Hindus believe God reveals itself in many ways to different people and cultures. Or conversely, Hindus believe in the freedom of expression of your love/aspiration for God (i.e. the ability to decorate, depict, or approach God) in whichever form or name you choose is inspirational for you. – kaveri.org
Of the many names and forms, one which is widely celebrated among Tamil culture, is Murugan. To the Tamil people He represents Nature itself (in particular the hill ranges and vast fields of green). To tantrics he represents the kundalani sakthi. Murugan denotes everlasting youth, beauty, love, compassion, artfulness, valor, and strength. He is the jewel or guide within us, who through His grace pulls or guides you out of the veil/thicket of maya to the Source (Siva) – “ஜீவனை சிவனாக்கிடுவான்” – one who takes the jiva-atma towards Siva. Towards northern India, Murugan is more popularly known as Skanda or Karthikeya.
One of the most important festivals of celebration to Murugan devotees, is the Kandar Shasti festival – the six day celebration of Lord Murgan’s victory over the asurus (ego, ignorance) around October/November. Here is my retelling of the story behind celebration, in very brief. But before we begin, are these stories real? Depends, are you real? What is real? First you’ll need to answer that question. These stories are no more real than you are. For most Hindus, these stories takes place in two dimensions — one being in a different plane of existence, and the other being within. The point of these stories is the ability to take the mind to lofty heights, thus never allowing us to deviate from keeping in touch with the cosmic nature of the universe — and taking the definition of God, universe, consciousness, matter, energy, space, time, etc across much larger boundaries. Now on with the story.
The asuras (personifying ego, ignorance) had gone rampant and were torturing all the devas (personifying all that is evolved or pure). Siva was powerless to stop them since it was through His boon that the asuras had assumed such power (from a penance performed by the leader of the asuras). So with this thought in mind, during a divine union of Siva and Sakthi (which generally lasts for an entire cosmic cycle), Siva’s concentration gets interrupted resulting in Him releasing his seed – as a divine spark emanating from his forehead / third eye. The fiery spark, as it falls to the Earth, splits into six, and made its way to the wombs of six wives of the sages of constellation Kritikka, the “Karthigai Pengal”, while they were bathing in a river, “Saravana Poigai”. The six children were delivered to lotus flowers that found their way into a thicket of weeds (sara vana). After they were nursed by the Kritikkas, Sakthi (as Parvati) unites the six into one, assuming the form of a youthful, valorous, six-headed divine being, who came to be popularly known through different names and manifestations as Muruga, Shanmugha, Saravana, Karthikeya, Kumara, Subrahmanya, Guha, and Skanda. When he is of age, Sakthi gifts him the Vel, a spear embodying the total of her own Sakthi energy.
The Kandar Shasti festival celebrates the victory of the self over the aspects of the ego (arrogance, false-pride, sense attachments, selfishness,…) – and hence realization of the Self. To cut the story short, skipping over to the climax, Murugan goes after the leader asura Soorapadma. Soorpadma hides himself by morphing into a mango tree. Murugan sees through this cloak and sends his Vel (his trademark astral weapon, the spear) into the tree, which splits the tree/Soorapadma in half. One half of Soorapadma becomes a peacock, the other half becomes a cock. Murugan is often depicted with his Vel, riding on a peacock in full bloom, carrying a flag with the symbol of a cock.
That is, an aspect of the ego (Soorapadma) which had taken over the body/mind/senses, confronts the Self (manifest as Skanda/Murugan), becomes exhausted in the duel (runs and morphs into the tree), submits to defeat (the Vel splits it open), and serves then after in union with the Self (as the peacock and cock), and is inseparable from the Self.
This is celebrated on the sixth day at Thiruchendur, where the duel took place (in a different time and space – in Hinduism the macrocosm and microcosm are both two sides of the same coin). The duel is reenacted every year and watched by a crowd of over a hundred thousand people.
A similar concept is seen in Navaratri celebration, the evil Mahishasura (morphed in the form of a raging bull, the bull representing stubbornness and inertia – ego) is slain by Durga. The very same bull now appears as Nandi (well actually there is another story), with his gaze merged in Siva. Note also that in both cases: Murugan’s defeat of Surapadma and Durga’s defeat of Mahishasura – the demons (representing aspects of the ego) were not destroyed – but transformed.
What is the Nature of Lord Karttikeya? Lord Karttikeya, Murugan, first guru and Pleiadean master of kundalini yoga, was born of God Siva’s mind. His dynamic power awakens spiritual cognition to propel souls onward in their evolution to Siva’s feet. Om Namah Sivaya.
– Sloka 24, Dancing with Siva