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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Karthigai Festival 2009

Feel of Karthigai Deepam

Rows of agal vilakkus (oil lit lamps) 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 a Tamil festival and is celebrated by all the Tamil diaspora throughout the globe. [1]

Karthikai Deepam
Karthikai Deepam
Pithalai vilakku (Brass lamps) during the occasion of Karthigai Deepam from a house at Nerul, Navi Mumbai, India with typical Maakolam infront of the house.

Festival of Lamps

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. This festival is also celebrated to commemorate the bonding between brothers and sisters in south India(analogous to Bhaiya-Dhuj and Raakhi). Sisters pray for the prosperity and success of their brothers and light lamps to mark the occasion.

History of Karthigai Festival

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. Karthikai Deepam is one of the oldest festivals celebrated by the Tamil people. The festival finds reference in Sangam literature like Ahananuru and the poems of Auvaiyar.[2]

Mythological aspect of Karthigai Festival

Lord Siva appeared as a huge flame of light before Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma (Hindu gods), who each considered himself supreme and said that the matter could be tested if the two could search for Lord Siva's Head and feet. Lord Vishnu took the form of a (varagar) boar and delved deep into the earth, Lord Brahma that of a (Annam) swan and flew towards the skies. Lord Vishnu failed in his search and returned. But Lord Brahma, chancing upon a piece of `thazhambu`, a flower, learnt from it that it had been floating down for thirty thousand years from Lord Siva's head. He seized upon this and claimed to Lord Siva that he had seen the other's top. Lord Siva realized the falsehood and pronounced that there would never be a temple for Lord Brahma in this world. He also interdicted the use of the flower thazhambu in his worship. Lord Eswaran (Siva) appeared as a flame, this day is called Maha Dheepam.


Karthigai festival in Tiruvannamalai hills is very famous. On Karthigai day, a huge fire lamp is lit up on the hill, visible for several kilometers around the hill. The fire (dheepam) is called Mahabharanidheepam, Hindu devotees visit here and pray to god Shiva.