Shasti Vratam or Upvaas is an important fast dedicated to Lord Muruga or Kartikeya. There are two Shastis in a Hindu lunar month. One Shasthi after Amavasya and another after Purnima (Pournami). The Shasti coming after Amavasya (new moon night) is the one meant for fasting. In simple terms, the Shasti coming during the increasing or growing phase of the moon. Lord Muruga is also known as Subramanian or Skanda or Kanda.
The Shasti fasting begins with sunrise. The fast is broken on the next day morning after praying to Lord Surya (Sun God).
It is a complete fast in many places. But this might not be quite possible for many people due to job, health and other reasons. So many people take some sort of vegetarian food on this day – this is usually a single meal in the afternoon or night.
In several Kerala Muruga temples, many devotees eat a single rice meal at noon given from the temple. The cooked rice is consumed without any major side dishes.
The method of fasting differs from region to region. But all non-vegetarian food is avoided on the day.
Devotees listen to stories related to Skanda and reading of Skanda Purana. Another activity during the day is the reciting of Kanta Shasti Kavasam.
Fasting is not just abstaining from food but it also an attempt to instill positive thoughts. Many people use fasting as a means to fight against anger, lust, impatience and other negative tendencies. All Vrathas associated with Hindu religion is an attempt to realize the Brahman.
Story of Shasti Vratam
Harassed by the powers of evil, the devas along with their head “Indra” approached the Supreme Lord who gave them a message saying “Only the spark of Shiva can produce the warrior who would destroy the evil”. When devas went to Lord Shiva, he could not be disturbed as he was lost in deep meditation as usual.
Lord Brahma suggested that Parvathi Devi should attract Shiva with her powerful penance and Kama Deva should arouse the feelings of love in Lord Shiva. As Kama Deva shot the cupid arrow, Mahadeva in return reduced him to ashes. The anger that sprouted from the third eye of Mahadeva, traveled few paths and was later discovered in Saravana (Forest of grass which looks like arrows) and thus was born Lord Skanda or Saravanabhava who divided himself in to six babies to be raised by six mothers of the divine constellation of Krithika or Karthikai. Later Parvathi decided to raise the baby and named him Shanmuka who was later called as Kumaran and as Murugan too. He received valor and knowledge from his mother and was called as Shakti Velan. He destroyed demons like Tarakasura, Surapadman and Simhamukha after a vigorous battle of six days and thus he liberated the Devas from the clutches and harassment of the Asuras.
This sixth day also called as Shashti of the waxing moon also called as Shukla Paksha of the month of Thula (Oct 15 to Nov 15) is celebrated as Skandha Shashti. Indra gave the hands of his daughter Deviyani / Devasena to Skanda. Murugan also married a gypsy damsel ‘Valli’.