Sambanda holds the significance of meeting the three Tamil chiefs, the Chera, the Chola and the Pandya in this temple, and having showered his blessings to all the three of them.
One of the inquisitive things about this temple is that, the Gods Shiva and Vishnu face each other in the main shrine (never found in this posture in any other temple except for in this temple). This is because Hinduism was always apprehended into two distinct worshipping groups - the Shaivites (worshippers of Lord Shiva) and the Vaishnavites (worshippers of Lord Vishnu). Outside the temple there is a beautiful pond where, according to the temple's tradition, the devotees offer the fishes with salt and rice flakes. There is also a Vedic school adjacent to the banks of the temple pond.
In front of the Dwajasthambam or the Kodi Maram, one gets the magnificently carved Nandi (bull), Mayil (peacock) and the Mouse (the vehicle of Lord Ganesha). This is a specialty of this Murugan shrine. Going inside, one can see the altars of various Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Of special mention is the altar of the Saturn God without the other eight planets. Climbing a flight of six steps called the "Shadashara Padigal", is a specialty here. One gets to see the rock carvings of various Gods and Goddesses like Mahishasura Mardini, Karpaga Vinayagar, Andarabaranar and Uggirar. The chief deity's statue is also sculptured from a rock. Abhishekams for the presiding deity is done to Muruga's Vel/ lance only.
There are five "Theerthams"/divine water sources, in and around the temple. Namely: Saravana Poigai, Lakshmi Theertham, Saniyasi Kinaru (saint's well), Kasi Sunai and Sathiya Koopam.
Thiruchendur (100km south of Madurai):
Significance: This power spot enshrines Lord Muruga in a vast temple with a lofty "gopuram" (temple tower) visible for miles, on the shores of the ocean in the Southern Tamil Nadu. Thiruchendur is the place where Lord Muruga used as the base camp, before invading the demon king of Suran from Sri Lanka. Each "Arupadaiveedu" has an event mentioned in the "Puranas" (legends). Thiruchendur is said to be second in importance among his six abodes. This place is also referred to by other names in religious poems and literature as Thirucheeralaivai, Thiruchenthil, Thiruchenthiyoor, etc. The deity is worshipped by various names such as Senthilandavan, Senthilkumaran and so on. The temple is situated so close to the sea that waves from the Gulf of Mannar lap, at the eastern perimeter wall of the temple.
Hmmm / Om Saravana Bhavaya Namaha...