How Skanda Shashti Festival Is Celebrated in Southern India

Among the commanders, I am Skanda

SrimadBhagavadGita

Skanda Purana, an important Shaivite literature, is the largest of all the 18 maha puranas. The 88,100 verses of Skanda Purana is divided into seven khandas. Though the purana is named after the son of Shiva, it contains the doctrine and worship of Shiva besides the legend of both Kartikeya and Shiva. According to research scholars, numerous changes and additions were made into the original text of Skanda Purana over centuries, culminating in several versions. Kartikeya’s legends vary from region to region. He is worshipped as an eternal celibate in northern parts of India while, in the southern region, Muruga has two consorts — Valli and Devayani.

Kachiyappar Shivacharya, who lived around 1,100 years ago, was a poet and scholar. An ardent devotee of Subramanya, Shivachariyar was an officiating priest of Kumara Kottam temple and Ekambareswar temple in Kanchipuram. One day, the Lord appeared in his dream and instructed Kachiyappar to compose Kanda puranam. It is the counterpart of Skanda Puranam in Sanskrit. Kanda Puranam sings the glory of Skanda is considered one of the greatest literary epics in the Tamil language.

The fulfilment of the divine incarnation of Lord Muruga is the central theme of Skanda Shashti. Taraka, a demon born to Vajranaka, wanted to defeat the Devas. To accomplish the desire, Taraka proceeded to do severe penance. Pleased by the tapas, Brahma appeared before Taraka. The demon asked for a boon that only a spark produced by Shiva can kill him. At that time, Sati had died and Shiva was lost in a deep state of meditation. Parvati, though Sati reborn, was not yet married to Shiva. Brahma granted the boons the demon asked for.

Years passed. Unable to bear with the torment unleashed by the demon Taraka, the devas sought the help of Brahma. Keeping in mind the boon granted to Taraka, he approached Parvati. The manifestation of Lord Kartikeya involves a specific purpose to re-establish the righteous path.

The Padma Purana, Skanda Purana and Shalya Parva in the Mahabharata give a detailed account of the war between Muruga and the demons, Taraka in particular. Nevertheless, the Skanda Purana versions adopted across southern India have slight variations. According to the popular belief prevailing in the south, the brothers Tarakasura, Simhamukha and Soorapadman were troubling the devas. Muruga annihilated Taraka and his accomplice Kraunchan in the Himalayas. Thereafter, the lord and his army headed towards the south and halted at Tiruchendur, the south-eastern part of Tamil Nadu. Tiruchendur is one of the six abodes of Lord Muruga. Kartikeya sent an emissary to the brothers Simhamukhan and Soorapadman. Since the demons refused to yield, Skanda slew the lion-faced brother, Simhamukhan. Soorapadman disguised himself as a mango tree in the middle of the ocean. Using his lance, Murugan split the tree into two portions. A peacock appeared from one portion and a cock from the other. Thereafter, Kartikeya mounted the peacock and adopted the cock as his emblem. Thus, a tamed Soorapadma became immortal and the devas were relieved from the distress.

It is believed that the battle against the evil forces spans over a period of six days; culminating on the sixth day of Kartik Shukla Shashti. The sixth tithi in the waxing period of the moon is auspicious for propitiating Lord Muruga. In Tamilnadu, the Skanda Shasti festival is celebrated in grandeur across all temples dedicated to Lord Subramanya. Huge processions are carried out in the six abodes of Muruga. Shashti vrata is an important observance in the month of Kartika and the devotees observe fast for six days. On these six days, believers worship Muruga with utmost devotion.

Soora-samharam is celebrated every year to highlight the victory of good over evil. Prior to the sooram-poru performance on Skanda Shashti, Skanda Purana is narrated in Murugan temples. Every year, the victory of Lord Murugan over Surapadma (beheading Soorapadman) is re-enacted in temples. Devotees throng the temple premises to witness the re-enactment of Lord Kartikeya annihilating the demon, Soorapadma. Certain Muruga temples in Kerala host Sooramporu, reflecting brilliant artistry skills. A battle scene is created with an effigy portrayed as Soorapdaman, Lord Muruga killing the demon amid percussions of a metallic instrument that are a miniature pair of cymbals serve as the background score for the battle.

MayilAttam (mayil — peacock, attam — dance) is performed as a part of the tradition in the temple premises in reverence to Lord Murugan. The artiste dances to the music of Nadaswaram and portrays the journey of Kartikeya by donning a peacock costume. This is not a bare-footed dance as the dancer stands on pieces of wood attached to his/her feet during the performance.

The defeat of Soorapadman signifies the victory of good over evil and restoration of Dharma. Among the six abodes of Muruga, Thiruchendur and Thirupparamkundram host a grand six-day festival during Skanda Shashti. The day after Soorasamharam is celebrated as Thirukalyanam to commemorate the day of the marriage ceremony of Lord Muruga and Devayani.

The Sikkil Singaravelavar temple follows a unique ritual during Skanda Shashti. According to the tradition, on Panchami tithi — on the fifth day — Kartikeya received the lance from his Mother Velendukanni at the Sikkal temple and vanquished the demon Soorapadman the following day. As the priests decorate the deity for the annual festival to receive the lance from his Mother Goddess, the murti begins sweating profusely. This occurs every year and subsides once the deity returns to his sanctum with the lance in his possession. The sweating is considered tirtha and is sprinkled on the crowd gathered to witness the procession. Every year, thousands converge to attend the miraculous event.