Bharani Deepam is a sacred lamp-lighting ceremony that is part of the 10-day Karthigai Deepam festival, which is celebrated in states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka.
The Bharani Deepam is lit in a huge circular metal vessel or ‘kopparai’, which ‘has a capacity to hold about 2000 liters of ghee. It is five and a half feet high, with a diameter of 5 ft. The lamp’s wick is made of 30 m of ‘Ghada’cloth, which is burnt using 2 kilos of camphor. It is said that on the night of ‘Karthigai Pournami’, after the lamp is lit, its glow can be seen over an area of 35 km around the Siva temple here. The fire is lit by devotees in the Artha mandap of the Arunachaleswarar temple from the yagam that has been created for the purpose.
The Pancha Moorthis are taken to the Katchi Mandapam in the evening. At Pradosham time (dusk), the deity (Ardhanareeswarar) is taken in a grand procession on a decorated vehicle to this place, along with the five deepams, which are kept in a big receptacle near the Dhwajasthambam or flagstaff. The five huge, ghee-filled pots signify the five elements – air, fire, water, earth, and ether. A single flame is taken from the pots, and it is kept burning in the temple all through the day, signifying the merging of all things back into God, the one source of all. This single flame is called the Bharani Deepam. Around the same time, the guiding light atop the 2,668 ft high hill is lit, and the crowd chants loudly in one voice, “Annamalaikku Arohara”. The finale of the ceremony is marked by the lighting of the beacon on the hill. Several thousands of devotees line up for getting darshan of Arunachaleswarar and Goddess Abithakuchalambal at the temple.
Several years before, the Deepam pot used to remain atop the hill for the entire year. After many years of use and weathering, which damaged it beyond repair, it was replaced. Nowadays, it is carried up the hill a few days before Maha Deepam. Once the festival ends, it is brought back down and stored at the Arunachaleswarar temple.
The temple priest blesses a group of fishermen in a ceremony and gives them a lamp in a protected container. The lamp is lit from the Bharani Deepam in the temple. This lamp, also called the Bharani Deepam, is taken to the hilltop by fishermen from hereditary fishing families. Others of the same family will remain at the temple and light the deepam flame outside the Arunachaleswarar Shiva sannidhi.
The legend behind Karthigai Deepam:
Once, the Hindu gods, Vishnu and Brahma, had a fight over the issue of supremacy. Each said that he was supreme. As the fighting threatened to become violent, the other gods felt alarmed and ran to Shiva and asked him to mediate. Shiva agreed. He took the form of a huge column of fire and challenged Vishnu and Brahma to find its beginning and end. The one who could find it, would be considered supreme. Brahma and Vishnu agreed. Vishnu became a boar and tunneled deep into the earth to find the end of the fire column. But he could not find it and conceded defeat. Meanwhile, Brahma took the form of a swan and flew up into the sky to find the beginning of the fire.
But he too failed in his quest. However, he lied that he had found it. But Shiva knew that he was lying and cursed him. Thus, Shiva proved that he was Supreme and that the other two gods were lesser than him. He then appeared as a hill in the place called Thiruvannamalai. The names ‘Tiruvannamalai’ and `Arunachala’ denote “holy fire hill”. Much later, a temple was built on the hill to commemorate this event. It is called Arunachaleswarar temple, and the Karthigai Deepam festival is celebrated with great fanfare here.
Yet another legend about Karthigai Deepam links the festival to Muruga, the son of Shiva and Parvati. Supposedly, Lord Muruga was born from 6 sparks of fire that emerged from Shiva’s third eye. These sparks became six babies that were raised by the six Karthigai penngal (Karthigai stars) in a lake called Saravana Poigai. Goddess Parvati later fused the six babies into one baby on this day. This is the reason Muruga has six faces and is known as Aarumugan.
Significance of Bharani Deepam:
The Bharani Deepam ceremony has immense significance. It means that at this time, Shiva manifests as the 5 elements, which merge later to become one, when the Karthigai Deepam is lit at dusk. The whole essence of Saivism is: From one to many, and many to one. This is also the meaning of Karthigai Deepam. The lamps lit in front of the temple sanctum symbolically relieve darkness from the lives of devotees who witness the festival at Siva temples.