Karthigai Deepam is a Tamil festival that is celebrated by most Hindus. This festival is so special to the Tamils that it is known as little Diwali. Karthigai Deepam like Diwali is also celebrated by bursting firecrackers and lighting rows of clay lamps. This festival is also known as the festival of lights and is marks the victory of light over darkness. It is celebrated on the full moon day of the Tamil month Karthigai which falls between mid-November and mid-December. Karthigai is a celestial formation consisting of six stars forming the shape of a pendant. Legend says that the six celestial beings nurtured the six faces of Lord Shiva into six babies, who were then made one by the goddess Parvati, giving birth to the six faced (Arumugam) Lord Muruga. Lord Shiva then blesses the six celestial beings for their service and pronounced that any worship made to them is equivalent of worshipping Lord Muruga himself.
Karthigai Deepam is a very special occasion for Tamils and most Hindus. Rows of clay lamps are lit outside the houses and on both sides of each entrance in the house. This illuminates the whole town bringing a sense of festivity and grandeur that has to be seen to be experienced. Nowhere in India is this festival celebrated in such splendor other than in Tiruvannamalai, in Tamil Nadu. A ten-day celebration takes place in honor of this festival here.
History and significance of Tiruvannamalai
Legend says that there was once a great quarrel between Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu as to who was the superior being. To settle this dispute, Lord Shiva appeared to them in the form of a great flame and proposed that whoever could find his head or his feet would be declared the winner and accepted as the superior being. Accepting the challenge, Lord Vishnu took the form of a boar (Pandri) and started digging the earth in search of Lord Shiva’s feet. Lord Brahma took the form of a Swan (Anna Paravai) and began searching the skies for Lord Shiva’s head. Lord Vishnu accepted defeat after searching for a long time, however, Lord Brahma after finding a screw pine flower that had fallen from Lord Shiva’s head floating in the air, falsely proclaimed to have seen Lord Shiva’s head. Lord Shiva realized the deception and pronounced that there would be no temple to worship Lord Brahma and Screwpine flower would never again be used to worship him. After this Lord Shiva took the form of a hill, which is now the Arunachala hill in Tiruvannamalai.
Ten-day celebrations in Tiruvannamalai
Every year during Karthigai Deepam, a grand ten-day celebration ensues in Tiruvannamalai at Arunachala Swamy temple. Tiruvannamalai has a population of 500,000 people, but during this festival, accommodates over 8,600,000. A grand fire (Maha Deepam) is lit with a brass brazier that is 5 and half feet in height and 5 feet in diameter. This brazier can hold nearly 2000 liters of ghee, and the high flame that is lit during this festival can be seen from a distance of 35 kilometers. During the first day (Uttradam) of the celebration, a holy flag is hoisted on the temple which marks the beginning of the procession. The lighting of the great flame (Maha Deepam) takes place on the last day. It is believed that worshipping the great flame is equivalent to worshipping Lord Shiva himself and that he will grace his blessings among his worshippers. The flame is believed to burn away all negativity surrounding us and bring light, joy, prosperity, and serenity.