| The sixth day of the bright half in the month of
Kartik is celebrated as Skanda Shashthi and commemorates the birth of Skanda,
also called Kartikeya, Subrahmanya, and Murugan. He
is the son of Shiva and Parvati and was born to annihilate the evil demon Tarika.
He has six heads and was nursed by six foster mothers. The festival is especially
important in south India, because Skanda is one of the most important deities
in the south. The numerous temples dedicated to this god in the southern part
of the country celebrate the day with tremendous enthusiasm and devotion.
According to the Shiva Purana, a fearful demon called Taraka had obtained a boon
from Brahma that no one but the son of Shiva would be able to slay him. At the
time, Shiva was an ascetic in deep meditation and would not even look at a woman.
Tarika believed himself to be invincible, and therefore terrorized heaven and
earth. When his atrocities went past the limit and the world was in danger of
being annihilated, the gods desperately tried to break Shiva's meditation. Kama,
the god of love, and his wife Rati were called upon to perform their passion play
and help break the penance. This would enable Shiva to notice Parvati, a beautiful
young girl, who was in love with him and came to pray to him every day with the
hope that he would accept her as his wife someday. Therefore, as planned, when
Parvati came to pray to Shiva, Kama shot his arrow of love at the god. This disturbed
Shiva's concentration, and he opened his eyes. His eyes fell on Parvati and, because
of the arrow; he immediately fell in love with her and married her. His love play
with her however, went on for a thousand years without the marriage being consummated.
gods, however, were waiting for Shiva to consummate his marriage and produce a
son. They decided to force Shiva to end the love play.
Agni used his heat to make the atmosphere unbearably hot. To check on this, Shiva
came out of his nuptial chamber. Since his seed had already been produced, however,
it could not be wasted. He let it drop in a heap, which Agni was asked to swallow.
The intensity of Shiva's semen was so great that even Agni was unable to retain
it. He let it fall into the river Ganga, who in turn washed it onto her banks.
Here, from the semen, arose a six-headed boy, as beautiful as the moon and as
bright as the sun. The gods delivered this boy to the six Kritik to be nourished
by them. They offered him their breasts and the six-headed boy was nurtured. From
them, he was named Kartikeya, the descendant of the Kritikas. After he became
a young man, Kartikeya was made the god of wars, and commander of the celestial
armies. He grew up to kill Taraka.
A fast is observed on this day because it is believed to help overcome all difficulties.
Observing this fast is also believed to bless one with a son. It is therefore
very popular with women, who also pray for the safe delivery of their child. Women
however restrict their prayers to the home, as they are not allowed to enter Skanda
temples. People also ask for favors on this day, and promise to give special thanks
if their favor is fulfilled.