Vaikāsi Visākam is important to the Saivites, Vaishnavites and the Buddhists. To the Saivites, it is the day of the descent of Murugan; to the Vaishnavites it is Periyalvar’s jayanti and to the Buddhists it is the day of the great miracles of nativity, enlightenment and maha samadhi of Buddha.
The descent of Murugan is referred to as the Shanmuga avatāram. This descent was in answer to a prayer by the devas to rid the world of adharma caused by the three asura brothers, Soorapadman, Singamuhan and Tārakan. These brothers had obtaind great powers through intense penance and were harassing the devas. The devas appealed to Siva for help. Tradition has it that Siva added a sixth face to the existing five faces and this incident is spoken of in the celebrated work of Saint Kumaraguruparar as:
Ainthu mukaththodatho mukamum thanthu
Saint Tirumular in his Magnum Opus, the Tirumantiram, over two thousand years ago referred to this Divine incident as:
Āme pirān mukamainthodu māruya
Rāme pirānuk kathomukamārula.
From the forehead, Siva emitted six sparks of fire which enveloped the world with lustre. These sparks were carried by Vāyu and Agni to the Ganges which pushed them into Lake Saravana Poigai filled with lotuses and reeds. Philosophically the lotus represents the pure heart and the reeds represent the network of nerves in man’s physical body. Symbolically, the Divine Effulgence in the lake with its lotuses and reeds, are within each one. As Light and Life this Reality abides in the body, breath, senses, mind, intelligence and ego. These six facets of the human complex represents the six faces of Shanmugan.
In the Lake the sparks became six Divine children and were nursed by six Kārtika maidens popularly called as Karthigai Pengal. These children were embraced by the Divine Mother and became One with six faces and twelve hands. And thus descended Shanmugan, the incarnation of pure consciousness and divine knowledge on the pournima (paruvam) in the month of Vaikāsi.
Saint Kachchiappah Sivachariyar beautifully portrays the descent as, ‘With form and formlessness, without a beginning and as one and many, stood the column of Light, the Supreme Brahman, who with six merciful faces and twelve arms took the Divine Incarnation as Murukan for the redemption of the world,’
Aruvamum uruvumāki anāthiyāi palavāi onrāi
Brahmamāi ninra sothi pilambathor meniyākak
Karunaikoor mukangal ārum karangal pannirendu konde
Oru thiruMurukan vandhāngu udhiththanan ulakam uyya.
He then goes on to say, ‘That ever pure, Omnipresent Siva, who cannot be comprehended by speech or mind or even by the Vedas, assuming the form of six sweet babies, was gracefully seated on six lotus flowers in the Saravana Lake.’
Murugan is worshipped and adored also as Subramanyan, Shanmugan, Kārthikeyan, Guhan Saravanapavan, Arumugan etc. As Murugan, He is the ever young and beautiful; as Subramanyan, He is the Su Brahmanya the All-pervading spirit of the Universe – the essence from which all things are evolved, by which they are sustained and into which they dissolve. He is the Omnipresent One, the Commander-in-Chief seated on a peacock with the Vel and is depicted at times with the Divine Consorts, Devayani and Valli. As Shanmugan, He descended to destroy adharma. As Kārttikeyan, He was nursed by the Kārtika maidens. As Guhan, He resides in the cavern of one’s heart. As Saravanabavan, He belonged to Lake Saravana poigai. As Arumugan, He has six faces.
Generally Murukan is spoken of as Ceyon one who is ruddy in colour. However, the Sri Tattvanidhi4 describes Murukan as dark blue in colour holding the Vel; sometimes He is depicted with the two consorts, Devayanai and Valli. Besides Him stands the peacock gripping a snake with its claws. The blue indicates infinity. To the human perception all infinite expanses for example the sky or ocean, appear blue. Murukan is the Infinite Reality existing in the cavern of the heart – the Guhan. This reality expresses Itself through the mind and together with the five sense organs, forms His six faces – Shan(six)-mukham.
The peacock is symbolic of vanity and pride. The serpent represents ego, the carnal personality of man which keeps wanting the mundane pleasures. The ego is created by avidya or ignorance and this must be kept in check and channeled to discover the Truth. The peacock holding the serpent within its claws conveys this Truth. And finally the Vel, is symbolic of the removal of the negative and evil tendencies which veil the true Divine Self. The Vel represents wisdom, Jnāna Sakti; His Consort Valli is the power of Will and is the personification of Divine Love, Ichchā Sakti; and Devayanai is the power of action and is the personification of deathlessness, Kriya Sakti. The three saktis help in eradicating the demon ego, represented in this episode as Soorapadman, the asura. Murukan appeared for a special purpose to eradicate the adharma caused by the asuras and the ensuing battle with the asuras is the story of the Skanda Shashti fast. The manifestation of Shanmugan is the everlasting testament of victory, of Truth over falsehood, of Dharma over adharma. And those who fight against adharmic forces within or around themselves, are said to be the ‘faithful warriors of Murukan’ and reflect his splendour – the Muruga amsam5
Thus it is seen that on this special day of Vaikāsi Visākam, the young and ever beautiful One came down for a specific purpose. But what is important is that this Divine Avatāram is continuously going on within man. Saint Arunagirinathar says that one should bear this in mind, draw strength and knowledge from this by meditating on the His sacred form for at least half a minute in order that he may be blessed with His grace.
Sarana kamalalayaththe arai nimisha neramettil
Tavamurai Dhyānam vaikka …
Vaikasi Visakam Poojai
Vaikasi Visakam is a ten-day festival in Lord Muruga Temples and special pujas and homas are performed during the period. A car festival, or pulling of chariots, is organized on the day.
In homes, Vaikasi Visakam is observed by performing special pujas to Lord Muruga.
Idols, portraits, paintings of Lord Muruga are thoroughly cleaned and decorated.
Usual puja procedures are followed. Sarkarai Pongal, a special neviedya, or prasad, is prepared on the day. People also visit a nearby Muruga Shrine and do pujas and offer prayers.
Prayers that are chanted on the day include Kanda Sashti Kavacham, Subrahmanya Bhujangam and Shanmukha Kavacham.
Some people opt for an elaborate Sahasranama Archana and conduct special pujas by inviting a priest.