Significance of Karthigai Deepam (கார்த்திகை தீபம், கார்த்திகை விளக்கீடு, కార్తీక దీపం )
ROWS OF agal vilakkus in front of every house... this is the image that at once comes to mind when we think of Karthigai Deepam - the festival of lights that is celebrated throughout Tamil Nadu during the month of Karthigai (November-December). Not many of us are aware that it is one of the oldest festivals celebrated in the State, perhaps even before people began celebrating Deepavali and Navarathri. Also, unlike many other Hindu festivals, Karthigai is basically a Tamil festival and is virtually unknown in most other parts of the country.
One of the earliest references to the festival is found in the Ahananuru, a book of poems, which dates back to the Sangam Age (200 B.C. to 300 A.D.). The Ahananuru clearly states that Karthigai is celebrated on the full moon day (pournami) of the Tamil month of Karthigai. It was one of the most important festivals (peruvizha) of the ancient Tamils. Avaiyyar, the renowned poetess of those times, refers to the festival in her songs. Inscriptions in our temples also refer to the festival. A mid-sixteenth Century inscription at the Arulalaperumal temple in Kancheepuram, refers to the festival as Thiru Karthigai Thirunal.
Karthigai is essentially a festival of lamps. The lighted lamp is considered an auspicious symbol. It is believed to ward off evil forces and usher in prosperity and joy. While the lighted lamp is important for all Hindu rituals and festivals, it is indispensable for Karthigai. There is an interesting story explaining the link between Karthigai and lamps. Legend has it that Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma began to quarrel as to who was the more powerful of the two. While they were fighting, Lord Shiva appeared before them in the form of a huge pillar of fire. Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma gave up quarreling and decided to find the top and the bottom of the pillar. Accordingly, Brahma assumed the form of a swan and moved upwards. Vishnu transformed himself into a boar and started digging deep into the earth. But even after searching for several years, neither of the two was able to find the ends the pillar. Finally, they realized that the pillar was none other than Lord Shiva. Soon afterwards, Lord Shiva appeared as a hill (Arunachala Hill) at Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. Indeed, the very names `Tiruvannamalai' and `Arunachala' translate as 'holy fire hill.' The Shivalinga in the temple here is the agni linga. The tiny lamps lit during the Karthigai festival (Karthigai Deepam) are believed to be the miniature replicas of the fire linga. Every year thousands of devotees from Chennai and elsewhere flock to Tiruvannamalai to see the spectacular Karthigai Deepam there.
The lamps lit on the occasion are of varied sizes, shapes and colors. Traditionally, lamps are lit in temples and agal vilakkus would adorn the thinnais of houses. Bigger lamps made of mud; stone and metal were lit inside homes. The ancient Tamils are said to have even imported lamps from as far as Greece and Rome, through the ports of Arikamedu (near Pondicherry), Mallai or Mamallapuram and Mylai or Mylapore (part of present-day Chennai). One such imported lamp was of the hanging variety, designed in the shape of a swan with a fish placed at the top.
Terracotta lamp from Arikamedu. Another variety of lamp, common in Tamil Nadu from early times was the Lakshmi vilakku or Pavaivilakku. It was shaped like a woman bearing in her folded palms, the tahali or shallow bowl containing oil for lighting the lamp. At Arikamedu, archaeologists have unearthed a flat circular clay lamp with four nozzles or petals or openings for four wicks. Another clay lamp discovered at this site has 12 nozzles. The ubiquitous five-nozzle kuthu vilakku has been in use from the days of the Cholas or perhaps even earlier. When the British East India Company began to rule parts of South India, it featured the petals or nozzles of the kuthu vilakku on some of the coins that were minted. The five petalsor nozzles are also said to denote the five main elements are supposed to represent the five elements of Nature - earth, water, fire, air and sky or space. The five nozzles are also said to denote the five main elements needed for a successful life - health, wealth, learning, courage and longevity.
Traditionally, after Karthigai, most of these lamps, except for those in daily use, were cleaned and stacked away, and taken out only the next year for the festival. In the old, tiled-roof houses, agalvilakkus were invariably stacked in the loft beneath theroof. In recent times, changes in lifestyle and tastes have brought about changes in the lamps used for the festival. Till recently, the humble agal vilakku was brought to our doorstep by the lamp-maker himself who carried his fragile wares on his head or on the back of a donkey. People purchased these lamps in dozens. Now, they are packed in colorful boxes and sold in prestigious department stores and handicrafts emporia as also in the annual lamp exhibitions organized in the city by Poompuhar to coincide with Karthigai. Designer clay lamps are becoming popular among the younger generation. These come in exotic shapes and are often decorated with painted designs, colourful stones, beads and zari work. Many modern families in Chennai no longer prefer the oil lamps that stain the floor and the walls. Instead, they use scented candles, including those shaped in the form of the agal vilakku. In flats that do not have balconies or open spaces, the single candle lit next to the front door is a testimony to a hoary tradition.
Story behind Karthigai Deepam :
Once Brahma and Vishnu due to the ego started arguing with each other
" who is the greatest". Both claimed to be the greatest, instead of doing their duty. At that time the God Shiva appeared in the form of fire and told them whoever finds the top or bottom of the fire is the greatest. Brahma took the form of Annam (a bird) and tried to find the top of the frle pillar. Vishnu took the form of Varaha( giant pig) and tried to see the bottom of the pillar. As the God has no limit in his size or power, both of them could not see either top or bottom of the fire. When their ego went down and they prayed the God, He appeared before them. The day in which the God appeared as a pillar of fire is Thirukarthigai/Karthigai Deepam. Lord Shiva appeared as a hill (Arunachala Hill) at Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. Indeed, the very names `Tiruvannamalai' and `Arunachala' translate as 'holy fire hill.' The Shivalinga in the temple here is the agni linga. The tiny lamps lit during the Karthigai festival (Karthigai Deepam) are believed to be the miniature replicas of the fire linga. Every year thousands of devotees from Chennai and elsewhere flock to Tiruvannamalai to see the spectacular Karthigai Deepam there. This vradha indicates the non measurable in finiteness of the God and shows that the God is the light that will drive away our ignorance.
Lamps are lit in the houses to pray His "Jyothi Swarupam". First day of this festival is called as "Appakarthigai" and the second day is called as "vadai karthigai". All devotees will offer pori,adhirasam,vella Seedai, vetrilai pakku,fruits as neivedhyam for God Shiva. In down South of Tamilnadu and in Kerala, Hindus will pray god for goodness of their brothers and they will light a elephant lamp(Gajalakshmi Vilaku) which marks as a sign of prosperity and wealth.
Why we light Elephant lamp on Karthigai ?
Once upon a time there lived a King and he had only one daughter. She loved an elephant which grew with her and she considered the elephant as her own brother. After her marriage she missed her brother elephant very much. So for every Thirukarthigai/Karthigai deepam occasion, she will light elephant lamp(Gajalakshmi vilaku) and she will prepare tender coconut, elephant leg size milagu Milagu Adai, Pori,Adhirasam,Vella Seedai and keep them as neivedhyam for this festival.
Thiru Karthigai Deepam, the festival of lights, is celebrated every year in the Tamil month of Karthigai (mid November - mid December). Karthikai Deepam falls on the full moon day of the Karthigai month, coinciding with Krithikai star. Lamps are lit in front of the house in the morning and evening, throughout the month. On the Thirukarthikai day, theentire house is decorated with the oil lamps. This festival of lights indicates the removal of darkness (Ignorance) and enhancing of light (Intelligence).
The Ritual On Thirukarthigai, people clean their houses and draw kolams (rangoli) in the front of the house. The lamps are then placed on it. Before that, the lamps (Agal) are placed in the pooja and lighted. Deeparathana is done and the lamps are kept in different places in the house. People of Tamil Nadu celebrateKarthigai Deepam for three days. Some people celebrate it, extending from the Deepavali festival. The number of lamps is doubled every day from the day of Diwali and they end up with numerous lamps on the day of Karthigai Deepam.
History of Karthigai Deepam
Kaarthigai Deepam brings to mind the legend ofLord Muruga who took the form of six babies in a lake called "Saravana Poigai". He was formed from the eyes of Lord Shiva as six flames. These six flames turned into six babies which were united by Goddess Parvati (his mother) on this day. Special rituals are performed to Lord Muruga on this day. Significance of the Day Special light is lit at the top of the hill at Thiruvannamalai which is the abode of Lord Shiva, called as Agni Shetram or Agni Sthalam (one of the five aspects called Panchaboothams). This festival is called as Tiruvannamalai Deepam.
Thiruvannamalai Karthikai Maha Deepam is a festival observed in the Tamil month of Karthikai at famous Tiruvannamalai Arunachaleshwara swamy temple in Tamil Nadu. It is celebrated on Kartikai Pournami, the Full Moon day in the month of Kaarthikai. This festival coincides with Krithikai nakshatram. In Thiruvannamalai, Maha Karthigai Deepam is celebrated for 10 days. It is popularly known as Karthikai Brahmotsavam. On first day of Karthikai Deepam festival, the celebrations begin with Dwajarohanam. Procession of LordChandrasekhara swamy is commenced on the second day during the festival. Surya Vahana seva is performed on the third day. Kamadhenu vahana seva is done onfourth day to Periya Nayagar. On the twelfth day, Karthikai Deepam festival comes to a grand conclusion when Lord Arunachaleshwara is taken our for pradakshina known as Girivalam. It is also celebrated as the extension of Deepavali. Kartigai Deepam is observed with a lot of gusto and enthusiasm in other temples of Tamil Nadu. The festival is celebrated for three days in the state.
Karthigai Deepam Recipes :