Impressions of Karthigai Deepam

In South India the Karthigai Deepam is celebrated in the hill of Thiruvannamalai, and the ancient scriptures indicate the full moon day of Karthigai (November/December) as the best time to make the rounds around the hill.

A pagan belief says that the last full moon before the winter solstice marks the end of a year of worries and the right time to decide to turn their backs. It is a time of reflection on what has been and revitalization of what will be in the twelve months to come. So many names that have defined it such as the mourning moon, snow moon, fog moon and moon of storms.

In ancient times the month of Margashirsha, the ninth of the Vedic Hindu calendar, was a very auspicious month. The Moon was worshiped on this day because it was believed to be covered with amrit, the nectar of immortality. People on Margashirsha Amavasya used to wear white clothes, pray to their ancestors and offer food and donations.

Each spiritual center in India has its own character and its traditions. Among these is Tiruvannamalai (Arunachala). Tiruvannamalai, at the foot of Arunachala, is a small town, 190 km south-west of Chennai and is an ancient settlement with a beautiful, large temple. Some annual festivals attract huge crowds of pilgrims in Tiruvannamalai from across South India, especially during Karthigai Deepam.

On this occasion a fire fed by clarified butter (ghee) is lit on top of the mountain. Karthigai Deepam is a typical festival of lights of the southern part of India and is an extension of the Deepavali festival. It is very similar to Bhai Duj or Raksha Bandhan celebrated in other parts of the country. The ideology of the festival is that the sisters pray for well-being and the brothers, in turn, promise to protect the sisters in difficult times. This festival also includes lighting lamps in the houses, temples and workplaces of their brothers.

The idea behind this festival is to keep away from the bad things in life and welcome the good things of life. Oil lamps are a symbol of holiness in every culture. Karthigai Deepam is no exception. Lamps are lit all around the house. This festival occurs when the moon is seen fully in the sky. Karthigai Deepam is celebrated during Purnima or full moon day, when the moon is in line with the six star constellation called Karthigai. Tamil Nadu celebrates this occasion for 10 days. People wear new clothes and rejoice with happiness. They exchange gifts and try to meet all their loved ones during the festival.

People believe that Shiva appeared in the Tiruvannamalai hills and people love to commemorate the situation by lighting a big fire on the top of the hill. Ghee and camphor are used to light the great fire. The place is fabulous and the people screaming saying Annamalaiyar Kurohara. Most people find it fun to watch what happens with their own eyes while standing by the fire. The occasion is marked by a fair taking place in the region. People like to visit the fair and buy everything that is sold there. Cattle are also sold at the fair.

The deities are placed on the vehicle and transported along the roads like the procession for people to have a look. The vehicles are beautifully decorated. The ignition of the flame on the hill begins most of the time at 5 pm in the evening. Nobody wants to miss the opportunity and rush out of their homes to be there.

Women try to make their homes look welcoming and fresh during this time. They wear new clothes and put away their houses to invite their brothers. The house looks heavenly with oil lamps lit all over. Children blow out crackers and party with friends and family.

Many Vaishnavites in Tamil Nadu make sure to light the fire using the fruits of the Maruda trees, a stick called Kavattaik Kambu with a rag, rope made of cloth, sawdust and konkani resin. Presenting elephant-shaped lamps (Yanai Vilakku) to their daughters for their prosperity and well-being is a custom in most families in South India.

Tamils go out to see the decorations in the streets and houses of the parents. The Festival time is really great when people forget all their worries and get together to spend quality time. They take vacations from offices and forget the daily tensions in life.