Karthigai Deepam is the Tamil festival of lights that is celebrated by most Hindu’s. It falls on the full moon day (Pournami) on the month of Karthigai in the Tamil calendar (mid-November to mid-December). This is one of the oldest festivals that was first observed by the Tamils with literature dating back to the Sangam era (200 – 300 A.D)
History of Karthigai Deepam
Karthigai Deepam is widely regarded as one of the oldest Tamil festival believed to have originated somewhere during 2000 – 2500 B.C. Karthigai Deepam is mentioned in literature in the epic Tamil book of poems Agananooru. The highly renowned and praised Tamil poet Avvaiyaar also makes mention of this festival in one of her songs. Other works of literature where Karthigai Deepam is mentioned include Civaka Cintamani, Tolkappiam and so on.
The story of the Karthigai
Karthigai is a constellation (Pleiades) of six stars that are in the shape of a pendant. Legend says that Lord Shiva created six faces with his third eye. The six faces were Tatpurusam, Aghoram, Sadyojatam, Vamadevam, Eesanam, and Adhomukam. These six faces were nurtured as six babies by six celestial nymphs. The goddess Parvati later merged these six babies as one, who is now the six-faced Lord Muruga (Arumugam). Lord Shiva then blesses these six nymphs with immortality for their service and pronounced that any worship made to them is equivalent to worshipping Lord Muruga himself.
The Story of Deepam
Legend says that there was once a great fight between Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma as to who was the superior being among them. Seeing this, Lord Shiva appeared in the form of a great flame before them and proposed that whoever could find his feet, or his head would be considered the greater being. Lord Vishnu took the form of a boar (Pandri) and dug the earth in search of Lord Shiva’s feet. Lord Brahma took the form of a Swan (Anna Paravai) and searched the skies for Lord Shiva’s head. Lord Vishnu after searching for a long time admitted defeat and returned to surface. Lord Brahma, however, searched the skies for a long time and saw a Thazhumbu flower (Screwpine). He deduced that this particular piece of the flower had fallen from Lord Shiva’s head and had been floating down for nearly 30000 years since. Taking the piece of the flower with him, Lord Brahma falsely proclaimed to have seen Lord Shiva’s head. However, Lord Shiva realized the deception and pronounced that there will never be a temple to worship Lord Brahma and that Thazhumbu flower will never be used again to worship him.
After this, Lord Shiva took the form of a hill which is the Arunachala Hill in Tiruvannamalai. The very translation of Arunachala and Tiruvannamalai means ‘holy fire hill.’ To commemorate this, a giant flame is lit in the Arunachala Swamy temple in Tiruvannamalai during Karthigai Deepam, and this is called as the Maha Deepam. Lighting of this Maha Deepam amounts to worshipping the divine presence, Lord Shiva himself.
Karthigai Deepam Today
Even in modern times, clay lamps are lined outside the house and on both sides of each entrance. When entering the town during Karthigai Deepam, there is a look of festivity upon the town with the lighted clay lamps adding much more beauty. There would also be some fireworks during this festival. There is one in particular called the Karthigai Chutru which is lighted coal encased in a jute rope. Designed as a non-explosive, the chutru is swirled in whichever direction preferred showing the effect of a rotating fire. This is quite similar to fire performance, only a lot safer. Above all this, Karthigai Deepam offers a unique opportunity to get together with family and friends and share food and sweets.