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“The origin of Goddess Chandan Shashthi”

Satish Mahaldar

Shashti or Shashiti (Sanskrit: षष्ठी, Ṣaṣṭthī, literally “sixth”) is a Hindu goddess worshiped in India as the benefactor and protector of children. She is also the god of plants and fertility, and is believed to bestow children and aid in childbirth. Shashthi is fair and beautiful like the champak flower, young, adorned with ornaments, merciful and benevolent.  Kashyap Samhita by Acharya Brihadjeevika composed during the Kushan period.

The worship of Shashti is prescribed to be performed on her sixth day of each lunar month of the Hindu calendar and on the sixth day after the birth of a child. Infertile women who wish to conceive and mothers who want to ensure the protection of their children worship Shashti and seek blessings and assistance. She is especially worshiped as Maya is her sixth form of Prakriti and sister of Lord Surya.

Shashti is depicted as a motherly figure, often nursing or carrying as many as eight infants in her arms. Her complexion is usually depicted as yellow or golden. The Dhyana Mantras (hymns depicting the divine iconography that Shashti’s devotees should meditate on) describe her as adorning herself with sacred garments and jewellery, placing auspicious twigs on her knees, and beautiful appearance. She is described as a beautiful young woman who has done a lot of work. Her cat (mārjāra) is the vahana (mountain) on which she rides. Old depictions of Shashti say she has the face of a cat, while other sources describe her as having the face of a bird.

In Kushan period representations between the 1st century AD and her 3rd century AD, she is depicted as a Skanda-like figure with her two arms and her six heads. A significant number of Kushan and Yaudhya coins, carvings and inscriptions made between 500 BC and 1200 AD often include her six-headed Shashti on the reverse of the coin and her six-headed Skandhas on the obverse. is depicted. Shashti is also depicted in the Vrishni triad of the Kushan period in the Mathura region surrounded by Skanda and Vishakha.

In the Yaudiya images, she is shown to have her two arms and six heads arranged in two tiers of three heads each, while in the Kushan images, the central head is It is surrounded by five female heads, sometimes attached to a female torso. A terracotta figurine of her from the Gupta period (320-550 CE) of Ahichhatra shows the goddess with her three heads in the front and her three heads in the back. The folk cult representation of Shashti is a red stone the size of a human head, usually placed beneath it. A banyan tree that can often be seen on the outskirts of the village. Banyans are sometimes decorated with flowers and scattered with rice and other offerings. Shashti is also commonly represented by planting a banyan tree or small branches in the soil of a family’s garden. Other common representations of the goddess include the Shaligrama her stone, the earthen jug, or the Purna her gata (a water jar lined with coconut and mango leaves), usually placed under a banyan tree .

Most scholars believe that Shashti’s roots go back to Hindu folklore. References to this goddess appear in Hindu scriptures as early as the 8th century BC and her 9th century BC, in which she is associated with her children and with the Hindu god of war Skanda . Early texts consider her to be Skanda’s adoptive mother, while later texts identify her with Skanda’s consort Devasena. In some early texts where Shashti appears as Skanda’s servant, it is said that she causes illness in her mother and child and therefore needs to be propitiated on the sixth day after her birth. However, over time, this malignant goddess came to be seen as a benevolent savior and giver of children.

The story of Shashti is narrated in the chapter entitled ‘Shashti Devupakyanam’ added to the texts of ‘Brahma Vaivarta Purana’ and ‘Devi Bhagavata Purana’. King Priyavrata, the son of Swayambhuva Manu (ancestor of humankind), and his wife Malini performed Putrakamesthi Yagna (fire offering to obtain a son) in an attempt to conceive, but it took 12 years. After the pregnancy, the unborn son was handed over to Malini. Priyavrata carried his son’s body to the crematorium. On the way, he saw a celestial woman dressed in white silk and jewels riding in a celestial chariot.

She declared to Priyavrata that she was Devasena, daughter of Brahma and wife of Skanda. She further stated that she was a Shashti, the chief of the Skandha matrikas (“mothers”), and that she had the power to bestow children on her devotees. She took the child in her hands, revived her infant, and then began to take her child and depart for the heavenly abode. Priyavrata stopped her goddess, praised her and begged her to return her son. The goddess agreed on the condition that Priyavrata initiate and spread her worship in all her three worlds: heaven, earth and underworld. She returned the child to the king, named him Subrata, and declared that he should be famous as a great, virtuous, and learned ruler. Priyavrata worshiped Shashti on the 6th day of every month, her 6th day after her birth and her 21st day, and decreed that every occasion would be auspicious for a child. She was worshiped in the form of a Shaligrama stone, a Purna Ghatha under a banyan tree, or her image painted on a wall.

DEPICTION:

She is depicted holding a sword and shield in her lower hands while the upper holds kalasas. Her vahana is a black cat. She is shown seated on a large lotus. In her golden look, has a child seated on her lap symbolizing her powers to protect new born from evil powers and disease. She wears a prominent crown that associates her with Mother Goddess.

PUJA:

Goddess Shahsti is associated with Skanda, God of War. Indeed she is also known as Skandamata and as an extension of Mother Durga. Although having rural origins or a folk-goddess, Sasti is worshipped on the sixth – shashti day following a child’s birth. This is when the father pays respects followed by the mother on the 21st day. On this day, partial fast is observed.

Pujas are conducted to a figureless deity planted under a Kadamba tree. Usually this is a stone in the size of a human head decorated with flowers. Traditional offering is that of a hand-fan. Food offerings are fruits only. A black cat is also revered on that day. Otherwise it is symbolized in the deity stone. Women who have lost their children, those suffering miscarriage, quick with child and sickly children pray to Goddess Shahsti.

BRAHMA VAIVARTA PURANA:

This is one of the major eighteen Puranas. It describes the creation of the universe – Brahma Khanda, Prakriti Khanda – description and histories of goddesses, Ganesha Khanda – life and deeds of Lord Ganesha and the final part to Lord Krishna. This Purana was written in Bengal and recited by the sage Suta in the Naimisharanya forests. In Krsna Janma Khanda, the final part, it declares Krishna to be the supreme God. It also develops the life of Radha-Krishna, thus deviating from the Bhagavata Purana. In Prakriti Khanda, Goddess Shahshti is depicted as the sixth aspect of Parama Prakriti – universal female energy

It recommends that Shashthi be appeased through ritual worship and on the sixth day after birth of a child, failing which Shashthi may be provoked and harm the infant.

The genealogy of goddess Shashthi is narrated in the Brahmavaivarta Purana which recounts the story of the sudden appearance of Goddess Sashthi who introduces herself to King Priyavrat as the daughter of Brahma and the wife of Kartikeya. The king is pleased with the goddess for bringing his son back to life and undertakes the task of establishing her worship in his kingdom. N.N. Bhattacharya records the development of the goddess as follows:

In the Puranas Shashthi was…conceived as the sixth part of Prakriti and the wife of Skanda-Kartikeya. When Skanda was born, various kinds of terrifying phenomenon occurred.

The gods having heard of the power of Skanda, advised Indra to kill him without delay. Indra sent the Divine Mothers to kill the child. But when they met Skanda, they were full of affection for him and became his protectresses. When Indra saw that his plan had failed, he led a huge celestial army against Skanda The gods were defeated and surrendered to him. Indra then hurled his thunderbolt at Skanda…. A number of female spirits came into being when Skanda was struck with the thunderbolt. By Skanda‟s blessings they became the protectresses of children.

Shashthi is fair and beautiful like the champak flower, young, adorned with ornaments, merciful and benevolent.  Kashyap Samhita by Acharya Brihadjeevika composed during the Kushan period states that

Revati pleased Skanda by practicing penance, was accepted by him as his sister and given the name Shashthi-the sixth one. The other five being Skanda, his three brothers – Guha, Kumar, Visakh, and the fifth Nandikeshwar. Skanda blessed Shashthi to be as powerful as her brothers. Thus Shashthi is variously conceived as the mother/sister/consort of Skanda-Kartikeya. However her association with the sixth day, children and childbirth is universally accepted.

The origin of Goddess Shashthi is variously represented in literature: Brahma giving a description of Matrutaks to Narada said that the most worshipful among them was Shasthi Devi. She is the one who looks after the infants in all lokas. She is a great ascetic and a devout of Vishnu and a consort of Kartikeya…. She is always motherly, merciful and a savior. She always comes in dreams of infants whether they are on land, water or horizon.  Shiva reportedly fashioned twelve grahas, five male and seven female, to assist Skanda. The female grahas are recognized as the Sapta Matrukas. Gradually, several mother goddesses worshipped around the fifth century AD came to be identified with the seven mothers, and soon they were collectively identified as a single goddess Revati. Revati is identical with goddess Shashthi, who is also Devasena, the beloved consort of Skanda.  Revati is associated with the annihilation of the demon Dirghajeevi in course of which she took the forms of a female eagle, a female jackal and Jataharini- a destroyer of progeny.

In the Kushan era the goddess is depicted as two-armed and six headed. Several coins, sculptures and inscriptions that were produced from 500 BCE to 1200 CE picture the six-headed goddess.

She is shown surrounded by Skanda and Vishakha. The central head is surrounded by five female heads. Shikha Sarkar points out that till date, only two images of Mother Shashthi, dating back to the 12th century AD, have been found in erstwhile Bihar. Both show her as a goddess with a child on her lap mounted on a black cat looking up at her Veneration of the Goddess Shashthi starts with a woman getting married. The Shashthi Vrata is performed by married women to invoke the blessings of the goddess Shashthi to obtain the glory of motherhood and longevity of children. According to Sukumari Bhattachaji the twelve forms of the goddess worshipped in the twelve months are: Chandan,

Aranya, Kardama, Lunthana, Chapeti, Durga, Nadi, Mulaka, Anna, Sitala, Gorupini and Ashoka. (66) However in popular practice shashthi worship is observed only in eight months on the 6th day of the bright fortnight. Celebrated in the month of March, when the Ashoka tree starts blooming, Asoka Shashthi gets its name from a young girl Ashoka, found beneath an Asoka tree and raised by a sage. The Shashthi vrata katha does not make any reference to the Padma Purana but the striking similarities between the young Ashoka of Asoka Shashthi Vrata Katha and Ashoka Sundari of the Padma Purana cannot be ignored. Ashoka Sundari is born when Shiva and Parvati encounter the wish-fulfilling tree and Parvati asks for a daughter, to give her company when she is alone in Kailash. The wish is instantly granted. She is called Ashoka Sundari. In the vrata katha narrative a benign sage finds an infant lying beneath an ashoka tree. He takes the child. While in deep meditation it is revealed to him that Asoka, a beautiful, lotus like child was birthed by a female deer. In the absence of the sage the mother deer would come and nurse the infant. She grows into a beautiful young maiden and the sage does not want to leave her alone in the hermitage when he goes out. Therefore, he decides to find for her a suitable husband. However all his efforts are in vain. Tired and irritated, the sage vows to marry the girl to the first person he sets his eyes upon the next morning. He is overjoyed to find a prince at his doorstep the next morning. He requests the prince to marry his daughter Ashoka and take her away with him. While bidding farewell, the sage gives her some ashoka flowers and seeds.

He instructs her to drop the seeds on the way to her new home so that the row of ashoka trees that would grow would link her marital home to the hermitage. He asks her to come back to him using the ashoka tree path if she is ever in trouble. He also asks her to eat the ashoka flowers on the day of ashoka shashthi that is the sixth day in the bright fortnight in the month of Chaitra and forbids her from eating rice on that particular day. As the years passed, Asoka prospered in her new home, she gave birth to eight sons and a daughter. Eventually the sons married and daughters in law began to care for Ashoka. One day while Ashoka was observing the Ashoka Shasthi Vrata, the daughters in law gave her the ritual gruel to eat. Unknown to anyone a grain of rice had fallen into the pot. Next morning Ashoka woke up to find the entire household dead. Unable to understand the reason behind this predicament and weeping profusely she ran along the ashoka tree path to the hermitage. There the sage went into meditation and revealed to Ashoka that goddess Shashthi was angered by her consuming gruel with a grain of rice that had fallen into it unknown and unnoticed by anyone. He gave her sacred water to sprinkle over the dead ones to bring them back to life. Ashoka ran back and did the same. Her family was restored and she narrated to them all that had happened. They were surprised. The entire kingdomcame to know about the incident and started worshipping goddess Shashthi. The king ordered everyone to worship goddess Shashthi .

In case of feedback/ suggestions one can Reach out to writer Satish Mahaldar through email: mgmt@jkpeaceforum.in

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