Sunday, November 21, 2010

An ancient festival - Karthigai

Agal vilakkus (terracotta diyas) lit in rows in the backyard, frontyard, on window sills, on the compound walls, staircases, inside alcoves, on the threshold, in the kitchens, in the puja room add that special glow and festivity to the house. All silver lamps like ‘kuthi vilakku’ which have been received as a part of the heirloom and wedding gifts are removed from the lockers, cleaned and lighted in the evening inside the house. Diyas are also placed on the Kolams( rangoli) drawn with rice flour.

Pori urundai(made from jaggery and puffed rice), appam( a fried sweet dish made from jaggery and wheat flour) are the special karthigai sweets and is offered to god as neivedyam (bhog) in the evening along with fruits and betel leaf.

This is the festival of lights for tamils called ‘Karthikai deepam’, one of my favorite festival celebrated on the full moon day of tamil month Karthigai(Karthik Purnima).

Many legends are associated with this ancient tamil festival dating back to 200 B.C which is older than deepavali and navarathri. Some famous legend associated with Karthigai month are-

The Birth of Lord Muruga/Karthikeya: Lord Muruga was born from 6 sparks shot forth from shiva’s head. These sparks turned into 6 babies who were cared by the 6 celestial nymphs called krittikas . The 6 babies were later merged into a single baby by goddess parvati and hence he is also called ‘ Arumugan’in tamil meaning 6 faced . His birth star is kritika.

The second legend is that Murugan is supposed to have taught the meaning of Pranava mantra ‘OM” to Lord Shiva. Thus the lamps lit on this day are in remembrance of sharing the ultimate knowledge of OM symbolically representing knowledge. Hence Lord muruga is also known as Kumara guru.

Another legend has that Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma had a ego quarrel of who was the most powerful of the two. While they were fighting Lord shiva appeared before them in the form of a huge pillar of fire. Shiva told them both to find the ends of the pillar, accordingly Brahma assumed the form of Swan and flew upwards and Vishnu took the form of a boar and dug deep into the earth. Years of search did not yield the ends but Brahma came and lied to Lord shiva that he found the end and he used the ‘Thazham poo’ as a witness. Lord shiva was angry about the lie and pronounced that Brahma would never have temples in his honour and hence there are few temples for Lord Brahma and ‘ thazham poo’ would not be used for worshipping Shiva.

Soon afterwards Lord shiva turned into Arunachala Hill at Tiruvannamalai in Tamilnadu also called agni sthalam(one of the 5 elements). The Bharani deepam lit here atop the hill draws thousands of devotees here from all over and the tiny agal vilakkus lit during the festival at homes is supposed to be symbolic of the fire linga( shiva). Nearly 3000 kgs of Cow ghee and 1000 metres of cloth as wick is used atop the hill to light the Bharani deepam in a huge brass cauldron. This light glows for nearly 10 days at Tiruvanna malai. Another interesting fact about this temple is that this temple spread over 25 acres has 6 praharams and 9 gopurams. Archaelogists have found an inscription on the compound wall of the 5th praharam that there was an earthquake nearly 400 years back at Tiruvannamalai and this quake absolutely had no effect on Tiruvannamalai.

The scientific reason behind this festival was today narrated by a scientific astrologer Dr. Pazhaninathan on TV. I missed it by a few minutes.

Whatever be the reason and significance , festive days give us a break from our routine and the sights of the oil filled diyas de-stresses the mind and adds certain warmth to the misty evening atmosphere. Electric serial lights are also used these days by many households but the beauty of this pales in comparison to the traditional agal vilakkus.

Karthigai deepam is a festival to light up your mind, soul and uplift your spirit.

Happy karthigai to all.

Karthigai info courtesy: a tamil magazine.


  1. Nice post and a lot of stories from the ancient epics that I came to know from here :) :)

    Hope you had a good time decorating your home and munching on pori urundais and appam :)

  2. yes of course ya...punnagai sirrantha nagain...thanks