When is it celebrated in India?
Kaarthigai Deepam, the festival of lights, is celebrated on the full moon day of the Kaarthigai month which coincides with Krithikai star.
Legends behind Karthigai Deepam
Karthigai Deepam is celebrated to commemorate the occasion when Lord Shiva emerged as a huge pillar of fire to resolve the conflict for supremacy between Lord Vishnu and Brahma.
Once, Brahma and Vishnu were touring the universe. They came across a huge pillar of light. It extended as far as they could see. It went all the way down into the Earth, and all the way into the sky, farther than they could see. They were curious – what could this be? So Vishnu took the form of a boar and dug down into the Earth, trying to find the beginning of the pillar of light. Brahma took the form of a swan, and flew into the sky, trying to find the end of the pillar. They both went as far as they could, but they could not find the beginning or end of the pillar of light. The pillar appeared infinite. Finally they realised that the pillar was none other than Lord Shiva.
They both came back to where they had started. As Brahma was going up, he saw a kanta/ Ketaki/ Thaazampoo flower dear to Shiva. This flower dropped from the head of Siva as Siva was laughing at the childish fight between Brahma and Vishnu. Brahma, noticing the flower, asked it who was wearing it and why it was falling. The talking flower replied that it was falling from the middle of the fiery column for eons, that it never saw the top of it and that it would be impossible for Brahma to reach the top. Brahma, as creator of the Universe, did not want to admit that he could not find the end of the pillar. His ego forced him to ask the flower to bear false witness to Brahma’s finding of the end of the pillar.
Vishnu spoke the truth, and said he could not find the bottom of the pillar. Brahma addressed Lord Hari (Vishnu) saying that he found the top and the Ketaki/Thazampoo was his witness. The flower supported what Brahma said and spoke in words confirming what Brahma said to Vishnu. Vishnu paid homage to Brahma and worshipped him ritually in sixteen ways.
Siva the True Witness of the universe and the repository of intelligence came out of the fiery column to punish Brahma for his false claim and conscripting a false witness. He cursed Brahma that no one would worship him, as he had lied. This is why there are not many Brahma temples in India, because Lord Shiva cursed him. Also, Shiva gave a curse to kaita/Ketaki/Thaazampoo, so that no one offers this flower in Pooja.
Soon after, Lord Shiva appeared as a hill (Arunachala Hill) at Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. The Hill is referred to in the Puranas as the oldest hill on earth, and is regarded as the heart of the earth owing to its sanctity. In one of his Ashtakas, Sri Sankara refers to Arunachala ‘Meru’ and says that Siddha Purushas are found here and also on the Himalayas. Shaktas regard this hill as Sri Chakra, a diagram of forty-three triangles. Some consider that the form of the hill resembles the first half of the Sri Chakra which is called Meruprastana, the emblem of the Cosmos.
To signify the importance of Lord Eswaran (Siva) taking the form of a flame, this day is called Maha Dheepam. 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.
Karthigai festival in Thiruvanamalai hills is very famous. On Karthigai day, a huge lamp (dheepam) is lit up on the hill, visible for several kilometers around the hill. The dheepam is called Mahabharanidheepam.
Lord Muruga and karthigai deepam
Lord Muruga was formed from the third eye of Lord Shiva as six flames in a lake “Saravana Poigai”. On Thirukarthigai day, all his six forms were united by Parvathi (his mother) and so he is celebrated as “Shanmuga” meaning one with six faces. Special poojas are performed to Lord Muruga on this day.
King Mahabali and Karthigai Deepam
The story behind Onam (for Keralites) and Thirukkarthigai (for Vaishnavites) is the same. It is linked to the fifth avatar of Lord Vishnu “Vamana”.
Mahabali was the son of Veerochana and grandson of Prahlad, the devout son of demon King Hiranyakashyap. Mahabali had a son called Bana, who became a legendary king in his own right and became very popular. Mahabali belonged to the Asura (demon) dynasty but was an ardent worshipper of Lord Vishnu. His bravery and strength of character earned him the title of “Mahabali Chakravathy” or Mahabali – the King of Kings.
The beautiful state of Kerala was once ruled by this Asura king Mahabali. The King was greatly respected in his kingdom and was considered to be wise, judicious and extremely generous. It is said that Kerala witnessed its golden era in the reign of King Mahabali. It was said Mahabali was very generous and charitable. Whenever anybody approached him for help or request he always granted their wishes.
Watching the popularity of a demon King, Lord Indra got envious and insecure. In a fit of jealously, Indra went to Lord Vishnu and said, “Lord, the demon king Mahabali is now equivalent to me.” Lord Vishnu knew that two Indras will bring imbalance in the universe. At that time, Adithi and Kashyapar were childless and meditated on Lord Mahavishnu for a progeny and performed the Ashwamedha yagna. Mahavishnu wanted to test Mahabali and at the same time wanted to fulfil the wishes of Adithi and Kashyapar. He decided to be born as a son to Adithi and Kashyapar. Mahavishnu was born to Adithi and Kashyapar. To test the King, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as a dwarf, Vamana. He came to the Kingdom of Mahabali, just after Mahabali performed his morning prayers and was preparing to grant boons to Brahmins.
Disguised as Vamana, Vishnu said he was a poor Brahmin and asked for a piece of land. The generous King said, he could have as much land as he wanted. The Brahmin said that he just wanted as much land as could be covered by his three steps. The King not recognizing the Lord before him said, “Vamana, how much land can your tiny feet cover?” The learned adviser of the King, Shukracharya, sensed that Vamana was not an ordinary person and warned the King against making the promise. But, the generous King replied that it would be a sin for a King to go back on his word and asked the Brahmin to take the land. Just as King Mahabali agreed to grant the land, Vamana began to expand and eventually increased himself to cosmic proportions. With his first step the Brahmin boy covered the whole of earth and with the other step he covered the whole of the skies. He then asked King Mahabali where the space was for him to put his third foot. The King realised that he was no ordinary Brahmin and his third step would destroy the earth. Mahabali with folded hands bowed before Vamana and asked him to place his last step on his head so that he could keep the promise. The Brahmin placed his foot on the head of the King, which pushed him to paatala, the nether world. There the King requested the Brahmin to reveal his true identity.
Lord Vishnu then appeared before the King in his person. The Lord told the King that he came to test him and the King won the test. King Mahabali was pleased to see his lord. Lord Vishnu also granted a boon to the King. The king requested that he be allowed to visit Kerala once in a year. Lord Vishnu was moved by the Kings nobility and was pleased to grant the wish. He also blessed the King saying that he would always be loved by Lord Vishnu and his people. The day of the King’s moksha is what we celebrate as Karthigai Deepam.
On this day, we make Appam, Pori to remember Mahabali. Tamil literary references to Karthigai 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.). In Sambandar´s (who lived in the seventh century) Tevaram, while trying to raise a young girl Poompavai from the dead, he asks with deep feeling, “O Poompavai, have you gone without seeing the ancient Karthikai festival?” Another song in Tevaram says that the Lord is truly the deepam (lit during the Karthikai festival). 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.
How is Karthigai Celebrated?
In Temples It is celebrated in a special manner in Thiruvannamalai. There is an interesting story behind Karthigai Deepam in Thiruvannamalai. Here, a special torch is lighted on top of the hill and it is believed that Lord Shiva’s jyothi will be visible on this day. On the pournami day in the evening, a huge vessel filled with ghee is lit on top of the hill. The lamp is about seven feet in height. Oil is not used. Around 3000Kg of ghee is used and the wick is a 1000m cotton cloth. When the lamp is lit everybody chants, Arogara, annamalaiyarukku arogara.
Another important thing done on this day in temples is burning Chokkapanai. After lighting the deepam in the temple, the priest comes out to the open space, there a dry papaya tree branch is covered by dry palm leaves. This is called chokkapanai. The priest shows karpoora arathi and lights this. The chokkapanai burns with a crackle, which emits a bright light. It is a smaller version of annamali deepam.
Another belief is that the fire is lit to remove all the unwanted garden waste and keep the streets and villages clean. Nowadays many people keep crackers inside the Chokka Panai to hear and watch it burst.
In homes In South India, it 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 Kaarthigai Deepam. Throughout the month of Karthigai, lamps, also called “agals”(made of clay) are lit and kept in the front of the house in the evening. On the day of the Karthigai Deepam, people clean their houses and draw Kolams at the entrance. The lighting of the lamps is done at the sunset or at twilight. The lamps are kept ready the previous day to be lit the next day evening. They are all washed and kumkum is applied to them. A cotton wick is placed in each of them. In the afternoon, some oil is poured into it so that the wicks soak well before lighting the lamps in the evening. All the lamps are placed in the pooja altar and lighted. Offerings to the Deity are placed before the Altar and Karpoora aarathi is done. Then the lamps are decoratively placed throughout the house on window sills, at the backyard, and especially on the Kolams drawn in the entrance. People also burst crackers and celebrate the festival.
On this special Thirukkarthigai day, the temples are all lit up and special prayers are offered. People of Tamil Nadu celebrate Karthigai for three days. The first day of the Thiru Karthigai Deepam is called “Periya Karthigai”. On the second day also lamps are lit throughout the house. The third day is called “Kuppai Karthigai”. On this day, lamps are lit in places like bathrooms, kitchen, inside/on the wall of the well (if you have one), motor room, places where you keep dustbins/wash utensils etc,. In the South of Tamilnadu and in Kerala, Hindus pray for the wellbeing of their brothers and they light an elephant lamp (Gajalakshmi Vilaku) 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, she would light an elephant lamp (Gajalakshmi vilaku) and she would prepare tender coconut, elephant leg size Milagu Adai, Pori,Adhirasam,Vella Seedai and keep them as neivedhyam for this festival. The first day of this festival is called “Appakarthigai” and the second day is called as “vadai karthigai”. All devotees traditionally offer pori, adhirasam, vella Seedai, vetrilai pakku, fruits as neivedhyam for God Shiva.
What is made as offering on this day?
Jaggery is the main ingredient and we use it to make Pori urundai, kadalai urundai, and any type of ground nuts urundai, pottukadalai/roasted gram urundai, appam, payasam/kheer with jaggery, vadai etc., Perhaps jaggery provides the body heat during winter days.