Thursday, 6 November 2014

Karthigai Deepam – Festival of lamps

Karthigai Deepam is one of the ancient festivals of Tamil Hindus. It is usually celebrated on the day of the ‘karthigai’ star or on the day of ‘pournami’ (full moon day) during the tamil month, ‘karthigai’. While the festival is celebrated for three days, it is a common practice to light up atleast one or two lamps throughout that month.

In ever y household, several oil lit lamps (agal vilaku) are lit, on the evening of the festival.  People make sweets like ‘aval pori’, ‘nellu pori’ (snacks made essentially from puffed rice), ‘appam’ (sweet pancakes), etc.  Offerings like ‘adai’ (a type of dhokla, made using rice and pulses) and vellam (jaggery) are  made to the lord.

Birth of Lord Muruga – Karthigai star

Scientifically it is the day(‘karthigai’ star of the tamil month ‘karthigai’) when the moon comes in conjunction with the constellation called ‘Karthigai’, also called as Pleiades. It is a formation of six stars. Mythologically, these six stars are considered as the six nymphs who reared the six babies from ‘Saravanap Poigai’ (a pool in the Himalayas, from where the divine child, Muruga, emerged). Later, the six babies merged into one, forming the six faced ‘Muruga’. Since he was broughtup by the karthigai nymphs, Lord Muruga is also called as ‘Karthigeya’. On this day, oil lamps are also lit in the temples. 

Bharani Deepam
Now is story time. According to Indian Mythology, it is believed that lighting a lamp in the temple every day is very sacred. Several ages ago, there was a rat, which meddled with the thread in the temple lamp. Fortunately, the lamp started to burn brightly, lighting up the whole place. The rat, seemingly presumed to have gotten the goodness of lighting a lamp in the temple, was believed to be reborn as ‘Narabali’ Chakravarthi, in his next birth. If such is the effect of lighting an oil lamp in the temple for a day, that too accidently, what would it be if you do it for a year?
On Bharani deepam (on the day of ‘bharani’ star of the ‘karthigai’ month, that, falls on the day before the ‘karthigai’ star) people who cannot afford to go to temple every day, put 365 threads together in a big lamp and light it as a single fire and place it in the temple, thus obtaining the benefits of lighting a lamp every day for that whole year.

Thiruvannamalai Deepam – Maha Deepam
Another story now? Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu had a fight about who is greater among the two. They went to Lord Shiva to solve their issue. Lord Shiva said, “The one who could see the tip of my head and the tip of my toe first will be considered great”. Lord Shiva magnified him so largely that his feet were somewhere deep down the waters and his head was even above the sky. As soon as the contest was on, Lord Vishnu chose to go down the water and see his feet first. He was several thousand feet down and still could not see Shiva’s feet. He decided not to try anymore and came back. He accepted his defeat. Meanwhile Lord Brahma chose to fly up and see the tip of Shiva’s head. He too travelled so many thousand feet up and was not even close to his hair. At this time, Lord Brahma saw the ‘Thazhampoo’ (a flower that is commonly called as Screw pine) near the hair of Lord Shiva. Lord Brahma thought for a moment. He returned back to Lord Shiva and told him that he had seen the tip of his head. Lord Brahma had also brought ‘Thazhampoo’, (who had already accepted his bribe), as his witness. Lord Shiva became so furious and cursed Lord Brahma, that he would not have any temples in the earth. To ‘Thamzhampoo’ he said, he would not wear her any further. When ‘Thazhampoo’ pleaded, Lord Shiva finally accepted to wear her only on shivaratri night pooja. Apart from that, ‘Thazhampoo’ is never offered to Lord Shiva.
Since both of them failed, Lord Shiva himself appeared as a ‘jyothi’ (a form of fire) in front of Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma. It is a symbol of this ‘jyothi’ that ‘Maha deepam’ is lit every year on the hill top of Thiruvannamalai, on the day of poornima (full moon). There is a belief that Lord Shiva himself is present in the ‘jyothi’. People in and around the hill, fast from morning and break their fast only after they see the ‘Maha Deepam’ in the evening.

Chokka Panai
‘Chokka panai’ is the bonfire that is lit at homes and mainly in temples, on the day of ‘karthigai’. It is generally regarded to eliminate the bad attributes in the society. While the Shaivaites believe that it is a smaller version of ‘Thiruvannamalai Maha Deepam’, the Vaishnavaites believe that it is to commemorate the incarnation of Vishnu as ‘Vamana’ and often call it as ‘Vishnu Deepam’.

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- by Ms. Dhivya Karthic