Lighting of Maha (Karthikai) Deepam, Tiruvannamalai, TN

Arunachaleswarer temple, Tiruvannamalai,

Lighting of Maha Deepam at the auspicious time  on the final day of Karthigai Deepam festival is a great event to be taken place this year on the evening of 10 December.  This important Hindu festival is held  on the day when the moon is in alignment  with the constellation ''Karthigai'' (Pleiades) and pournami. This constellation appears as a group of six stars in the firmament in the shape of a pendant from the ear. This day is celebrated as the birth day of God Karthikaya ( commonly known as God Muruga, son of Parvati). In  Kerala, this festival is known as 'Thrikkarthika'' and  it is said the festival is not dedicated to any god in the Hindu pantheon and most of the Hindus do believe it is dedicated to Goddess Sakthi (Bhagavathy). According to some it represents God Shiva and Goddesss Parvati. Anyway, this festival is celebrated on a grand scale in Kerala.

No other Siva temple in India assumes as much attention as the  Arunachaleswarar temple  at Tiruvannamalai Town, Tamil  Nadu  does. This being due to the fact this temple represents one of the 5 important elements (pancha boothams) that sustain our life on the earth - Agni.  Hence it is celebrated here with pomp and gaiety.  On the  early morning of 10 December (10 th day of the festival
period), Bharani Deepam will be lit on the temple premises as per temple tradition and  on  the same day Maha Deepam is lit on the

Karthigi Deepam on the Arunachala hill, Thruvannamalai.
sacred  hill.  On the Karthikai Deepam day, lakhs of devotees are eagerly waiting to see the lighting of Maha Deepam atop the Arunachala hills behind the temple. Little do we know that the devotees and authorities associated with this special event in the evening have to make elaborate  preparations before hand. The items that are essential for lighting the  sacred  Deepam have to reach  2668 feet tall hill without any delay so that the deepam will be lit right at the auspicious time. The most important item being the giant cauldron that weighs  roughly 200 kg.  This cauldron made of copper will be taken up hill after special puja and prayers This is done by nine workers from the Savalpoondi village who lug it with care to the peak. No roads are available to access the top.  Additional items are 3500 liters of ghee (made from butter) and 1000 meter of wick made from gada  cloth. This particular cloth will absorb the ghee  and give study flame and can not be put out by heavy winds. The temple officials to meet the cost of ghee, wick, etc receive donations from the public. 

An interesting aspect of deepam festival is at the Arunachaleswarar temple the shrine of Arthanareeswarer (Shiva in half-woman and half-man form symbolic of gender equality) will be open only once a year and his idol will be brought out of the shrine carried by the devotees to bless the devotees assembled on the temple premises. The carriers of the palanquin sway gently  and keep moving forward. This is followed by  lighting Aganda deepam  in the temple. Simultaneously up on the hill  the Maha Deepam will be lit around 6 pm. Immediately, after this event  in all  Hindu households and at temples across the state  sacred deepam will be lit reverentially. Devotees normally use earthen lamps/ agal villakku  on this occasion and keep them in rows in front of their home and inside their house close to the puja room.  When Bharani Deepam is lit in the morning in the midst of chanting mantras by the temple priests only 4,000 to 5,000 people would be allowed inside the temple to see the event.

The Deepam in the 5 foot tall cauldron on the hill top will be kept going for 11 consecutive days.  As for ghee, it is procured from Avin, owned by the state government. People in thousands will undertake Girivalam - going around the Arunachala hill along  the Prathakshapath clock wise - a stretch of 14 km. Devotees walk barefoot and many of them do it without taking food. Karthikai festival comes to an end after 3-day float festival in Ayyankulam.