Karthikai Deepam is a very important religious festival for Tamilians. According to the olden Tamil texts in Sangam Tamil, the Karthikai festival is observed on the full moon day or Pournami in the month of Karthikai in the Tamil Calendar.
This year, 2016, Karthikai/Annamalai Deepam is celebrated on Monday, December 12th and Sarvalaya Deepam is celebrated on Tuesday, December 13th in India. In US and other Western countries, the Panchangams generally point to Sunday being the Karthikai Deepam, but since most families light the lamps after the lamp has been lit at the Thiruvannamalai Temple, several temples suggest to celebrate it on Monday. However, it is best to just follow the dates given by the temple that is near you or the temple calendar that you follow.
Importance of Karthikai Deepam
Lord Siva is worshipped in the form of a Lingam. There are five important temples at which Siva is present in the 5 different forms of the Lingam; the five elements of nature. These temples are collectively called the “Pancha Bhootha Sthalams”. The five temples and the forms of the lingams in these temples are listed below:
- Prithvi Lingam (Land) at Ekambareswarar Temple in Kancheepuram
- Jambu or Appu Lingam (Water) at Thiruvanaikaval Temple at Trichy
- Agni or Jyothi Lingam (Fire) at Arunachaleswarar Temple at Thiruvannamalai
- Akaash Lingam (Sky) at Natarajar Temple in Chidambaram
- Vayu Lingam (Air) at Sri Kalahastheeswarar Temple at Kalahasthi
The Karthikai deepam’s importance is owed to the Jyothi Lingam at the Arunachaleswarar temple at Thiruvannamalai. The story behind this lingam is thus:
Once, Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma were having an argument over who was supreme among the both of them. At that time, Lord Siva appeared as a continuous flame of light or fire before them, and the two decided to have a match to find out who was the greatest among them. The match was that, each of the two would head in opposite directions to find the start or beginning of the flame and whoever finds the end first is supreme. Lord Vishnu took the form of a boar, or Varaha, which is an incarnation of his, and went downward into the earth to find the bottom end of the flame, and Lord Brahma took the form of a swan or Hamsa and flew into the sky to search the upper end of the flame. Lord Vishnu kept searching for a while but his efforts were futile and he returned. While Lord Brahma was doing his search, a Thazhampu flower petal fell downward. Lord Brahma caught hold of the petal and questioned from whence it came, to which the petal replied that it had fallen from the head of Lord Siva and has been falling down for about thirty thousand years. Lord Brahma then decided, that since he had seen a petal from Lord Siva’s head it is equivalent to seeing Lord Siva’s head (symbolizes the flame’s beginning) and returns to Lord Vishnu claiming he had seen the flame’s upper end. Lord Siva knew that Brahma was telling a lie and punished him by removing Brahma’s fifth head (it is said that until then, he had five heads – four in the four directions and one on the top, however, after this, he was left with just the four heads he is famed to have). And since the thazhampu petal also agreed to lying with Brahma, Lord Siva prohibited the use of that flower in worshipping him, and from then onwards, devotees do not use that flower for the worship of Lord Siva. This day that Lord Siva appeared as a flame is called the Maha Deepam day, and hence is celebrated as the Karthikai Deepam day.
Basically, the teaching from this story is that, there is no beginning nor end to the form of God. That is what has to be realized. That is also the concept behind the five important lingams as well. Those forms don’t have any start nor end nor quantifiers and that is how God has to be interpreted – as a vast, continuous presence that is essential for human survival.
On this day, in Thurvannamalai, where the Jyothi lingam is present, a huge lamp is lit on the hill, which is visible for several kilometers around the hill. This deepam or fire is called Mahadeepam.
Usually, on this day, people light lamps in their house as well. Oil lamps called Agal Velakku are lit in rows outside the house and all the lamps in their house are also lit. Some families light the elephant lamps (Aanai Velakku), hand lamps (Kai Velakku) and doll lamps (Bommai Velakku) specially only on this day as they are specific to this festival.
This day is also important for the brother-sister relationship. On this day, the sisters pray for the prosperity and success of their brothers and light the lamps in their honor as well to mark the occasion; the lamp’s light signifies the light that wards off all the darkness and evil forces in the brother’s life. Also, the brothers take the bakshanams prepared in the girl’s parents’ house and take it as a gift to their sisters’ house or in laws’ house. This is a tradition that is being followed, even when the girl does not have brothers; in that case, the girls’ parents take the bakshanams to the in laws’ house. This can also be viewed as a festival to be celebrated together with family members where they pray to get blessings and also spend time with each other and enjoy relishing the bakshanams as well!
Neivedhyams (Recipes Linked)
On this day the following are prepared and offered in most houses, however, it depends on the different family customs.
- Sweet Nel Pori Urundai
- Sweet Avil Pori Urundai
- Nei Appam
Apart from these, in some families, they make other items as well. Like, for instance, in my in laws’ place, they make Uppu Appam as well. Also some families also make Vadais and offer as neivedhyam as well.
This is what you usually follow on this day:
- Wash all the lamps well and let to dry.
- Decorate the lamps nicely with chandanam and kumkum.
- Fill the lamps with oil and wick.
Note: While placing wick in lamp, always twist two strands of wick together to form one strand, and place in the lamps. The wick should never be single. This is to signify the unity of the man and woman of the house and for their continued togetherness. Also, unless there is space restriction, it is always advised by elders to place the wick in such a way that the two strands come from two sides and are twisted together in one end, which is the end that is lit. In other words, the two strands should form a V shape in the lamp. But sometimes, if the lamp is too small for that, just twist the strands together completely to form one strand.
- Put kolam with rice powder paste (maa kolam) in front of the house and in front of the deity at home.
Note: The kolam that is usually put is called “naalu moolai kolam”, because this kolam has lines in the four directions signifying each direction. For most auspicious festivals this kolam is put.
- The biggest lamp is placed in the center of the kolam. This lamp should either have two V wicks – such that when lit, one flame is facing east and the other facing west or have five V wicks for the flames to face 5 directions to signify five elements of nature.
- Place the other lamps around the kolam in any pattern you wish.
- First light the big lamp in the centre, with a matchstick.
- Then, light the other lamps with the help of a smaller lamp, like an agal velakku, by taking the flame from the big lamp and follow the process for all lamps. Basically, before lighting each lamp, the agal velakku is touched to the big lamp’s flame and then used to light the lamp, to show that the big flame is the one that provides the flame for the other lamps.
Note: The significance for this is that the big lamp is considered as the flame form of Siva and this is the flame that lights every other lamp and life form on this earth.
- Light the agal velakkus and place in a pattern in the kolam ourside the house, or in a straight line along the wall of the house, outside.
- After all lamps are lit, offer the neivedhyams to the God and do namaskarams.
- Also, do namaskarams to all elders in the family and get blessings.
Note: Also includes namaskarams to your husband! 🙂
Wish you all a Happy Karthikai! And hope you all enjoyed this day!
Note: I shall try to upload the recipes in the neivedhyam list as soon as possible, whenever I find time! 🙂 Sorry for the delay! Really busy these days, and I know I am kind of lagging! 🙂