Karthigai Deepam is a traditional festival that is celebrated in Tamil Nadu, and it is also celebrated in nearby states like Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. It is an important festival for Tamils. Like Diwali, this is also a festival of lights, and in fact, is seen to be an extension of it from the day of Diwali, many people keep doubling the number of lamps till the day of Karthigai Deepam. It is a lovely sight to see the neat rows of oil lamps glowing brightly in front of houses at night as the day of Karthigai Deepam nears. The festival is celebrated in the Tamil month of Karthigai. The festival of Karthigai deepam is celebrated on the full moon day of the Karthigai month, which coincides with the Karthigai star. This month also has a special significance because it is the birth month of Muruga.
That the festival was celebrated in ancient times is borne out by the fact that there is a reference to it in Ahananuru, a collection of poems from the Sangam age of Tamil history. This era was known for its rich literary tradition. It mentions things that happened between 200 BC and 300 AD. The renowned woman-poet, Avvaiyar, who lived during this period, has mentioned Karthigai Deepam in some of her poems.
This is a 10-day festival, and it is also called Tiruvannamalai Deepam. Each day has its own special importance. There will be special celebrations at the Arunachaleswarar temple in the Annamalai hills in Thiruvannamalai. On Uthradam day, the celebrations begin with the hoisting of the flag. The popular Bharani Deepam is lit in Arunachaleswarar’s sannidhi during the early morning hours of the 10th day. Devotees move to the Annamalai hills to worship the Bharani Deepam on the final day. It is believed that the flame of the lamp does not sputter on this day and takes the form of Lord Muruga and reaches up to the sky.
Legend behind Karthigai Deepam:
Scriptures say that once, the two Hindu deities, Vishnu and Lord Brahma, started fighting over the issue of supremacy. Each claimed that he was superior to the other. As the fighting reached alarming proportions, the other gods became worried and went to Shiva and requested him to end the fighting. So Shiva appeared before them, in the shape of a huge pillar of light (Jyothirlingam). Then he challenged Vishnu and Brahma to find the beginning and end of the fire pillar. The one who succeeded in doing so would be considered superior. The two gods agreed.
Immediately, Lord Vishnu turned into a boar and dug deep into the earth to find the end of the fire pillar. But he failed to find it and admitted his defeat to Shiva. Meanwhile, Brahma turned into a swan and flew upwards to find the beginning of the fire. But he too failed to find the beginning of the fire pillar. But he lied that he found it. However, Lord Shiva realized that he was lying and cursed him. In this manner, Shiva proved that he was Supreme and that the other two gods were inferior to him. He then appeared in the form of a hill in the Thiruvannamalai region. As a matter of fact, the names ‘Tiruvannamalai’ and `Arunachala’ mean “holy fire hill”. Later on, a temple was built on the hill to commemorate the event. Karthigai Deepam 2020 is celebrated with great fanfare here.
Yet another legend links the festival to the deity, Muruga, who was the son of Shiva and Parvati. Legend has it that Muruga was born from 6 sparks of fire that emanated from Shiva’s third eye. These six sparks turned into six babies who were cared for by the six Karthigai penngal (Karthigai stars) in Saravana Poigai, a lake. The six babies were merged into one baby by Goddess Parvati on this day. This is why Muruga has six faces and is called Aarumugan.
Shiva is one of the favorite deities of Hindus. They believe that he protects the entire world from harm. He inspires great faith and devotion in them, as he is the Adi Yogi, who wields the powers of both creation and destruction. Annamalai Hill is thus regarded as Shiva himself.