Today is Subramanya Shashti or Margashira Shuddha Shashti ( Shasti is the 6th day of the 14 day phase of moon, shuddha shashti is the 6th day after every full moon day).
Every year a famous car festival is being held in Kukke Subramanya (pilgrimage in Karnataka) on ‘Margashira Shuddha Shashti’ with special poojas to the Lord Subramanya.
Story behind it is Kukke Subrahmanya is on the bank of river Dhara. According to Hindu Mythology Lord Kumaraswamy came to this place after killing the demon rulers Taraka, Shoorapadmasura and others in a war; and the Lord washed his Shakthi Ayudha (a battle-ax of the type of a bayonet) in this river.
From this onwards the river is famous as Kumaradhara. After battle with the demon, Lord Kumaraswamy came to the top of Kumaraparvatha along with his brothers Lord Ganesha, Veerabahu.. He was received by Lord Indra along with other Gods; pleased by the success of the war Indra prayed the Lord to be Kind enough to marry his daughter Devasena. This was agreed upon courteously and the marriage took place on the banks of Kumaradhara on ‘Margashira Shuddha Shashti’ (The shashti is on the first half of Margashira Masa.) Lord kumaraswamy also gave a darshan to Vasuki, the head of the Nagas, who was making a penance here. Vasuki prayed the Lord to stay along with him permanently in the place and the Lord blessed Vasuki with the boon.
From that time it a believed that the Lord has made his spiritual presence in this shrine along with his wife Devasena and Vasuki.
An exceptional feature of being a Bharateeya which makes me extremely proud of being one is integral part of our Dharma which mandates revering every aspect of Nature. We revere cows as “Gomata (Mother)” and snakes as Nagadeva (Snake God), Elephant (as Ganesh), Monkey (as Hanuman) and so on. Similarly trees like Banyan, Neem, Peepal, Bel are also worshipped. Rivers are humanized and worshipped. Even natural elements like the fire, the water, the wind, all are considered as God and there is an inherent acceptance that life cannot be sustained without the power of these elements.
This forms basic tenets of tradition of Nature Worship. In line with this tradition is the celebration of Naga Panchami. Panchami is the 5th day in the Waxing phase of Holy month of Shravana (after the Amavasya, the New Moon). This day is dedicated to worship of Snake God, Nagadeva (Cobra) – where feasible to live ones or images/idols representing them.
It is believed that Snakes are the saviours of human race from the wrath of demons and also, that the earth is balanced on the head of on Shesha Naga.
अनंतं वासुकिं शेषं पद्मनाभं च कम्बलम् | शंखपालं धार्तराष्ट्रं तक्षकं कालियं तथा || एतानि नवनामानि नागानां च महात्मनाम् | सायंकाले पठेन्नित्यं प्रातः काले विशेषतः || तस्मै विषभयं नास्ति सर्वत्र विजयी भवेत् ||
The Naga Dosha Nivarana Mantra above indicates 9 prominent Cobra snakes that are mentioned in our Puranas that are to be worshipped are Anant, Vasuki, Shesh, Padma, Kambal, Karkotak, Kalia, Aswatar, Takshak, Sankhpal, Dhritarashtra and Pingal. Some Indologists also have proven that these were not snakes but Kings of Naga Clan.
Nagas, rulers of the Patala-Loka (the nether world) were offsprings of Kashyapa born through his 3rd wife Kadru who had a running feud with Vinata, the second wife (whose offpring was the Eagle-King, Garuda, the nemesis of Nagas) Kadru challenged Vinata to a contest wherein the stakes were lifelong bondage of the loser to the winner. In order to ensure a win, Kadru asked her offsprings to fix this challenge which was promptly refused, upon which Kadru was riled and cursed the offspring to a fiery death in the sacrificial fire (yagna). In order to redeem this curse, Sage Kashyapa advised Nagas to approach Bhoodevi by worship of Goddesses in Sri Chakra – Raja Rajeshwari and Gayatri.
Bhoodevi was pleased with their devotion and teaches them the Sri Chakra Moola Mantra in order to get protected from the elements of the Earth’s nature – cold, heat, rains, storms, vagaries of seasons and other hostile elements. This gave power to the snakes who had to surface to earth from the Nether-world which was a more natural habitat for them.
It is believed that this mantra deeksha was done by Bhoodevi (Mother Earth) to the Nagas on 5th day (Panchami) of Shravana Maasa, in Varsha Ruthu and thus dedicated to worship of Nagas. It is also believed that Kaliya snake was conquered and redeemed by Lord Krishna on this day
Many of the traditions especially in the South India is related to the events during the churning of the ocean for sake of the celestial Nectar, Amrutha. Snake King Vasuki offered himself as a rope to churn the ocean with Mount Mandara. King Vasuki’s body was totally bruised, and as a mark of gratitude for the service it rendered, the Devas apply the paste of Ghee, Milk, Rice and Wheat Flour on the bruises for healing and it is this result of this good karma of King Vasuki that made the Nagas eligible to receive the blessing of this Moksha (redemption) Mantra.
This was the day thatalso brought reconciliation between Garuda and his cousins, Nagas and hence many time referred to as Garuda Panchami too
The rituals (as followed by my family – narrated by Aparna, my wife)
The festival is also called as Odahuttidavara habba (festival celebrating siblinghood). The primary deity worshipped is Lord Subramanya, the protector of Snakes and Lakshmi Narasimha (who gives the boon to Subramanya to protect the Snakes). A mandatory oil bath without use of any kind of shampoo, shikhekai (soapnut powder) is the order of the day. Till such time the puja (vrata) is completed nothing is consumed.
Immediately after the bath, the females of the family visit nearest Antihill (abode of Snake god) and peform puja and offer milk. They then pray Lord Subramanya’s Incarnation (Indian King Cobra) for the well-being of their brothers and their families. They collect the soil from the anthill and return home to continue with their vrata (puja) at home.
With the soil from anthill, a symbolic anthill and an idol of snake is created which forms the object of home worship. The prescribed flower for this worship is Kedige (Ketaki or Screw pine) and Tamarind (Hunisekayi). The other offering include raw Milk, Gejjevastra, Arishina/Turmeric powder, Kumkuma and soaked Bengal gram.
With raw Tambittu (dish made of rice), a cup and a cradle is prepared and installed along with the anthill and idols. The other important item is Chigalu Unde – made of Tamarind(Hunisekayi), Jaggery(Bella) and Black Sesame (Yellu). Chigali and Tambittu prepared is offered as Naivedya(offering to God).
Another important thing to note is that Sesame Seeds Rice used for these dishes will be used raw i.e, it will neither be roasted nor cooked. Fried items are not prepared on this day (though the recipe indicates a process of frying)
A decorative rangoli of Snakes are drawn around this temporary sanctum and then the puja is performed.
The women pray for the wellbeing & prosperity of their brothers. They immerse a flower in the leftover milk and apply it on their brothers’ back perform Arathi for their wellbeing. Gifts are also exchanged.
This is considered almost a Raksha Bandhan for Kannadigas (and probably Telugu too)