Ennapadam Bhagavati

Bhagavathi at Ennapadam Temple at Kerala

Thursday, December 23, 2010



Today (21-11-2010) is Karthigai Deepam Day in Tamilnadu and Karthik Purnima Day in Northern India. It falls in the month of Karthigai when the star Krithigai is on the ascendant according to the Tamil Calendar on a full moon day. Karthigai is essentially a festival of lamps. The lighted lamp is considered an auspicious symbol. Traditional belief is that it wards off evil forces and ushers in prosperity and joy. While the lighted lamp is important for all Hindu rituals and festivals, it is indispensable for Karthigai.

When we live in darkness, our human life is a constant want.
When we live in Light, our Divine Life is a constant achievement.
Light in the physical is beauty.
Light in the vital is capacity.
Light in the mind is glory.
Light in the heart is victory’ — Sri Chinmoy

ROWS OF agal vilakkus in front of every house... this is the celestial image that at once comes to mind when we think of Karthigai Deepam—the festival of lights that is celebrated throughout Tamil Nadu during the month of Karthigai (November-December).

The lamps lit on Karthigai Deepam Day are of varied sizes, shapes and colours. Traditionally, huge lamps are lit in temples and agal vilakkus adorn the thinnais (front portico) of houses. Bigger lamps made of mud, stone and metal are lit inside homes. Many modern families in Chennai no longer prefer the oil lamps that stain the floor and the walls. Instead, they use scented candles, including those shaped in the form of the agal vilakku. In flats that do not have balconies or open spaces, the single candle lit next to the front door is a testimony to a hoary tradition.

The ancient Tamils are said to have even imported lamps from as far as Greece and Rome, through the ports of Arikamedu (near Pondicherry), Mallai or Mamallapuram and Mylai or Mylapore (part of present-day Chennai). One such imported lamp was of the hanging variety, designed in the shape of a swan with a fish placed at the top.  At Arikamedu, archaeologists have unearthed a flat circular clay lamp with 12 nozzles or petals or openings for 12 wicks.

Behind every important Hindu Festival lies an interesting and fascinating mythological story. ‘Karthigai’ is no exception to this general rule, hallowed and enriched by song, myth and legend. There is an interesting story explaining the link between Karthigai and lamps. Legend has it that Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma began to quarrel as to who was the more powerful of the two. While they were fighting, Lord Shiva appeared before them in the form of a huge Pillar of Fire.

Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma gave up quarrelling and decided to find the top and the bottom of this Pillar of Fire which seemed to have neither any beginning nor any end. Since Lord Shiva took a gigantic form, they were not able to find him anywhere.

Then Lord Shiva appeared before them in the form of a flaming light whose ends cannot be defined on the hill of Thiruvannamalai. Therefore, this festival is also known as Annamalai Deepam. In short, Karthigai Deepam day commemorates the appearance of the Lord as a Jothi Sthambam, an infinite pillar of light at Arunachala.

Another exciting story about the ‘Karthigai Festival’ runs like this. In pre-historic antiquity, there was a demon called Tripurasura. He had, through his severe austerities, obtained the Divine Boon that he could be invincible and immortal so long as the three forts in which he had entrenched himself, were not demolished in one stroke. The forts were impregnable, one within the other. If only one or two of them were destroyed at a time by his opponents, they would immediately spring up again as strong as ever and the demon remained unconquerable and unshakeable.

Such was the invincible might and transcendental power of the Divine Boon obtained by Tripurasura. Finallystroke could Tripurasura be vanquished and destroyed. In despair the defeated gods approached Lord Shiva t all the Gods came to understand that only when all the three forts were demolished and razed to the ground in one o come to their help and protect the world.

According to tradition, Lord Shiva destroyed Tripurasura on Karthigai Deepam Day. The whole creation heaved a sigh of relief and once again righteousness reigned in the world. Thus this auspicious Kartika Purnima-Full Moon Day saw the great victory of good over evil and so this day is observed as a day of rejoicing from times immemorial. On Karthigai Deepam Day at night a big light is lighted in honour of the Lord’s victory.

Karthigai Deepam is the oldest festival of Tamilnadu. There are extensive references to ‘Deepam’ in several works of Sangam Literature.   It is believed that Lord Muruga, the divine light of Lord Shiva, took his form during this month. The ten-day festival is also known as ‘the Festival of Lights’ and is said to be the extension of the Deepavali festival of India. In some communities, people keep doubling the number of lamps every day from the day of Deepavali till Karthigai Deepam and thus the burning lamps present an enchanting spectacle during the night.

One of the earliest references to the festival can be seen in the Ahananuru, a book of poems, which dates back to the Sangam Age (200 B.C. to 300 A.D.). The Ahananuru clearly states that Karthigai is celebrated on the full moon day (Pournami) of the Tamil Month of Karthigai. It was one of the most important festivals (Peruvizha) of the ancient Tamils. Avvaiyyar, the renowned poetess of those times, refers to the festival in one of her famous songs. Avvayar in Poem No.11 in Agananuru compares an arid region where the Elavam Flowers are in full bloom which is now rightly identified as the Flame of the Forest.

The blossoming elevam flowers are compared to the bevy of beautiful maidens joyously lighting the Karthigai lamps in a steady methodical row in an organized manner. Nakkirar in Poem No. 141 refers to the physical fact of the full moon day attached with Karthigai star which is called Arumeen (Six stars). Tolkapiyar in his Tolkappiyam refers to the Karthigai lamp in these words: “Like the lamp’s flame pointing upwards”.

In another Tamil Epic Jeevakachintamani written by Thiruthakka Thevar, a Jain poet in the 8th century, the poet describes how the people celebrated the Karthikai Deepam festival with great enthusiasm and devotion. In another Tamil work, the Kalavazhi Narpadu dating back to the third Sangam period (after 1000 B.C) the poet says, “In the battle the blood oozing out from the dead soldiers´ bodies is like the red coloured flame of the lamps lit during Karthikai Deepam festival”.

There are many temple inscriptions which describe the importance and religious significance of Karthigai Deepam in Tamilnadu. For example, a mid-sixteenth Century inscription at the Arulalaperumal Temple in Kancheepuram, refers to the festival as Thiru Karthikai Thirunal.

In Sambandar´s Tevaram, while trying to raise a young girl Poompavai from the dead, he asks with deep feeling soaked in sorrow, “O Poompavai, have you gone without seeing the ancient Karthikai festival?” Another song in Tevaram says that the Lord is verily the Deepam (lit during the Karthikai festival

When the great poet Muruganar asked Ramana Maharishi about the significance of the Karthikai Deepam festival, Ramana Maharishi composed a stanza of four lines in which he says, “The true significance of the Karthikai Deepam festival is that it turns the intellect inwards and having fixed it in the Heart merges it with the indweller of the Heart”.

Arunachaleswara Temple in Tiruvannamalai

Today lakhs of people would be flocking to the Arunachaleswara Temple in Tiruvannamalai to worship the BHARANI DEEPAM. According to tradition the flame this Deepam does not flicker on this day and reveals the transcendental form of Lord Muruga reaching up to the sky. 

Jyoti Vilakku at Thiruvannamalai

The Deepam actually a colossal circular metal vessel with a capacity to hold about 2,000 litres of ghee, a height of five and half feet and diameter of five feet. The wick of the lamp itself is made up of 30 meters of ‘Ghada’ cloth, burnt with 2 kilos of camphor, in order to keep the light steady, firm and unflickering. On the night of ‘Karthigai Pournami’, when the lamp is lit in Tiruvannamalai it can be seen across an area of 35km around the shrine.

In Deepam Day is celebrated as ‘Karthik Purnima’ Day.  Having a holy dip in a sacred river on this day is considered as very auspicious in different parts of Northern India like Pushkar, Northern India, Karthigai Kurukshetra, Haridwar, Ayodhya, Kasi or Patna. The Kartik Purnima Snan (holy bath) on the banks of Gandak River in Sonepur, near Patna in Bihar coincides with the Asia’s largest cattle fair there.








Large fairs are also held on Karthik Purnima Day in Bijnor (Khari Jhalu block), Moradabad (Tigri), Budaun (Kakora), Bareilly (Chaubari), Muzaffarnagar (Shukra Tal), Garhmukteshwar, Anupshahr, Unnao (Ganga Ghat), Kanpur, Faizabad (Ayodhya), Varanasi and Ballia (Dadri) in U.P., drawing crowds from one lakh to four lakhs.






Dev Deepavali is celebrated on the occasion of Kartik Purnima in Varanasi when the Ghats of the River Ganga come alive with thousands of Diyas (earthen lamps). Dev Deepavali, celebrated on the fifteenth day of Diwali, is a tribute to river Ganga by the people of Varanasi.

It is believed that on the day of Dev Deepavali, the Gods descend on Earth. It is interesting to note that the Kartik Purnima festival also coincides with GURU NANAK JAYANTI and the Jain Light Festival.

GURU NANAK (1469 - 1539)


India is a land of cultural unity amidst diversity.  Languages, dialects, customs, festivals, dress, codes, cuisine, conduct, religions, philosophy, art, craft, literature, politics—there is nothing that is the same and certainly nothing that can be held together by just singing a national anthem.

There has to be something more, ‘something’ deeper than a national bird and national symbol.  In ‘Atharva Veda’ there is a poem which describes this ‘something’.

“Unified am I, quite undivided, That something’ which unifies is what this country leans upon as a source of strength for the ages to come. Once upon a time long ago, the great Saints and Sages who lived on this sacred soil injected this sense of unity into our life-streams. Our festivals like Deepavali, Dashera and Karthik Purnima are not simply a show of lights, asking for light to dawn on our minds, in our hearts, letting its warm glow mix wi.  When we celebrate festivals like Karthik Purnima, we celebrate the Festival of Eternal Illumination th our life and blood. 

Unified my soul
Unified my sight, unified my hearing
Unified my breathing—both in and out
Unified is my continuous breath
Unified, quite undivided am I
The whole of me”

On such festival days we celebrate the victory of good over evil, of virtue over vice, of immortal a God that lives in the heart of man, a God that works through the hazy networks of life after life, life over mortal death. How can I pay my tribute to my motherland of Bharatvarsha that believes in not just a God, but waiting, hoping and eternally confident that one day will arrive –what words can possibly fit to describe such fervour, such conviction, such immensity of plan and purpose.

To, an inexhaustible vital creativeness and gust of life and, mediating between them, a powerful, penetrating conclude in the soul-stirring words of Shri.Aurobindo: “Thus an ingrained and dominant spirituality and scrupulous intelligence combined of the rational, ethical and aesthetic mind each at a high intensity of action, created the harmony of the ancient Indian culture”.

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