Karthikai Deepam festival 2021 at Thiruvannamalai is much restricted due to COVID -19

Karthikai Deepam 2021. latestnews.fresherslive.com

Tiruvannamalai town,  a  renowned pilgrim center in India, is at  the foot hills of Arunachala  hills. It is in this town lies the popular  Arunachaleswarar Temple dedicated to God Shiva. Here, he represents one of the 5 important Pancha Booths or Boothas - Agni (fire). Built  several centuries ago,  the temple is associated with various ruling dynasties of past era,  particularly the Chola and Pandiya Kings, besides the Vijayanagara rulers like Sri Krishna Devaraya.n This temple town is about 180 km from Chennai and roughly 80 km from Vellore city.

Karthikai Deepam. pinrest.com

Thruvannamalai karthikai Deepam. tamil.boldsky.com

In this temple Shiva is also worshipped as Annamaliyar and his consort Parvati  goes by the name of Unnamalai Amman.  Various Tamil Saivite saints sang in praise of the lord and their  devotional hymns are compiled in  the Thevaram and Thiruvasagam.   Mention may be made of Appar, Sundarar, Manickavasagar, and Sambandar who glorified the lord in their hymns. One of the largest Shiva temples of Tamil  Nadu  just like  Madurai  Meenakshi temple, Thirunelveli Nellaiappar temple, Thiruvarur Sri Thiyagaraja swami temple, etc.,  it well known as the Padal Petra Sthalam in Tamil.   The huge temple evolved over a  long period of time, thanks to the various rulers of different dynasties. 

Arunachaleswarar temple, Thiruvannamalai. upload.wikimedia.org

Occupying over 25 acres of land, the Arunachaleswarar temple has a unique   Dravidian  architecture with a 66 meter tall tower/ gopuram covering 13 floors/tiers.  It was built by none other than   king Krishna  Devaraya in the fifteenth century and it is believed to be  the second tallest gopuram  next to Srirangam   Ranganathar temple. The temple has  nine gopurams towers. Equally interesting fact is the temple has  seven prakaras (prathakshna path),  of  them  the first two were  said to be built by the Pandiya kings and the rest by the Cholas and other kings. Other features are  two temple tanks called Brahma Theertham and Siva Ganga Theertham and   huge thousand pillared  hall built by sri Krishnadeva Raya. Pillars in the hall are  carefully carved with images of yali, a mythological beast with body of lion and head of an elephant, a symbol of Nayak power.  Deepa mantapam, Kalayana  mantapam, etc. There are many shrine/sannidhis in the temple and many of them were built in the  thirteenth century  by the Hoysala kings of Karnataka.

Bharani Deepam, Thiruvannamalai, TN.thiruvannamalai.in

Maha deepam atop the hill. thiruvannamalai.in

Thiruvannamalai temple tower. vikatan.com

The temple comes alive during the annual Karthigai Deepam festival  in the Tamil  month of Karthikai because Shiva takes the form of Agni and there are temple across Tamil Nadu where Shiva is worshipped in the form of Akash (Chidambaram), Jaal (water; Thiruvanaikaval ), Prithvi (earth;  Kanchipuram ) and wind/air (Vayu; Sri Kalahasthi, Andhra ). These five elements are essential for  sustenance on this earth. 

In this temple 6 kala puja is observed.  There are weekly rituals like somavaram and sukravaram, fortnightly rituals like pradosham and monthly festivals like amavasai (new moon day), kruttika, purnima (full moon day) and chaturthi are observed here. A significant ritual called Girivalam is undertaken by lots of devotees. it is about walking barefoot round the Arunachala hill - a distance of 13 km. It is observed with strict restriction on diet, etc.,  after morning head bath and prayer. Girivalam can be undertaken on any day, but the most auspicious day is Pournami (purnima) - full Moon day.  Such a long ritualistic walk chanting  Shiva  Nama is good for the physical and mental well being of the devotees. They also experience spiritual exhilaration after girivalam.

The annual  Karthikai deepam festival  (november-December) which  is observed on the day of Karthigai Pournami when Karthigai Nakshatram prevails,  is a great  and important event  across Tamil Nadu and it a long drawn festival (10 day event) at Thiruvannamalai attended by more than a million people  during that period.  

On account of COVID -19 pandemic, in the last two years, the festival was a simple event with restrictions on the crowd movements and the temple rituals. Only limited number of devotees were allowed inside the temple.  Devotees were not allowed to witness the lighting of Bharani Deepam in the early morning.

On the Karthikai day the Bharani deepam is lit  in the midst of chanting mantras   on the temple premises  near the sanctum /garbagriha  in the  early morning around 4 am.  Maha deepam - a huge flame is lit  on a huge  vessel (5'.9'' tall weighing about 250 kg)  with a long  (about 1000 meters long) wick soaked in ghee (3000 kg) atop the  2666 foot tall  Arunachala hill around 6 pm.  The cauldron (Koppurai) has three parts Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.   The tradition has been that through out Tamil Nadu in the Hindu temples and in the Hindu households oil lamp ( deepam) is lit after the Maha  Deepam is lit on the hill at Thiruvannamalai.  At homes specifically a series of oil lamps (only earthen lamps) are lit by women folks after prayer to God Shiva and Karthikaya/ Muruga (Subramanya). God Muruga was  born on Karthigai Deepam day.  Lord Shiva created Lord Murugan from the flames of his third eye to annihilate a demon named Tarakasura.  Karthikai Deepam, yet another festival of lights, is symbolic of  getting rid of arrogance, ego, jealousy and other unwanted traits that will hinder our progress in life.

This year  the festival falls on the 19th November like previous years it is  very much restricted and the District Administration has advised the people to avoid  visiting the temple for darshan  and Girivalam  ritual (on the 13 km path)  between 17 to 21  November.  No special buses are arranged to bring in devotees  for the festival with a view to avoiding crowds.