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.
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Updated Dec. 2011