Celebrated within the Tamil month of Karthigai, Karthigai Deepam is the festival of light that is celebrated globally by the Hindu community. Synonymous with Diwali, Karthigai Deepam celebrates the triumph of light over darkness. On this day, it is believed that Lord Shiva first appeared on Earth as an infinite beam of golden light thus many devotees adorn their homes with clay diyas (lamps).
Karthigai refers to the month in which the festival is celebrated whilst Deepam refers to light. The lighting of lamps is an age-old tradition within Indian homes that is thought to ward off evil forces. The festival is observed on the Purinima (full moon day) when the star, Karthika, is the brightest. The auspicious occurrence of both the moon and the Karthika star is believed to be the most optimal period to allow the light of the divine consciousness to illuminate the world.
The story behind Karthigai Deepam
According to Hindu folklore, there was once an argument between Lord Brahma and Vishnu regarding who was deemed most superior. In their heated argument, the two had forgotten about their duties. In an effort to put an end to the fight between the Gods, Lord Shiva appeared as a beam of fire and challenged the two to find either then top or the bottom of this beam. The victor would be deemed most superior. Brahma decided to take the form of a bird (Annam) and fly to the top of the beam whilst Vishnu took on the form of a wild boar (Varaha) and attempted to find the bottom of the light. Much to their disbelief neither could find the start nor the end to this magnificent light. Thus, both realised that they were blinded by their ego in their effort to find out who was more superior.
Therefore, the day on which Lord Shiva took the form of the pillar or beam of light/ fire is referred to as Thiru Karthigai or Karthigai Deepam. The entire story happened at the hill at Arunachala Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu.
The Thiruvannamalai temple in Indian is well renowned for the elaborate decorations and manner in which the festival is celebrated. The temple sees thousands of devotees from across the global on this auspicious day. The areas name aptly translates to “the holy hill of fire” and the Lingum present is referred to as the Agni Lingum, where the Lingum is in the form of fire
Devotees light lamps on the peak of a hill as a symbolic representation of the main Agni Lingum.
Significance of Karthigai Deepam
The burning of the clay lamp depicts the victory of light over darkness. The wick of the clay lamp represents the ego whilst the flame represents the infinite spiritual knowledge. Thus, the power of knowledge can burn (remove) the ego.
How to observe this auspicious day
Devotees often observe a strict fast, prepare a variety of delicious treats and wear new clothing. In the evening, devotees light a lamp called the “Maavillaku” – made from melted jaggery, rice powder, ghee and cardamom powder. A wick and ghee are added to the middle.
This year Karthigai Deepam is celebrated on the 29th of November 2020 and given our current global pandemic, it is indeed a reason to celebrate the triumph of knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and love over hatred.
“May the gleam of diyas enlighten your spirit and vanquish darkness from your life.”
Article written by Kaylene Moodley is a member of the Youth Committee of the SA Hindu Maha Sabha and a Masters Candidate in Geography and Environmental Science at UKZN.