6 December 2017

2017 Arunachala Karthigai Festival: Mahadeepam Day on Arunachala

This year certain restrictions were put in force regarding people climbing the Hill on the day of Mahadeepam (i.e. December 2, 2017). Specifically only 2,500 devotees were given ticketed access to climb the Hill in order to make their offerings of ghee directly into the Deepam Cauldron. Tickets were issued from 6 a.m. that morning and devotees were allowed access to climb Arunachala from 10 a.m. via the pathway opposite Arunchaleswarar Temple Pey Gopuram. Ticketed devotees had to return down the Hill and be back at the ingress point by 6 p.m.

To find out more about the reasons why such unique restrictions regarding climbing the Hill on Mahadeepam Day were implemented this year, go to this earlier link here.

Every year during Deepam five earthen-pot lighted lamps, representing the five elements, provide the flame for the single Bharani Deepam which fisherman carry to the top of the mountain for use as the source-light for the Karthigai Deepam. It is also they who are entrusted with carrying the Deepam Cauldron up to the top of the Hill prior to the day of Mahadeepam.

Carrying the 2017 Cauldron up Arunachala prior to the day of Mahadeepam

The Deepam cauldron is hauled up the slopes of Arunachala supported by poles inserted into the cauldron’s rings. The unique privilege for taking the flame (source-light) and cauldron up the Hill and also for the actual lighting of the Deepam Flame is always given (for as long as the Hill’s recorded history) to men of the fishing caste.

Members of the Parvatha Raja light the cauldron on the summit of Arunachala. According to local belief, the Parvatha Raja clan are descendants of a king who had been blessed by Lord Shiva to light the cauldron in order to ward off a curse. The clan has three sub-divisions: Unnamulai Priyan, Pennattu Priyan and Vathathi Priyan. The menfolk from the three sub-classes take turns every year to light the cauldron.

The clansmen are honoured with ‘Parivattam' on the morning of Karthigai Deepam Day at the temple.They use `Ezhalal' (a long bamboo stick with the wick at one end) to light the cauldron. The lamp is lit at 6pm when the idol of Arthanareswarar is taken on a procession around the sanctum of the Arunachaleswarar temple. Around 600kg of ghee, 100 metre of cloth and over 4 kg of camphor will be used each day for the 13 days of 2017 Deepam.

The reason for the extraordinary grace shown to the fishing clan is explained by a famous legend of the time the Goddess Parvati was adopted by the king of the fishermen. A version of the story appears below.

Becoming a Fisherman 

"Once, the Lord was explaining to the Goddess the secret import of the Vedas. However, the Goddess who was listening to the Lord, seemed to be beset with some anxiety and was otherwise engrossed. It was, therefore, apparent that She was listening in name only. The Lord noticed this and said that as She was not paying full attention to the important things discoursed by Him that in retribution She should be born in the fisherman’s community.

The Goddess lamented and the Lord assured Her that She would be born to the king of fishermen and that He (The Lord) would in due course come to wed her.

Ganapathi and Subrahmanya, the sons of the Lord were greatly perturbed by this and in their frenzy, considering the books of the Vedas to be the cause of the trouble, threw the offending books into the sea. The Lord took Nandikeswara to task for having allowed Vinayaka and Subrahmanya to go to Him without knowing His convenience and cursed him to become a shark in the sea. Any curse on Ganapathi would recoil on Him (the Lord) and hence the Lord did not impose any curse on the elephant God, however, Subrahmanya was cursed to become the dumb son of a merchant.

There was a place called Pakam on the eastern seashore of the Pandya Kingdom which was inhabited by fishermen and their king of the great fisherman clan of Paravar, was a great devotee of Lord Siva. The king had no children and one day, when he went to the sea for fishing, found a crying female child lying under a Pinnai tree (or Punnai, Calophyllam Inophyllam) on the seashore. He picked the child up with great joy and handed it to his wife saying that it was a gift of the Lord. His wife brought up the child very affectionately and adorned it with various jewels. The child grew to be a girl who constantly meditated on Lord Siva.

As ordained by the Lord’s curse, Nandikeswara became a shark and caused havoc to the fishermen’s boats sailing in the sea. The king of the fishermen took considerable pains to catch the shark—but all was in vain. The king therefore announced that he would give his daughter in marriage to any person who would catch the shark.

The Lord appeared in the guise of a young fisherman and the king was struck with the personality and bearing of the young newcomer. To the king’s enquiry the young man replied that he was a fishermen and could net any big fish or shark. The king told him of the prize offered for netting the shark infesting the area. The newcomer went to the sea and in no time netted the shark.

The king and his men were astonished at the feat. And happily gave to the newcomer his daughter in marriage and celebrated the wedding immediately. The bride and bridegroom immediately appeared as Siva and Parvati on their Vrishabha mount and the shark also appeared as Nandikeswara.

The king of the fishermen extolled the God for the great kindness shown to an ordinary and illiterate man. The Lord told him that as he had been yearning for a child, He sent Parvati to be his daughter and He came himself came to wed Her. The Lord also blessed the king to have all prosperity and at the end of his life to become a denizen of Sivaloka. Then the Lord instructed Parvati about the secret import of the Vedas and She eagerly and earnestly listened to the discourse."

Ticketed devotees climbing Hill

Many are carrying ghee offerings to put directly into the Cauldron

More ambitious devotees bypassing the single-file ascending the Hill

Ropes in particularly difficult areas to climb were added for this year's Deepam

Almost symbolically the soldier has his hand over the muzzle while next to the Bonnet Macque

Devotees at the top of the Hill with their ghee offerings

Medical assistance was available on the Hill

Arunachaleswarar Temple from Arunachala as dusk slowly emerges

Lighting the 2017 Arunachala Karthigai Cauldron

Some devotees were allowed to remain on the Hill summit during the lighting

Arunachala Karthigai Deepam will remain alight for 11 days this year. The last day being Wednesday, December 12, 2017.


Sankar Ganesh said...

Through the photos and the writing, felt as if I was there. Thank you very much.

Karttikai Deepam said...

Restricting the number of uphill walking devotees is a highly welcome decision particularly in favour of nature - because in previous years we have seen unbearable accumulation of garbage and pollution of ecology(flora and fauna)on the beloved hill. Further toleration of such inadmissible mischief is certainly a disgrace to the population and public authority. Is it not said that Arunachala is the most holy place on earth or at all ?
Both parents and school should not miss the upbringing/education of children to respect and love their natural environment - particularly of holy places - and to be clean by not leaving any sorts of inorganic garbage in nature at all.

Anonymous said...

Need some more images please please please please

Meenakshi Ammal said...

Have lots more images. Will decide soon either to put them on Arunachalagrace Blog on upload them direct onto my website Arunachala Samudra next month.

If you go to the website:


There is a section archiving Arunachala Deepam for the last 5 years. You will find additional information and hundreds of photographs in those archives.

Meenakshi Ammal said...

Karttikai Deepam, in reference to your comment about spoilage of the Hill. There is much the local administration could do to prevent this desecration of the Hill and area. One is very easy and needs no work at all and that is to ban all plastic and inorganic packaging both on the girivalam roadway and on the Hill. Also all plastic bags should be banned from Tiruvannamalai.

Yes its a good idea to inculcate the necessity to respect the sanctity of Mother Earth to school children by teaching them correct and conscientious behaviour.

It would also be intelligent for the administration to hire workers to climb Arunachala, collect refuse in trash bags and bring them back down the Hill. Many organisations have done this at different times. One such endeavour occurred within the last couple of years and took many weeks for a group of volunteers to clear the Hill of trash.

Karttikai Deepam said...

Meenakshi Ammal,
many thanks for your reply.
You are right, the ban of of all plastic and inorganic packaging and plastic bags would be an appropriate measure against plastic-insanity.
But simultaneously the government should institute an information campaign about the disastrous effects of pollution of the ecology by plastic on nature. Many people in Tiruvannamalai seem to not knowing what the use of a rubbishSecondly all adults and particularly all schoolteachers must be educated in that regard to be able to set an good example to the schoolchildren. Regrettably even the ARS (Arunachala Reforestation Society) used to plant thousands of saplings
in plastic bags into the soil. And even for the purposes of puja flowers and fruits are brought unnecessarily in plastic bags.
Respect the sanctity of Mother Earth should not be an empty slogan/catchphrase.
The endeavours of the mentioned group of volunteers for clearing the hill of trash is great. I too do not have the heart to let lie any plastic bag or plastic bottle or similar things on the ground of any Arunachala slope on which I set my foot since nearly 18 years.

Karttikai Deepam said...

Meenakshi Ammal,
sorry the sentence "Many people in Tiruvannamalai seem to not knowing what the use of a rubbish" was written only incompletely. It should read "Many people in Tiruvannamalai seem not to know that the refuse disposal should take place only by using of rubbish or waste bins."
Happily along the girivalam road many waste bins were stationed by the exemplary Shantimalai's Girivalam Seva Project - employees. The proper disposal of plastic or toxic waste(germs and pathogens in the garbage) leads to increased environmental awareness. Educating the resident people to use these garbage containers is highly necessary !

Itinerant Yogi said...

Love your blog Meenakshi. Thankyou for sharing the joy of Deepam 2017.