Kartighai Deepam, Festival of Lights
Kartighai or Kartikai Deepam is a Hindu festival of lights that is mainly celebrated in Tamil Nadu, South India. It falls at the full moon (purnami) between mid-November and mid-December –the month of Kartikai in the Tamil calendar, when the moon is in conjunction with the constellation Kritika, the Pleiades.
Kartighai and Lord Murugan
The festival is linked to the story of the birth of Lord Murugan. There are various versions of the story, too. Here is just one of them:
The gods were being terrorised by the demon Surapadman and went to complain to Shiva, begging him to do something about it at once. On this, Shiva’s head split into six and a spark of fire sprang from the third eye of each head.
Shiva asked the wind god Vayu and the fire god Agni to carry the six sparks to the river Ganga, which in turn carried them to Lake Saravana. There the six sparks became six fine babies cradled in red lotuses. The babies were raised by six celestial nymphs of the Pleiades, the Kritikas. Muruga is also called Kartikaya, “son of the Kartika”.
One day the goddess Parvati, wife of Shiva, went to Lake Saravana and hugged the six babies all together in her arms; they merged to form one baby with six heads and twelve arms. When he was older, Kartikaya killed the demon Surapadman and became commander in chief of the gods.
To thank the six nymphs for having raised his son, Lord Shiva granted them immortality as stars in the sky. For Hindus, worshipping these stars is like worshipping Lord Muruga himself.
At the Kartighai festival, the stars are represented by rows of oil lamps.
At Tiruvannamalai, Kartikai is celebrated in high style ; When the moon shows its whole disc illuminated in the month of Karthigai the celebration becomes a week long temple function.
The Annamalaiyar temple opens its doors at 2.00am and a special Pooja is perfomed on the 5 statues (‘Panchamurthi’). The main statue, Lord Annamalai, is decorated with the sacred diamond crown and golden shield.
When night comes, the temple is aglow with thousands of earthen lamps.
A big brass vessel especially designed in the form of a lamp is lifted to the peak of the hill; it is filled with 1000 litres of ghee (clarified butter) and camphor and a 300m long wick made of loosely twisted woven fibers is immersed into the vessel. Around 6 pm when the full moon disc emerges and comes on to the horizon, the Mahadeepam (the big fire) is lit ; it can be seen over a distance of 35km.
Devotees are set to perform ‘girivalam’, the circumambulation of the Arunachala hill after this occasion.