Karthigai Deepam is the oldest festival of South India , which is as well the most complicated and the most significant festival. Karthigai Deepam falls in the Tamil month of Karthigai when the star Krithigai is on the ascendant and usually occurs on a full moon day. This festival is also called as "the Festival of Lights".
The month of Karthigai is of special importance to Tamil people, which derives its name from the star 'Krithigai'. Lord Shiva, with His divine light, created
Lord Muruga, in this month.
The popular legend behind the celebrations goes like this- Once upon a time the Devas, the heavenly immortals, put in their best possible efforts to have a complete
Darshan of Lord Shiva. During this process Lord Brahma took the form of a swan and
Lord Vishnu in the form of a boar conducted an extensive search in the sky and in the neither world did they find him.
Lord Shiva asked Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu to find out the exact location of his head and his feet. Since Lord Shiva took a gigantic form, they were not able to find him anywhere. Then Lord Shiva appeared before them in the form of a flaming light whose ends cannot be defined on the hill of
Thiruvannamalai. Therefore, this festival is also known as Annamalai
Deepam. Here, a special torch is lighted on the zenith of the hill and it is believed that Lord Shiva's
Jyoti will be visible on this day. The festival is celebrated in a special manner in
Lord Muruga took the form of six babies in a lake called "Saravana Poigai". On this day,
Parvati (his mother) united all his six forms and so Lord
Muruga has six faces. Special pujas are performed to Lord Muruga.
Evidence from Tamil literature proves that this festival is one of the oldest in the state. In ancient Tamil literature, the oldest available work
Tolkappiyam gives in concise verse form rules for Tamil grammar as well as other topics. Scholars agree that this work dates back to 2,000 or 2,500 BC. In one of the formulae
Tolkapiyar in his treatise uses the phrase "like the lamp's flame pointing upwards." This phrase, says one of the commentators, refers to the beacon lit on the
Annamalai Hill, which burns brightly without flickering in the wind, and flares up towards the sky.
In another epic "Jeevakachintamani" written by a Jain poet, Thiruthakka
Thevar, the poet describes how people celebrated the Karthigai
Deepam festival. In other ancient Tamil literature of the Sangam period, the
Karthigai Deepam festival is described vividly.
In "Karnarpadu", the poet in one of the stanzas, describes how in the Tamil month of Karthigai
(is ii Kartik month!) during the time of the Krithigai star, the lamps lit by people blossomed on earth, bringing rain in its wake. In another Tamil work, the "Kalavazhi
Narpadu" dating back to the third Sangam period (after 1,000 BC) the poet says, "In the battle the blood oozing out from the dead soldiers' bodies is like the red coloured flame of the lamps lit during Karthigai Deepam festival". In another Sangam work, "Pazhamozhi", in stanzas ending in proverbs, one stanza ends with this phrase, "like the beacon on the Hill."
This festival is considered as the extension of the Deepavali festival. In some houses, they double the number of lamps every day from the day of
Deepavali and this way, they end up with a number of lamps on the day of
On this day, people clean their houses and draw 'Kolams' (Rangoli) in front of the house and also place some lamps on it. They place the lamps ('Agal') in the puja room and light them and after the 'Deeparathana' (puja) the lamps are moved to the different places in the house. The lamps glow all over the streets on this day.
Karthigai Deepam is the most important festival, when devotees walk round the hill and worship the Bharani Deepam, which is lit early in the morning on the final day of the festival, in the sanctum sanatorium. The Deepam is lit in a gigantic, circular metal vessel that can hold about 2,000
litres of ghee. It is five and half feet in height and five feet in diameter. For making the wick, 30m of 'Ghada' cloth is used and is burnt with 2 kilos of camphor on the night of 'Karthigai
Pournami'. The Jyoti can be sighted from nearly 35-km around.
The lighting of the beacon on the top of the hill is the culmination of ten days of hectic activity in the temple town. The lighting of the Maha Deepam will take place simultaneously with "Deeparadhanam" to the five deities in the temple at the foot of the hill.