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Dec 10

Written by: Jayanthi
Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Karthigai Deepam- Festival of Lights

This festival is widely known only in Tamil Nadu.  It is the festival that ends the end of the festival season. Karthigai is the name of the month, cooresponding to the Western calendar months November- December, and deepam means light.  It is celebrated on the full moon day of the Kaarthigai month which coincides with Krithikai star.  Though Diwali is known over India for being the festival of lights, Karthigai Deepam is truly the Tamil festival of lights. Some begin burning oil lamps throughout Diwali and until this festival.  Temples are full of small oil lamps; you must be careful where you step! The number of oil lamps, sizes, shapes and smells of burning oils and butters is a fabulous experience for your eyes and nose!  Many burn oil in a five wicked deepam, each wick stands for elements of a successful life- health, wealth, learning, courage and longevity. Some may also akin each wick to the five elements of apah, vayu, tejas, prithvi, akasa (water, wind, light, earth and ether).


This festival is famous in the town of Thiruvanmallai in Tamil Nadu. On this day, they ignite a flame that can be seen for 35 kilometers. This flame, known as Annamalai Deepam, is powered by 1,000 kilos of ghee and 350 meters of wicks in a cauldron ten feet high and five feet in diameter. During the night devotees can climb the hill to offer ghee to this fire. As this fire is large and extremely hot, the ghee is fed into the fire through a ten foot tube. Many also note that walking around this hill is good for health as many medicinal plants grow there. It is noted that as this festival falls near the winter equinox, the days are very short at this time of year and the lit oil lamps brighten up the night in a grand way.


People in Kerala also celebrate this festival. In Kerala, it is known as Karttika Deepam. Karttika is the name of the month, similiar to Karthigai in Tamil. In our family temple, in Kerala, devotees light lamps in abundance and also in forms of sacred shapes and symbols, such as the one pictured in this article from Karttika Deepam 2007, in the shape of the Aum symbol (click to see a bigger size).


The myth or story behind this festival is that many years ago Vishnu and Brahma had an unresolved conflict. At this time, they prayed to Lord Siva for an answer. Lord Siva came to them as a column of fire, of which neither end could be discovered. Hence, we pray to Lord Siva on this day as one of the five elements, this one being fire.

Photo submitted by: BN Kartha

More photos on Karthigai Deepam - Flickr.


Want to know when is Karthigai Deepam in  2012, 2013, 2014 and beyond? Follow my India America Interfaith and Social Calendar!


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Updated Dec. 2011

Copyright ©2008 Jennifer Jayanthi Kumar


3 comments so far...

Re: Karthikgai Deepam: Festival of Lights

hi Jayanthi,
My name is also Jayanthi. I read thru your articles. all the articles are good. I am a tamil brahmin. and i have got married to a malayalee. I am staying n US. though i have celebrated both the tamil and malayalee festivals, i really didnt know or bother about the stories behind each festival. you have explained the festivals and stories behind them very well. thank you. I liked the article about onam. convey my regards to your fatherin-law. my mail id is jayind20@hotmail.com

By Jayanthi on   Sunday, December 28, 2008

Re: Karthikgai Deepam: Festival of Lights

Hello Jen -
As a regular silent reader of your website for several months (maybe an year) and per your request not to drop any spam comments, I'vent commented so far. Just adding to the point of the fire legend of Shiva, in case you dont know - the story goes as Brahma and Vishnu searching for eons to find the end and beginning of the fire. After several eons of search Brahnma apparently tired of this search lied that he had seen the end of the fire along with the help of a flower as a proof. While on the other hand Vishnu had given up saying he couldnt find the end/start of the fire. This is the reason why there are no temples for Brahma as he was cursed by Lord Shiva for the lies told and the flower was also cursed and is not used for worship in any temples for garlanding any diety.

Some interesting things about Lord shiva which many folks dont know is that:
1. Even though Lord shiva is knows as the lord of destruction he was actually known as the lord of restoration, regeneration and reproductive power. Once cannot be regenerated without being destroyed, isnt it.
2. The Shivalinga represents the symbol of regeneration. If you correlate this with the bark of a tree that has withered you would notice that it has an amazing coincidence. Just how a bark of tree that has withered out grows again so does Shiva manifest regeneration.
3. He has 1008 names including the "Maha yogi" which means the greatest ascetic who symbolises the greatest form of penance and mediation.
4. Shiva does not appear in Vedas. According to "ShivaPurana" he has five faces, corresponding to five tasks - creation, establishment, destruction, oblivion and grace.
5. Sanskrit one the oldest languages in the world (few others being Hebrew, Latin, Tamil, Greek) originated from the 16 syllables that were ever first uttered and created by Shiva.
6. Lord shiva is the creator of Dance, and his anger-dance is known as the "Rudra Thandava" and his happy version "Ananda Thandava"

Thanks for compiling many interesting facts and ideas and spreading them to million of visitors world wide.
You can also visit me @ indianrhythm.blogspot.com

By Prasanna on   Sunday, December 28, 2008

Re: Karthikgai Deepam: Festival of Lights

Hi. Really enjoyed reading this.

By alaivani on   Sunday, December 28, 2008

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