Skanda Sashti is a six-day South Indian festival to Skanda, the Lord of Religious Striving, also known as Murugan or Karttikeya. It begins on the day after the new moon in the month of Karttika (October/November) with chariot processions and pujas invoking His protection and grace. The festival honors Skanda's receiving His lance, or vel, of spiritual illumination, and culminates in a victory celebration of spiritual light over darkness on the final day. Penance, austerity, fasting and devout worship are especially fruitful during this sacred time.
Skanda is a God of many attributes, often depicted as six-faced and twelve-armed. Saivite Hindus hail this supreme warrior, the commander-in-chief of the great army of devas, or beings of light, a fearless defender of righteousness. They honor Him as the mystic healer of ailments and master of yoga, guiding those who persevere on enlightenment's path. Legends say He was the first to renounce the world and step onto the path of kundalini yoga. God Siva bestowed upon His son Skanda dominion over the chakras of willpower, direct cognition, and the purest, child-like divine love. Murugan is the tutelary Deity of the Tamil community.
It is considered meritorious to undertake a six-day fast, known as the Skanda Sashti Vrata, or vow, in empathy for Skanda's titanic struggle. Many abstain from all foods, while some permit themselves fruits and simple, unsalted foods. Following immediately after Diwali, the fast is an ideal antidote to that festival's feasting, revelry and overindulging. On the day the fast is broken, families enjoy a sweet pudding called payasam along with fried delicacies. A six-part prayer for protection, called the Skanda Sashti Kavacham, is chanted. Six is a number associated with this God. Another discipline is to stand in a river, facing upstream, draw a six-pointed star and write "Saravanabhava," His supreme mantra, on the water before doing ablutions. Special decorations adorn home shrines, featuring images of the peacock and the fighting rooster. Devotees pilgrimage to Murugan's temples, especially the temple in Lanham, Maryland, and the seaside sanctuary at Tiruchendur in South India.
It is said that eons ago, Skanda fought a powerful asura, or demon, named Surapadman, who embodied the forces of selfishness, ignorance, greed and chaos. Skanda defeated and mastered those lower forces, which He uses, to this day, to the greater good. The subdued demon became his faithful servant, the proud and beautiful peacock on which Skanda rides.
In Murugan temples, the Deity is worshiped with oblations of special unguents, milk and other offerings. Crowds gather to watch a dramatic play depicting the conquest of Surapadman. Millions flock to see this drama performed on the beaches of Tiruchendur, where the legendary battle occurred.