17 November 2011

Karthigai Deepam 2011

Between now and Deepam, I hope to post various narratives explaining the relevance of Karthigai Deepam and how it is celebrated at Arunachala, and at other places. I will also post information and articles, on deepams, and saints associated with lights and lamps.

Karthigai Deepam is believed to be one of the oldest festivals celebrated in Tamil Nadu, previous even to the Festivals of Deepavali and Navarathri. Reference of Karthigai Deepam can be found in such ancient Tamil literature as ‘Ahananuru’, (2,000 BC), 'Jeevakachintamani', written by the Jain poet Thiruthakka Thevar (Sangam period), 'Kalavazhi Narpadu' (1,000 BC) with mention of the festival made in the works of the poetess Avaiyyar.

Karthigai Deepam is also called the festival of lights and nowadays is observed as an extension of Deepavali festival with many families doubling the number of lamps at their home, every day from the day of Deepavali until the day of Karthigai Deepam. Like Deepavali, there is general practice of cleaning homes and decking up houses beautifully with stunning illuminations and multihued 'Kolams' or Rangoli.

In Kerala, this festival is known as Trikartika or Kartika Vilaku and is held in the month of Vrichikam (November – December). Lighting traditional oil lamps in the evening after sunset (during twilight period) is the main event on the day. Karthigai Deepam is also observed as Vishnu Deepam in Tamil Nadu and is an auspicious day for Vaishanvites.

Karthigai is essentially a festival of lamps. The lighted lamp is considered an auspicious symbol and believed to ward off evil forces and usher in prosperity and joy. It occurs on the day when the moon is in conjunction with the constellation Karthigai (Pleiades). The constellation which appears as a group of six stars in the shape of a pendant, is considered in mythology as the six celestial nymphs who reared the six babies at the saravana tank which later were joined together to form the six faced Muruga. Muruga is therefore also known as Karthikeya (i.e. the one brought up by the Karthigai nymphs).

Karthigai Deepam is celebrated in a special manner at Arunachala. At which legend goes, Lord Shiva asked the Lords; Brahma Vishnu to find out the extent of His form, which they are unable to do. Subsequently Lord Shiva takes the form of a jyothi (light of fire) on Arunachala Hill.

At Arunachala, Karthigai Deepam celebrations begin with the flag hoisting on the Uttradam day and continue to the early morning of Bharani Deepam, when five ’agantams’ are lit at Arunachaleswarar Sannithi in the early morning hours of the tenth day with the lighting of Mahadeepam occuring at dusk on top of Arunachala. To view a programme of the festivities of 2011 Karthigai Deepam at Arunachala, go to this link here.

The Deepam on top of the Hill, is lit in a huge metal cauldron with a capacity to hold about 2,000 liters of ghee. The cauldron stands at a height of five and half feet. The wick of the lamp itself is made up of 30 metres of khadi cloth burnt using 2 kilos of camphor. It is claimed that on the night of Karthigai Deepam, when the lamp is lit, the illumination can be seen for 35 km from the Hill.

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