Benefits Of Sashti Viratham
Sashti Viratham is Hindu term for the practice of fasting on the 6th lunar days after every Full Moon and New Moon phase of lunar months. Sashti Viratham is observed to pray and propitiate Lord Muruga or Karthikeya. The 6th day after No Moon or during the waxing phase of Moon is specially considered very auspicious.
How to observe fasting for God Muruga:
Sashti viratam or fasting is dedicated to the Hindu God Muruga, also known as Skanda, Kanda, Karthik and Shanmuga.
Fasting is practiced by abstaining from food for 24 hours – beginning from one sunrise to the other of the next day. Many people also maintain fast by eating fruits throughout the day. During the time of fast devotees of Muruga listen to stories of God Muruga, reading Skanda Purana or reciting Skanda Sashti Kavasam. Many have early morning bath and visit Muruga temples.
Kanda Shasti Vratam:
Though this Sashti fasting can be observed every month, Kanda Shasti celebration is the most important. It is a 6-day festival in the new Moon phase of the lunar month of Aippasi or Aswin that occurs between months of October- November.
Six temples in Tamil Nadu state of India is considered sacred for God Muruga and this festival is celebrated with grand decorum. The six temples are Tiruchendur temple (Sea-shore temple near Tirunelveli), Thirupparankunram temple (temple near Madurai), Palani Hill or Swami Malai temple (temple near Kumbakonam), Thiruthanigai Hill temple (temple in Chennai) and Pazhamudhir Cholai Hill temple (temple near Madurai).
Importance of six day fasting – Devotees of Muruga prefer to abstain from eating solid food and spend the days in meditation and other devotional exercises. So, after these practices, a true devotee is expected to emerge with a pure consciousness of Muruga, the righteous being. The devotee has a cleaner body and mind triumphing over negative thoughts and tendencies in his or her nature, preparing oneself to receive the pure energy of the Universe.
Mythology of Kanda Shasti:
Mythological stories in different religions relate about our souls journey, the highest pinnacle conquered and the means to reach it.
Once the Gods were being harassed by demons under the leadership of a demon named Surapadma. Unable to deal with these lesser beings, the Gods begged to Shiva for his help. Shiva and Parvati sent their son Muruga, endowing him with divine powers to fight the demons. Muruga is said to have defeated the demon Surapadma after a battle of six days. Therefore, the sixth day is celebrated as Sura Samharan in most of the temples. After singing in praise of Muruga for five days, in many Muruga temples, the incident of victory over asura is enacted by staging effigies of four asuras which are slayed by piercing the lance or Vel of Muruga.
Shasti fasting is considered very sacred because it signifies triumph of God’s consciousness within us over the negative bickering in our minds. God’s consciousness brings before us many possibilities to overcome hurdles and gain success in our missions
Meaning and Significance
‘Murugu’ means ‘beauty’; hence ‘Murugan’ means ‘Beautiful one’. Where there is beauty, love shines; where there is love, truth sparkles. When we seek the Truth, we get liberated.
It is said that Lord Muruga taught the Indian language Tamil to Saint Agasthiar. Lord Muruga Himself sat as the leader for the academy of poets (Tamil Sangam) in Madurai (Tamil Nadu) and the language flourished as a result. Accordingly, He is called the God of Tamil.
It is written in Kanda Puranam that Saint Vasistha has said that if one worships Lord Muruga on Friday and fasts on that day, all his wishes will get fulfilled. Lord Muruga was brought up by Karthigai maids. By worshipping Him on the Karthigai star day and observing a fast, one’s problems will be removed and one will be liberated. This was a wish granted by Lord Shiva Himself to the Karthigai maids.
History of Lord Muruga’s birth
God, Who does not have a beginning or an end, takes an incarnation (avatar) to destroy the evildoers and to save His devotees. The following is about the avatar of Lord Muruga.
Goddess Parvati did penance and married Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati’s marriage is said to be knowledge and grace joined together to give Bliss, i.e., Lord Muruga. All the deities went to Lord Shiva and pleaded Him to do something as they could not tolerate the demon Soorapadman’s cruelty. Lord Shiva took a form along with six faces (i.e., Sathyojatham, Vamadevam, Thathpurusham, Eesanam, Aghoram and Atho).
From the third eye of each face, a fire spark came out. Lord Shiva asked Vayudevan (God of wind) and Agnidevan (God of fire) to take the six fire sparks to the Ganges River. Later Ganga (the Name of the Ganges River deity) took them to Sarvana pond. The six fire sparks became six beautiful babies on six red lotus flowers. When Goddess Parvati hugged them together, they joined to become one form with six faces, twelve hands and was named Skandan (another name for Lord Muruga). Six ladies called Karthigai maids took care of Him. Hence, He was also called Karthigeyan. His other names include Kumaran, Mayilvaganan, Kaangeyan, Velayuthan, Gugan, Swaminathan, Subramanian, Saravanabavan, Vishagan, Devasenapathy, Vallimanallan, Soorasankaran, etc.
He performed several divine acts (leelas) when He was young. When Soorapadman’s cruelty went to an extreme, Lord Shiva thought it was time for his destruction. He gave the eleven Rudras eleven weapons, and Parvathi gave the Vel weapon to Lord Muruga for the war. The Vel, or sacred spear, is the most powerful weapon in Lord Muruga’s armory.
Lord Muruga stayed in Thiruchendur with His army. He fought for ten days and destroyed Soorapadman and his brothers. Soorapadman had such a big ego that he did not want to surrender to the Lord. He took the form of a big mango tree. Lord Muruga’s spear split the tree and one part became a peacock and the other became a cock. Lord Muruga took the peacock as His vehicle and the cock as His flag. Soorpadman was so cruel and had such a big ego, yet he still reached such a good state — to always be beside the Lord. Imagine what kind of state Lord Muruga’s devotees would get!
About Lord Muruga (in brief)
Name : Murugan
Birth Place : Saravana pond
Date of birth Vaishaka month, Vishaga star
Father : Lord Shiva
Mother : Goddess Parvati
Brothers : Lord Ganapati and Lord Ayyappan
Wives : Valli, Devayani
Weapon : Shakti vel (spear)
Vehicle : Peacock
Flag : Cock
Aim of Incarnation : Destroying evil and saving Devotees
Place he resides : Devotees heart
Sages, who have attained enlightenment through penance and contemplation, have set certain eternal principles to be followed. These principles which define an ideal way of life has come to be known as Sanathana Dharma. Time and again, there appeared saints to remind us of the need to adhere to these principles, the need to maintain our rich cultural heritage and the need to uphold our high spiritual values. The saints interpreted the Vedas in a lucid style and awakened the consciousness of the people. By explaining the worldly objects as material and spiritual, myths and reality, they stressed the ideals of truth and directed humanity to the correct destination. They have explained the relevance of these principles even in the changing world conditions. They continue to show us the path of perfection that leads to ultimate state of God realization and salvation.
Among many saints who guided humanity to the path of perfection, Arunagirinathar occupies a unique position. His songs not only kindled the flame of devotion in the minds of people but also the light of knowledge in their intellect. He showed the way to the life of virtue and righteousness. He showed the way to the Lotus Feet of Muruga.
Arunagirinathar was born* in 15th century at Thiruvannamalai. As his father expired soon after his birth, his mother, Muthamma and sister, Adhi, brought him up. They aspired to bring him up in the rich cultural and religious tradition. Arunagiri showed a receptive mind and even studied the scriptures but his interests turned towards sensual pleasure. The mother and sister were there to love him but the father was not there to discipline him. Overtaken by disease and dejection, Arunagiri decided to end his life and leaped from the tower of Thiruvannamalai temple. But rather than falling to the ground, he found himself in the hands of a saviour. “You are not born to die. You are born to save lives. You are not born to fall but make others rise. You are born to fulfill a divine mission. You are the chosen one to sing the glory of Lord Muruga..” The saviour, who was none other than Lord Muruga Himself, said. Arunagiri, who has been rescued from the darkness of death, now found himself before a power who radiated brilliant rays of brightness. He now got the vision of Lord Muruga.
Arunagiri could not believe his eyes and ears. Lord Muruga was standing before him majestically, holding the sparkling Vel (lance), His Mayil (peacock) nearby and exuding an aura of charm and splendour. It was as if all the power, beauty and knowledge of the universe had personified and descended on earth. Overwhelmed with emotion and wondering how he became worthy of such an enormous grace, Arunagiri folded his hands and bowed in reverence. Words failed him. The Lord, full of mercy, blessed him, conferred him the saintly advice and set out the sacred tasks before him. Arunagiri was delighted at being initiated to saint-hood direct by Lord. Having got the blessings of Muruga, he composed and rendered extempore, his first song “Muthai Tharu…”
Arunagiri then proceeded to Vayalur and prayed before Lord Muruga. It is believed that the Lord again appeared before him in the form of a person and ordained him: “Sing about Me, about My Vel (lance), about peacock (Mayil) about Seval (rooster) about Vayalur and about my various other abodes”. “It is indeed a rare honour to be able to sing Thy glory”, Arunagiri said and prostrated before Vayalur Muruga in total submission and dedication. After worshiping the shrine of Poyya Ganapathy nearby, he set out his historic journey. The journey, that took him to many holy places, gave him an illuminating experience.
Aiming at emancipation and salvation, many saints followed a strenuous path. They pursued their path vigorously and reached their goal. But in case of Arunagirinathar even without undergoing any struggle, he reached an ideal goal. While other saints, who led a life of virtue and devotion, realized God at the end, Arunagiri, who went after carnal pleasure, realized God at the very beginning. Strange indeed are the ways of God. It was a person as Arunagiri, the Lord had chosen to be his ideal disciple. As if to prove the choice correct, Arunagiri, came out of his world of illusion, lived up to the high demands of his new role and admirably fulfilled the divine task expected of him.
Tiruvannamalai has transformed Arunagiri into an enlightened sage and Vayalur has made him an erudite scholar. Arunagiriathar composed number of songs, in his inimitable style on Muruga. It is true that Arunagiri had the grace of Muruga. He had the knowledge and devotional bend of mind. What equally moved him was his ‘temple experience’. He visited the six abodes of Muruga; Tiruchendur, Tirupparamkundram, Tiru Avinangudi, Swami Malai, Tiruthani and Pazhamudhir Solai, the places where Muruga performed various acts of bravery, marriage, renunciation, enlightenment and redemption. Like all saints, he never remained at one place and was always on the move. The temples enlightened him and inspired him to compose. He visited over 260 temples of Shiva and Vishnu and other deities in Tamil Nadu. Every temple had a unique history of its own. Impressed by the sanctity, the power and importance of the temple, Arunagiri composed songs on the Lord, bringing forth all the the unique characteristics. While referring to the history of a temple, we often find special mention being made about Arunagiri’s visit there, as if his mere visit has brought sanctity and sacredness to the temple. After the visit that took him to many shrines in Tamil Nadu, neighbouring States, distant Banaras and Kadir Kamam, Arunagiri returned to Tiruvannamalai to lead a quiet life of devotion. The King Prabhuda Devaraja honoured him and granted him the privileged status of a ‘Poet of the Royal Court’.
According to estimates, Arunagirinathar has composed over 16,000 songs but only 1365 songs have been traced. He did not differentiate between Shivite and Vaishnavite thoughts though the difference, in some form or degree, did exist in his time . Most of his songs ended with the term: “Perumale”, the term normally used by Vaishnavites to address Lord Maha Vishnu. He referred Muruga as “Malon Marugane” (Son-in-law of Maha Vishnu – Thirumal), as, according to legend, Muruga’s consorts, Valli and Deivayanai were daughters of Thirumal in their previous births. Arunagiri conveyed messages of truth and Dharma by citing instances from Ramayana and Mahabharatha. Kandhar Anuboothi (The Divine Experience),is considered as the quintessence of Vedhas and Upanishad. He says one need not fear death if he has knowledge of what happens to soul after death. Death is not an end in itself. It is transition from a temporal world to an immortal world, from material to spiritual and from Maya (illusion) to real. These viewpoints reflect the ideals expressed in the dialogue between God of Death (Yamaraja) and Naciketas, the nine year old inquisitive boy as revealed in Kathopanishad. Arunagirinathar also composed Kandhar Alamgaram (The ornament of verses adoring Muruga), Kandhar Andhathi, Vel, Mayil and Seval Virutham, Thiru Ezhu Kootrirukkai and Thiruvakuppu. In most of his songs, Arunagiri stressed the value of Sakthi worship. There are many references in his songs which indicate that Sakthi had incarnated in different forms for the protection and upliftment of humanity.
It is said that God, though formless, takes many forms to bless His devotees as they wish.
Sri Ramakrishna says
Satchidananda is like an infinite ocean. Intense cold freezes the water into ice, which floats on the ocean in blocks of various forms; Likewise, through the cooling influence of bhakti, one sees forms of God in the Ocean of the Absolute. These forms are meant for the bhaktas, the lovers of God. (page 191, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Vol. 1.)
Muruga and Tamil
Of the various forms of the Supreme Godhead, that of Sri Muruga, the Lord Subrahmanya of the puranas (epics), is the most popular in Tamil Nadu. Like the Ayyappa legend of Kerala or the Srinivasa legend of Tirupati, Tamil Nadu has its own legend: Muruga.; The Lord Subrahmanya, son of Shiva, who was born to kill Taraka Asura is worshipped as Muruga (the boy form of Subrahmanya), in all splendour and great romance found perhaps nowhere else. Hundreds or perhaps thousands, of temples all over the world offer worship to the Great God Muruga, but nowhere else he is worshipped with more fervour than in Tamil Nadu, whose natives consider Him as one among them.; The love and respect that they bestow on Him is so great that they even gave a daughter of theirs, Valli in marriage to Him! To them He is almost human.; His divine attributes do not frighten them. Muruga is called Tamil Kadavul, Tamil God. It is said that the word Murugan is synonymous with Tamil. Being a non-Tamil speaking person with only a limited knowledge of the language, I do not venture to elaborate on this.; I should mention that the knowledge of Tamil itself was imparted to the sage Agasthyar by none other than Muruga!
The six battle camps
Though most of Tamil Nadu’s temples are devoted to Muruga, of special significance are the famous Aru Padai Veedu temples; These are said to be the temples erected at the six sites where Muruga had battle camps during His celestial fights with demons and evil powers. Though not traditionally counted among them, Marudhamalai temple is also considered equivalent.
The legends attached to these six temples are partly from Puranas, partly local legends; The saint Nakkeerar who lived more than 2000 years ago composed the celebrated Murugaa Truppadai. It seems that some Muruga legends find their authenticity in the verses of Truppadai. Another notable classic is the Tiruppugazh sung by the sage Arunagirinathar who lived in the 14th century.
Kaumaaram: Sri Sankara’s Sampradayas
Though Muruga worship was popular in Tamil Nadu (Kerala was also a part of the Tamil kingdoms then), since thousands of years ago, it was Sri Sankara who introduced authentic code of worship (sampradayas) for Muruga.. Out of the 6 sampradayas the great saint propagated, one is Kaumaaram, (of Kumara, Subrahmanya).
Muruga is worshipped in Kerala as Subrahmanya and in some parts of Northern India as Karthikeya. The famous Muruga temples in Kerala are: Payyannur (Northern Kerala), Harippad (Alappuzha Dist.), Udayanapuram, Kidangoor, Kodumbu (Palakkad Dist.), Ulloor (near Thiruvananthapuram), Thampanoor (Thiruvananthapuram), Perunnai (near Changanassery, Kottayam Dist.) and Cheriyanadu near Chengannoor (Alappuzha Dist.)
Birth of Kumara
The birth (rather, appearance) of Muruga is narrated in the famous Sanskrit classic ‘Kumara Sambhavam’ of poet Kalidasa. The story of Daksha Yagam is very famous. Shiva’s first wife Sati ended her life and was later re-born as Uma (Parvati) as Himavan (King of Himalayas)’s daughter.
Shiva plunges into meditation
Sati’s death proved a trying experience to Shiva and He soon merged in deep meditation, totally oblivious of the external world around Him. Nobody in the three worlds dared to disturb His concentration.
Demons conquer the world
It was a common occurrence those days, as it is today: divine powers represented by gods (Devas) and evil forces represented by demons (Asuras) alternately gained control over the universe. Now it was the turn of the demons. It is a strange fact that even the demons got their powers through meditation. The horrible demons Tarakasura and his brother Surapadman thus wanted to conquer the whole universe. For this, they engaged themselves in intense austerities. Shiva, who was pleased with their devotion, granted their wish. After obtaining powerful boons from Shiva, the asura brothers and their innumerable companions devastated the Earth and tortured gods and good men. They soon imprisoned devas.
Devas strike on a scheme
Devas knew that it was Shiva’s boons that made the demons almost invincible. Hence they deduced that only Shiva could find a way to free the world from their clutches. A heroic son to be born of Shiva alone could do bridle the wicked asuras. But how could that ever happen when Shiva was lost in meditation for ages? How long the devas and other holy beings should suffer? The gods thought hard and found the answer to their question: Shiva’s meditation has to be disturbed, whatever may be its other consequences. Soon they devised a way to achieve this: It was really risky, but was worth a try. After all, anything was better than the destruction of all creation as a consequence of the chaos.
Kama Deva comes to the rescue
They knew Kama Deva could do the trick. His arrow consisting of five flowers would disturb any meditation. It was no ordinary arrow, but an arrow of love that would pierce any hard heart and create a feeling of love. When devas proposed the plan, Kama Deva shuddered at the thought:: what an idea! To distract the Great God’s meditation and be a target of His wrath! He knew he was heading for a great disaster. The devas also knew the seriousness of the matter. Devas persisted upon the Cupid and on second thought, Kamadeva agreed to the proposal.
The critical moment
A drama was carefully enacted in the presence of Shiva. Kama Deva’s wife Rati Devi came to help her husband. The moment was selected when Parvati came to Shiva’s presence. All the god of Love had to do was to shoot his magical arrows: straight into Shiva’s heart. The arrow did its job. But something horrible also happened: Shiva opened His Third eye to see what had disturbed His meditation: Fire itself came from the Third Eye and poor Kamadeva instantly turned into ashes. Rati, Kama Deva’s wife, saw the shocking tragedy. Weeping bitterly, the goddess of love prayed to Shiva and asked His forgiveness for her husband’s outrageous behaviour and begged for his life. Shiva granted her wish. To the great joy of Rati and the devas who were watching the drama with rapturous attention, Kama Deva was brought back to life: There was a slight problem though: He would be invisible to all except to his wife. This is the reason why even today Kama Deva is invisible to us, though anybody would vouch for his unseen presence!
Kama Deva, who risked his own life for others did his job remarkably well. Soon the spring of love came back to Shiva’s heart. Parvati, who was the person whom he chanced to see when he opened his eye, soon became the object of his love.
The six fiery sparks
Meanwhile, Shiva’s Third eye, when it opened from the depths of meditation gave out six fiery sparks. It was too hot for even for Agni, the god of Fire. The sparks, when they reached the Sharavana lake at the Himalayas took the form of six cute babies. The local Kartika maidens were awestruck to see six beautiful baby boys on six huge lotuses in the lake. They lovingly brought up the babies. (Brought up by Kartika maidens, the boy Subrahmanya is also called Kartikeya). When the babies were a little older, the maidens brought them to Parvati. She immediately recognized them to be her own children. By sheer magic of maternal love, Parvati joined together all the babies and the result was: a cute six-faced baby! That was Kartikeya. Being six faced, he was called Shanmukha. Parvati named him Subrahmanya. Shiva and Parvati loved their offspring very much. He played with his elder brother, the elephant-faced Ganesh and grew up in Kailas as a darling of all! Devas silently bowed to him and knew the boy would one day release them from the atrocities of demons. It proved to be true in due course.
Skanda in Chinese legends
Skanda at Beijing Miaoying Temple
There are no official stories about how Skanda was accepted into the traditional Chinese Buddhist pantheon. However, it is generally accepted that Skanda’s features were adapted from a Chinese deity who appeared in the Chinese classical Ming novel Canonization of the Gods.
Some suggest that Skanda may have come from Hinduism as the war deity Kartikeya, who bears the title Skanda. Others point out that Skanda might also be a manifestation of Vajrapani, a Vajrayana bodhisattva who bears some relations to Skanda because they both wield vajras as weapons and are portrayed with flaming halos. He may also be connected through Vajrapani through a theory to his connection to Greco-Buddhism, as Wei Tuo’s image is reminiscent of the Heracles depiction of Vajrapani.
 Wei Tuo as a general and Miao Shan’s lover and admirer
When the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara was reincarnated as the princess Miao Shan, Skanda (known as Wei Tuo in this story) was one of her cruel father’s generals. He loved Miao Shan but realized he could not possibly be a proper partner to her, since she was a pure person.
However, Wei Tuo was inspired by Miao Shan’s kindness so he decided to stay faithful and devoted to Miao Shan, even if she wasn’t his wife. The two escaped Miao Shan’s father, and the general-suitor helped build Miao Shan a temple and a kingdom of her own. Soon however, the cruel king found them and killed them both.
The general, because of his devotion to Guan Yin, transformed into a bodhisattva himself, who vowed to always serve and protect Guan Yin. His appearance as a Chinese general is the direct forbear to his connection with Miao Shan.
 Wei Tuo as a warrior
Another story says that Miao Shan was told to be killed by her grandmother. Her grandmother forced Miao Shan to commit suicide by leaping into the sea because she was thought to have been an incarnation of a demon, when in fact she was not. The emperor told a loyal soldier named Luo Ping to pretend to throw Miao Shan to the ocean. He brought her with Yin Ma, the mother of Wei Tuo to her village. Years passed, an evil fish demon came. A disloyal soldier named Huo Yi, was sent from the fish demon to kill Miao Shan. The fish demon wanted revenge on Miao Shan because she was the incarnation of Ci Hang Da Shi, a Buddhist deva that put her in a lotus pond.
Huo Yi and his troops went to the village where Miao Shan and Wei Tuo lived and fought. Huo Yi’s son killed Wei Tuo. After Miao Shan became the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, she made Skanda a bodhisattva guardian. He became a bodhisattva because he took care of Miao Shan and loved her as a sister.
According to the lunar calendar, his birthday is at the 3rd day of the 6th lunar month.
FRIDAY, JULY 24, 2009
Every one of us has the potential to realize God. We also have the potential to receive and transmit vital knowledge. We can attain the powers of seers. We can synthesize amirtam (elixir) in our body. All of us can hear the divine resonance Om and more, and see the divine in the form of brilliant light and see the vast luminescence space within us and in it everything.
It has been said that:
andattil ullatu pindattil unddu
pindattil ullahu andattil unddu
“That which is in the universe is in the body;
That which is in the body is in the universe”
Since God dwells within us it behoves us to keep the mind pure; and only a pure and healthy body befits a pure and healthy mind. Is it not for this reason that saint Tirumoolar, who gave us the priceless work Tirumantiram, said
udambinai munnam illukendru irunhane undambinukku ulle uruporul kandane undambulay uttaman koyil kondaan endru undambinai yaaniruntu ombuhindranay
Devotees by the thousands undertake personal vows including mudikani (hair offering, above) and angapradakshina (literally, ‘body-circumambulation’).
Tirumoolar says, “Previously, I thought that my physical body was a base burden and a despicable liability. Then, I realized that the essence of everything (God, Sivaperuman) dwells within my body, and, because my body is a temple for the Supreme One, I now value it and take intense and infinite care of it”.
Since God’s abode (or, rather, one of God’s many abodes) is the self, the way to God, or the path to the Divine is also within one’s self. We care for the outer body by washing and cleaning.
What about the inner body? All of us take in food. How many of us eat the proper food at the proper time in the proper quantity? The inner body is cleaned automatically by the elimination of waste, foreign matter and some substances that are in excess of immediate requirements.
However, some essentials, for example fat, are stored for future use. During a time of shortage or when food is not taken in, stored fat sustains us. People who live in those parts of the world where periodic famines are experienced have a physique that is able to store considerable amounts of fat.
Though stored fat can come to your aid when food from outside can become scarce, excess storage could prove to be a hindrance. Once in a while it is prudent to clean up the warehouse.
On the sixth day of Kanda Sashti, Lord Senthil Andavar and his army of devotees engage the army of supertitan Cur in battle on the beach at Tiruchendur and vanquish them in an hour-long running battle. At last Cur hides in the form of a monstrous mango tree (below) at the bottom of the ocean, but Murugan hurls his Vel and splits the tree/demon into a cock and a peacock.
Kanda Shasti Vratam is observed once a year in the month of ‘Aippasi’ (October–November) starting from the ‘piratamai’ the 1st phase of the brightening moon.
Of all Kanda temples it is the one in Tirunchendur in Tamil Nadu, India that draws the largest number of Kanda devotees. All roads, at the time of the Vratam, seem to lead to Tirunchendur. Beside the temple by the sea there appears to be a sea of heads. The Kantan’s Tiruvilaiyaadal (divine sport) Soora Samharam is enacted during the sixth day of the festival. This is a drama to grant a great boon to Curapatman by Kantan. Curapatman is given the honour of becoming Kantan’s vehicle mayil vahanam (peacock vehicle) and ceval kodi (the rooster on Kantan’s flag).
During the six days of Kanda Shasti, devotees, usually fast. They fast in many different forms: some devotees take only one meal a day and that single meal is the evening meal; to some that single meal consist of fruit and milk; others forego all solid foods, even abstain from taking medication take only a liquid diet; some even forego the liquid diet. Of the above forms taking milk would defeat the purpose of clearing long stored fat. Not taking any liquids could be harmful, as many unwanted matters tend to remain in the body. The ideal form of fast would be that during all six days and nights to abstain from all solid food and even medicine but take water, coconut water, strained orange juice and or such permissible liquids. These liquids help to flush out unwanted substances and to clean the body.
At the end of the six-day fast the body is indeed cleaner than it was before. The mind is cleansed by the pilgrimage, meditation, worship and other devotional activities. A pure mind in a pure body is a sublime combination and conducive to realizing the Divine. This is the reward and benefit of Kanda Shasti Vratam.
Many devotees, very much though they would like to undertake a complete fast, hesitate to do so at the thought of going without solid food for six days and six nights. Some devotees are concerned that the acidic digestive juices normally and habitually produced would irritate the lining of the stomach if there were no food for them to digest. If you are hungry and do not take food to assuage the pangs of hunger are you likely to develop stomach ulcers? In most cases, yes.
However, vratam is a misunderstood word. It does not mean mere fasting. Literally, the Sanskrit word vrata means ‘vow’. By extension, it means adhering to certain principles and disciplines. This may include fasting, but does not have to include fasting.
At the annual temple festivals in villages it is customary for everyone to skip at least one meal, and this meal is almost always the morning meal, or breakfast. The custom is almost universal and there is no choice in the matter of fasting; it is more or less compulsory. It should not be so; fasting should be voluntary. In those who undertake the fast unwillingly and without proper understanding there is hunger. Remember that, if you feel hunger, digestive acids are produced and the fast is broken. You might as well take food. More over it may not be appropriate to fast during all these festivals.
There was a time when I doubted that I would be able to undertake the six-day Kanda Shasti fast. However, years ago, a calamity proved to be a blessing in disguise. It was just after my marriage. Just as any couple we too had our quota of oodal and koodal. During one of those oodal times, both of us hadn’t talked to each other for two full days. At the end I realized I hadn’t eaten anything during those two days. I had not felt hunger, in fact not thought of food, for two days.
A truth dawned on me. It was a significant realization. If I could fast for two days then I could fast for six. I too could observe Kanda Shasti Vratam, specifically the fasting part of it. The success lies not in the denial of food but in refraining from all thoughts of it. The brain is prepared and preprogrammed (that is, the brain is told in so many words) not to expect food for the stomach for the next six days and, therefore, not to trigger the formation of chemicals essential for digestion. This is the secret how to fast without experiencing the pangs of hunger.
I discovered that this truth is known to the Vedar (aboriginal hunters). I once had the opportunity of meeting a Vedan (aboriginal hunter) and taking him to my home in the city. The modern living conditions did attract his attention. He was quite at home, however he didn’t show any attachment. I did ask him whether he along with his family would like to live with us for a good reason that he wouldn’t have to go without meals at times like in the jungle. And here anytime you go downstairs to the dining hall you can have food.
His reply surprised me. In spite of the comfort here he said he prefers the jungle habitat. He told me that he never felt hungry until he had food in his hands. That is he never thought of eating food until food was in his hands. He knew the secret of fasting and would not suffer the ailments that come from craving for or anticipating food. His wisdom may have been the common heritage of his people.
The great siddhars are reputed to subsist on very little food. There are the great seers who go on for long periods apparently not taking food. They do not grow thin; they do not show signs of starvation as we lesser mortals would under the circumstances. These great ones have succeeded in arresting the aging process. If they attain siddhi at 50 years of age they look as if they are 50 years old even when they reach the age of 100. If siddhi is attained at 16 years, they retain the looks of a 16 year old even at 60 years or forever for that matter.
Such siddhars, how do they manage not to eat for long periods not showing any signs of hunger, or starvation? They produce ‘amirtam’ from within the body and that sustains them.
During the vratam, the mind is focused on religious observances and due to pre programming the brain does not think of food; the brain is relaxed, as it does not have to cope with processing food for seven days. We are free to listen to, and to see the chittham and the ambalam within us. The Om nada (sound) we hear, we realize is the same sound at the time of creation created matter. We realize that Pillaiyar is the embodiment of the Om nada arising from the cosmic dance of the almighty. We also realize Kantan is the embodiment of the light of the almighty. Pillaiyar and Murugan are not different Gods but Siva himself appearing in different forms. A God has no aati (beginning) or antam (end). The Param Porul has no birth or death.
During the period of Kanda Shasti Vratam many devotees recite Kanda Shasti Kavasam. These are verses asking Kanda for protection. In verse after verse, numerous parts of the body are mentioned as requiring protection, but many more parts, and, it must be mentioned, vital parts are left unmentioned. It has been said, “Ask, and it shall be given unto you”. God always grants you what you ardently desire, so it might be prudent to ask for protection and leave it at that, and Kanda will protect your whole self.
Moreover, in reciting Kanda Shasti Kavasam the devotees ask for the torture and destruction of kaala tootar. Such infliction or annihilation, if carried out according to your instructions and request, would detract from your current account of merit. Did not some of your wishes, or rather curses, take such forms as:
kattu kattu kataridak kattu
(tie them up, tie them up even as they scream)
katti uruttu kaal kai muriya
(having tied them up roll them about so that their legs and arms break)
kuththu kuththu koor vadi velal
(prick them, prick them with your sharp and resplendent spear)
In another instance by reciting the Kanda Shasti Kavasam you are asking for the diffusion of the “manaiyil putaitta vancanai”, evil crafts buried in the home compound. At times of distress, many are inclined to believe that evil forces have been set upon them by enemies. Some fear that the cause of all the distress, disunion, misery they are experiencing are due to their enemies having evil crafts buried in home compounds. Surely such things cannot be lying buried in all home compounds of all those who recite the Kanda Shasti Kavasam.
In this instance as “Ask, and it shall be given unto you” God has to grant your wish. But how could He help to diffuse a buried evil craft when such a thing is not buried. However He is obliged to grant your wish. Prerequisite to fulfill your wish is initially an enemy who will have to bury the evil crafts in the home compound. Only then the evil crafts could be diffused. Imagine the complications.
Until a decade ago, the Tiruchendur Kanda Shasti festival invitation cum programme bulletin printed every year included Kanda Shasti Kavasam. I explained the consequences to the temple authorities, who have since discontinued the practice and, instead, print “Tiruchendur Tiruppukal” and other inestimable hymns in praise of Kantan.
There is another practice that needs reform. In enacting the Soora Samhaara Tiruvilayaadal the actors choose to jolt a live rooster vigorously. I appeal to those concerned to spare the rooster the pathetic ordeal. No harm should befall any peacock, rooster or for that matter any being and that too while enacting a Tiruvilaiyaadal.
In order to realize God you got to have a clear pure mind. A clean mind is conducive to realize that the path to the origin begins from within one’s self. The tradition of saying Tiruchitambalam before and after singing holy hymns is particularly noteworthy.
It is commonly understood that by saying Tiruchitambalam your are able to concentrate on the Tevaram, its meaning and effect. At the same time you are also able to focus your mind towards the centre of worship of Siva at Tillai, commonly known as Chidambaram, in Tamil Nadu, India. Chidambaram is also known as Tillai Ambalam (the temple amidst tillai trees) because, in earlier days, the temple was surrounded by tillai (Excoecaria agallocha Linn) trees. Siva, it is well known, is seen as the cosmic dancer, Nadaraja, in Tillai and is fondly known as Tillai Koottan.
Though the word ganga means river, when mentioned unqualified, would refer to the river of rivers, the sacred Ganga, flowing from the holy Himalayas. Likewise, when it is unqualified, the word koyil, which means temple, denotes Tillai Ambalam.
In the minds of every Saiva is an urge to visit Chidambaram at least once in his lifetime. Many devotees would undertake a pilgrimage to Chidambaram, to see Sivaperuman as Nadaraja along with his consort Sivakama Sundari. You enter the koyil of the cosmic dancer Tillai Koottan. To his right is the area of Chitampara Rahasyam. The priest would invite you to glimpse the rahasyam.
All you can see is a garland of a vilva (Aegle marmelos (L.) Corr.) leaves made of beaten gold. You are bound to appear puzzled or disappointed because you had hoped to see something marvelous and awesome. Where upon the priest will tell you firmly that that is the Chidamdara rahasyam. You will have to move away in order to make room for other eager devotees who have paid a fee to see nothing but nothing.
In Chidambaram when you see Sivakama Sundari Samedha Nadaraja (Nadaraja with Sivakama Sundari) in the perambalam (big temple), you see him externally. Looking on at the space allotted as the Chidambara rahasyam you become alive to the fact that he is performing his cosmic dance of creation in the chit (small) ambalam (temple) of your chittam (mind). You see him internally. This is a reward and benefit of the pilgrimage. One can gain the same result, that is see Him internally, by intoning “Tiru chit ambalam”(the small temple) or Tiru chit ambalam (temple in your mind).
The siddhars (great seers) achieved siddhi (success) by seeing in the chittam the Param. To see in the chittam (mind), Him, the Param in the luminous amparam (expanse) within one’s self is the Chidambara rahasyam, the secret of secrets.
It is worth emphasizing that the pilgrimage to the temple brings the same success to us. Uttering “Tiruchitambalam” also brings the same success to us. The supreme Siddhar dwells in our mind. Not only that, everything in the universe is within us. We realize that, indeed andattil ullatu pindhattil unddu.
When we sing Tevaram with open eyes God cannot but appear before us. When we sing Tevaram with eyes closed we see Him Who dwells in our mind, in all His glory, internally.
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