''Karthigai Deepam'' festival at Thiruvannamalai, Tiruchi and Madurai cities, Tamil Nadu

India is a land of different festivals, of  varied cultures and traditions. The Hindus  from various regions of India  celebrate the festivals with same religious fervor as we find in other regions. Karthigai Deepam  (Karthikai Vilakkidu  in Tamil) is also a  festival of lights that takes place after  Deepavali.  It is an important  festival being  widely observed across South India, particularly, in Tamil Nadu. It falls in the month of Kārtthikai (mid-November to mid-December) as per Tamil calendar. 

On the Karthikai day,  the moon is synchronous with the constellation Karthigai (Pleiades) and pournami. This constellation looks like  a group of six stars in the firmament  resembling a pendant from the ear. This festival marks the birth of god Karthkaya (Murugan / Subramanya (son of lord Shiva; the other being Ganapathi).  In the neighboring state of Kerala, this festival  goes by the name of Thrikkarthika and in countless temples  rows of oil lamps  on the Vilakku madam around the outer walls of temples are lit and they enhance the beauty and sanctity of the place of worship. In many other states it is called  Kartik Purnima, but is held on a different date!! This year, the main part of Karthigai Deepam  festival - lighting of Mahadeepam falls on 2 December and it is a main event at Arunachaleswarar temple, Thiruvannamalai town, Tamil Nadu. It is  more than 1000 years old, patronized by many saints of Tamil region.  

Karthigai  Deepam at Thiruvannamalai temple. Sampath Speaking

The most sacred  part of this unique festival is lighting of oil lamps at homes, temples and  in  the work place. The idea behind this festival is to  get rid of the old, unwanted things in the house and replacing them with new ones and it has philosophical connotation, implying elimination of bad or negative thoughts, ignorance  and replacing them with positive  thoughts,  just like a ray of light dispelling darkness.  Hence in this festival, oil lamps are personification of holiness, welfare  and prosperity.  The place where it is lit gets sanctified, creating positive energy. When you light up a series  of oil lamps at home, it brings in happiness, so much so, in the temples oil lamps create an atmosphere of reverence, respect  and devotion to all pervading gods.

Kerala, Vaikom Mahadeva Temple, manoramaonline.com

Thiruvannamalai temple, Tamil Nadu. Deccan Chronicle

On the  Karthikai day, Lord Shiva appeared at Thiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu as a huge pillar  of fire, stretching from the earth to the heaven, suggesting God is fathomless, no end and no beginning and  is omnipresent. Behind the Arunachaleswarar temple at this town on the Arunachala hill, it has been a tradition for centuries to light a giant oil lamp in the evening.   After the Maha deepam is lit at 6 pm on this hill, across Tamil Nadu in all Hindu homes, oil lamps (preferably earthen lamps) will be  lit. At the Arunachaleswarar temple it is a ten day long festival beginning with flag-hoisting on the golden mast (Dwajasthambham) and   the festival ends  following Karthikai deepam  and  procession of deities on  silver Rishabha Vahana  (Nandi).
 During the festival  days, around the four  Maada streets, each day there will be a procession of  deities (Utchavars). The car (chariot / Ther) festival falls on the 7 th day and deities would be taken out on five  colorfully decorated  huge wooden chariots.  Devotees  would pull them manually along the  four Maada streets. The highlight of the festival is  lighting of the Karthigai Maha Deepam on the temple premises and on the hill (which is roughly 2668 foot tall). prior to that Shiva in the arthanareeswarar alangaram is emerging out of the shrine to the open yard. The three-day float festival (Theppa Thiruvizha / Theppo Urchavam)  will be held in the huge temple tank and is part of the festival.

Karthigai. Arunachaleshwara Temple, Tamil nadu. Poompuhar

Since Thiruvannamalai town happens to be the main venue of this festival, normally more than 15 lakhs devotees would attend the 10 day festival.  Among the devotees, a large section  of them would perform  “Girivalam” (walking barefoot around the Arunachala hill, covering roughly 14 km during  the full moon night chanting prayers), when the Maha Deepam is lit. 

 Uchipillayar temple,'Karthigai Deepam,Tiruch, the hindu com.
karthigai deepam wick Tiruchi rockfort. thehindu.com

Above image: An old image  (02 December 2017)-Trichy Rockfort, Tamil Nadu.  Temple employees carrying  huge cotton wicks roughly 300m in length for the massive oil lamp to be lit atop the Rockfort Thayumanaswamy Temple (dedicated to Lord Shiva) for the Karthigai deepam festival the wick will be soaked in the oil for a few days and the flame will last for a few days.,......................... 

Tamil nadu Map. traveldealsfinder.com
On the Karthigai deepam day in the city of Tiruchirapalli, “Karthigai deepam”  will be lit in the evening around 6 pm on a cauldron made of copper atop the Shiva temple.  A large number of devotees  will participate in this holy festival with devotion and reverence. According to temple authorities, the  deepam will keep going  for three  long days.  It is quite interesting to note that
preparation for the big-sized wick for the “deepam” will be taken up at least one week before the festival.  A whooping 300-metre cotton cloth is used for  making the  giant wick, and about 1,000

Location map, Tamil nadu  Indo Vacations

liters of ‘illuppai  oil' (Mahua) and Sesame oil besides ghee will be used  to get the deepam going. The Maha deepam with all its brilliance  atop the rock fort will be visible all around the city.  Later there will be a procession of idols around the nearby streets in the rock fort area..

Karthigai deepam, Meenakshi temple, Madurai .thehindu.com/

At Madurai Meenakshi temple, TN this festival  is  held with religious fervor and piety; oil lamps will be lit in front of houses and business houses. In the past the lighting of one lakh clay lamps on the temple premises  was a major event as part of  the ‘Karthigai Deepam’ celebration and it drew lots of devotees to the temple. It was a grand sight to see the illumination around the temple tank enhancing  the beauty, grandeur and godliness of this famous temple. 

Karthigai deepam, Thiruparamkundram temple.thehindu.com

At the near-by Subramaniya Swamy temple,further uphill at  Thiruparamkundram, Maha Deepam will be lit in the evening after puja.  At the entrance of homes around the temple, as in other places, women  will light up the clay lamp after Maha Deepam is lit atop the hill. According to the temple officials, preparation for the Maha Deepam here is done by the team from Thiruvannamalai and it takes quite a few days to make the preparation. Normally 120 meters of cotton cloth, 5 kgs of camphor  and about 350 liters of oil and ghee are needed for the Maha deepam.

 In all temples dedicated to Subramanya, Ganapathi, Shiva and Vishnu, Karthigai Deepam festival is observed with  reverence. Temples are well decorated with Kolam/rangoli and rows of oil lamps. The belief has been that the new year will bring in happiness, prosperity and self-contentment.