Kanda Sashti which falls in the Tamil month of Aippasi (Oct-Nov) is a very auspicious day in the calendar of Muruga devotees. The significance of Sashti is that it falls on the 6th day (thidi) of the lunar month, starting from Ammavasya (full moon day); the number six signaling the six faces of Muruga. In 2014, Kanda Sashti falls on 29th October. Skanda Sashti marks the triumph of good over evil. It was on this day; Lord Kanda, pronounced as Skanda in Sanskrit, destroyed the demon Sooran who represented ego in its full measure. Kanda Sashti gives us the message that the Lord of Tiruchendur would spontaneously reach out those who follow the path of truth, devotion and humility and grace them.
As a result of the extreme penance undertaken by Soorapadman, Lord Siva appeared before him and granted him the boon of life for 108 yugas or eons, or one full age among the four age cycle. Armed with this power, he and his brothers, Tarakasura and Simhasura started terrorizing the Devas. Soorapadman had received the boon that no one born to any human or even divine personality could destroy him. It therefore became necessary to create a bigger power, not naturally born, to be able to annihilate Sooran.
Thus, six sparks of fire came from the third eye of Lord Siva. These flames were deposited in the marshy lake called Saravana Poigai. Goddess Parvati came to Saravana Poigai along with Lord Siva and saw her son, Kumara. The face of the child was brilliant like a thousand rising suns. As she embraced the six children, they merged into one and transformed into one beautiful child. The word Skanda means ‘integrated into one’. As the six babies were integrated into one, He became known as Skanda.
Having received the powerful Vel (lance) from his mother Parvati, Kanda waged a fierce battle with Soorapadman. Soorapadman adopted deceitful methods by taking different forms like mountain and trees. Ultimately, Kanda vanquished Sooran by hurling His Vel (lance) into the tree in which form Sooran was fighting. As the Vel pierced the tree, it was split into two parts. But Muruga, the Lord of infinite compassion, pardoned Sooran. The Lord took one half of the tree, transformed it into a peacock and accepted it as His transport, and transformed the other half into a rooster and accepted it as his banner or ensign. It was victory day for all the Devas. They celebrated the day as the day of victory of right over wrong, victory of light over darkness and victory of truth over deceit. This victory day is celebrated as Kanda Sashti.
The Kanda Sashti celebrations start six days in advance. Some devotees start observing austerities, penance and strict discipline in conduct. While some devotees follow the practice of silence, others engage themselves in rituals and worship. Most of the people observe fast during this period. There is no doubt that those who worship the Lord after observing the austerities would get the benign blessings of Lord Muruga. There were many instances of those deprived of the joy of having children being blessed with children after observing fast during Sashti and worshipping Lord Senthil Andavar.
There is a popular saying in Tamil Chattiyil Irundhal Aappayil Varum. (chattiyil = in earthern pot, irunthal = if available, aappayil = the hand instrument by which one draws the contents from the vessel, varum = could get). If the pot has some contents then only one will be able to draw from it. This is said in order to highlight the fact that there should be a deposit before one tries to withdraw. Now Muruga devotees have given a new interpretation to it. They said: “Sashtiyil (vridham - assumed) Irundhal Agappayil Varum (sashtiyil = during Sashti, irunthal = if abstinence is observed', agapayil varum = life will come in the internal cavity of the belly).
This means that if the women aspiring to become mother undergo penance during Sashti they would soon find their pot (womb) brimming with life. By worshipping Muruga, the women's aspiration of motherhood would soon be fulfilled. But it is not just the grace of motherhood that Lord Kanda grants to those aspiring for it by observing Sashti ritual (vritam). Devotees observing Sashti Vritam with devotion and dedication would be free from all consequences of karma and elevated to a state of peace, prosperity and happiness.
Devaraya Swamigal, an enlightened saint, has given beautiful expression to the importance of Kanda Sashti in his hymn, Kanda Sashti Kavacham. While Devarayar was engaged in business at Bangalore, he happened to meet Sri Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai, an erudite scholar in Tamil. Association with Pillai transformed Devarayar into a great poet. When the inherent devotion in Devarayar got combined with his literary knowledge, it gave birth to beautiful verses of hymns in praise of Lord Muruga. Residing at Palani, he used to worship Palani Andavar daily.
Once, on his way to the hill, he was pained to notice a group of persons suffering from various ailments in a medical camp. He then went to the shrine, bitterly poured out his emotion and prayed for their recovery. Lord Muruga then appeared in his vision and said: “Your prayer is heard and it would be fulfilled. Compose your songs in your beautiful Tamil in a way that would be acclaimed by all."
Devarayar then started composing his songs. He then proceeded to Tiruchendur. As he saw Tiruchendur Muruga in His splendour and glory, he was deeply moved and songs started coming from him spontaneously and effortlessly. He composed his remarkable works, Kanda Shasti Kavacham in six chapters. The song beinning with the wordsThudhipporkku Val Vinai Pom describes the different types of Vel and the way it protects devotees from different adverse influences. Sashti Kavacham also describes the magnificence of Muruga, His infinite grace, His compassion and beauty. The Soorasamharam is also described in vivid details. In the passage: Ethanai Kuraigal the poet says:
There may be wrongs, shortcomings on my part,
Misdeeds I would have committed out of ignorance
It is your duty, Oh Lord Muruga, to pardon me and forgive me
Just as a loving mother would do to her children
And lead me to the correct path.
Going through Kandar Sashti Kavacham, one admires literature and devotion blending beautifully. Going through the range and depth of the song, it is clear that no ordinary mortal could have composed such an outstanding work and only one who has been blessed by Muruga could achieve this feat.
The word kavacham means shield. To those who chant Kanda Sashti Kavacham, the grace of Kanda serves as a shield against all possible threats, all diseases and evil effects. Neither the effects of karma nor any adverse effects arising out of planetary influence can harm these devotees. The Kanda Sashti Kavacham not only shields them from all possible dangers but also gives them confidence, strength, courage and power to sail through this turbulent ocean of life.
A sea of humanity converges in Tiruchendur on the occasion of Kanda Sashti to witness enactment of the scene of Soorapadman being defeated. Here, there is no difference of caste, class or creed. All those congregated on the seashore are united in their devotion towards Muruga. They have all come from far and near to witness this rare event called Soorasamharam. The wedding of Lord Muruga (Tiru Kalyanam) is also solemnized on the next day after the Soorasamharam. After the worship, they all return with the supreme satisfaction of having the blessings of Muruga. They have full faith that the Lord they worship with reverence would always stand by them, provide them guidance and grace and ensure them happiness and prosperity.