History of Karthigai Deepam Festival

 Karthigai Deepam is a festival that has great significance for the people of South India. Karthigai (Nov-Dec) is the name of the 8th month of the Tamil calendar and the festival falls on the full moon day of this month. It is a tradition to light agal vilakkus or lamps inside and outside the house on this day in the evening. It is a beautiful sight to see the lamps glimmering at night like beacons of hope and joy. The temples, too, will be illuminated on this auspicious occasion. ‘Deepam’ means ‘light’ or ‘lamp’ and is a symbol of knowledge and righteousness in Hinduism.


One can find references to Karthigai Deepam and its celebration in many ancient Tamil literatures. Major works like Agananooru, Karnarpadu, Jeevagachintamani, and literature that date back to 2500 BC mention the festival.


The Story Behind Karthigai Deepam 


Once, Vishnu and Brahma started arguing that each was the Supreme God. The argument reached a point where Shiva had to intervene to put a stop to it. He appeared before them as a huge fire pillar and told them that whoever found its beginning or end would be acknowledged as the superior deity. Vishnu immediately turned into a boar and went deep under the earth. Brahma, on the other hand, took the form of a swan and flew upwards. Neither was able to find the beginning or end of the fire pillar. So, it was proved that Shiva was superior to both of them. The place where Shiva took the form of the fire pillar is Thiruvannamalai. The hill here is regarded as Shiva himself, and the name Thiruvannamalai means ‘holy fire hill’. The day he settled here is celebrated as Karthigai festival. It is a 10-day festival, and thousands of devotees flock to the Arunachaleshwarar temple here to worship Shiva on this day. They do girivalam (circumambulation) around the hill on this full moon day, hoping to receive Shiva’s grace.


According to legends, the Annamalai hill was Agni/fire during the Kritha Yugam, Ruby during the Treta Yugam, Gold during the Dwapara Yugam, and stone/granite during the Kali Yugam. Mythology says that as per Vishnu’s and Brahma’s request, Shiva, who was in the form of a fire pillar, took the form of a Lingam at the foot of the hill where the Annamalaiyar temple stands. It is believed that he established himself as Jyotirlingam on the sacred hill behind the temple. So devotees perform Girivalam around the hill and worship him. They walk a distance of nearly 14 km barefoot and offer prayers at the many temples, shrines, and lingams that they see on the path.


Karthigai Deepam festival is also celebrated in Murugan temples. According to legend, Muruga was born on earth to kill the demons, Soorapadman, Tarakasuran, and Simhamukhan. The three were brothers and were causing havoc in all the 3 worlds. Only a son of Shiva could slay them. However, Shiva was in deep meditation. After his wife Sati died, Shiva retreated from the world in sorrow. So the gods sent Kamadeva to disturb Shiva’s meditation and make him fall in love with Parvati, who was Sati reborn. Kamadeva sent his flower-tipped arrows at Shiva and broke his meditation. Shiva became angry and opened his 3rd eye. Kamadeva was burned to ashes, but Shiva revived him later. Shiva and Parvati eventually married.


Muruga was born as 6 sparks of fire from Shiva’s 3rd eye. The sparks were carried to a lake called Saravana Poigai by Agni and Vayu. There, the 6 Karthikai Pengal cared for the babies until Parvati arrived there and merged them into one baby with 6 faces on the day of Karthigai Deepam. This is the story of how Muruga was born. Hence, 1000s of lights are lit on this day in Murugan temples.


Another legend says that it is also the day Murugan revealed the meaning of the Pranava Mantra “OM,’ to his father, Shiva.


Significance of Karthigai Deepam


Lighting a lamp symbolizes many things in Hinduism. It can mean that the ego (wick) is burnt with oil (divine power) so that we become free of illusions and attain enlightenment. Light protects us against evil forces and negative energies. Lighting lamps on Karthigai Deepam are believed to attract prosperity and abundance.


Karthigai Deepam 2023 is on November 26.

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