Kathigai Deepam or Karthikai Vilakkidu or Thirukkarthika is a Hindu festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala. The festival is also termed as “Festival of Lights” and is considered the extension of the Diwali Festival. Karthigai is a month in the Hindu Calendar (mid-November) and also the name of one of the constellations (Pleiades). The constellation is a cluster of 6 stars that appears in the shape of a pendant. This occurs on the day when the moon is in conjunction with the constellation Karthigai (Pleiades) and Purnima. This is perhaps the oldest festival in the history of Tamil Nadu. The festival is celebrated for nine auspicious days with each day having its special importance.
It falls on Purnima (full moon day) in the Tamil month Karthikai which corresponds from mid-November to mid-December. This is the oldest Tamil festival celebrated by the Tamils.
In 2022 Kathigai Deepam will be celebrated on 6th December.
Kathigai Deepam Legends
According to a legend once there was an argument between Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu regarding who is most superior. In their heated argument, the two had forgotten about their duties. To put an end to the fight between the Gods, Lord Shiva appeared as a beam of fire and challenged the two to find either the top or the bottom of this beam. The victor would be deemed most superior. Brahma decided to take the form of a bird (Swan) and fly to the top of the beam whilst Vishnu took on the form of a wild boar (Varaha) and attempted to find the bottom of the light. Much to their disbelief neither could find the start nor the end of this magnificent light. Thus, both realized that they were blinded by their ego in their effort to find out who was superior.
Therefore, the day on which Lord Shiva took the form of the pillar or beam of light/ fire is referred to as Thiru Karthigai or Karthigai Deepam. The entire story happened on the hill at Arunachala Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. To remember this divine event, “Maha Deepam” (a giant flame) is lit on the top of “Arunachala Hill” in “Tiruvannamalai” during “Karthikai Deepam”. The names “Tiruvannamalai” and “Arunachala” represent holy fire hill.
Kathigai Deepam Celebration
Karthigai Deepam is also called the festival of lights and is believed to be an extension of the Diwali Festival as many families practice the trend of doubling the number of lamps every day from the day of Diwali till the festival day of Karthigai Deepam and thus a large number of blazing lamps offers a captivating manifestation during the night. Temples, houses, and streets are lit with rows of oil lamps known as agal vilakku.
Like Diwali, there is the general practice of cleaning houses and decking up houses beautifully with stunning illuminations and multi-hued ‘Kolams’ or Rangoli. People place lamps or Agal in their puja room and place them at different places in the house after the completion of ‘Deeparathana’ (puja). The streets provide a visual treat on this festival with lamps all around.
There are special celebrations organized at Arunachaleswarar Temple amidst Annamali Hills in Thiruvannamalai. The celebrations begin with the flag hoisting on the Uttradam day and the festivity continues for nine Kathigai Deepam days. It is celebrated by arranging Agal villakkus or small mud lamps in a row in houses. It is believed that it will fetch our ancestor’s blessings. Cow ghee or Gingelly oil is used for lamps.
Significance of Karthigai Deepam
Lighted lamps are important for all Hindu rituals and festivals and are believed to be an auspicious symbol to ward off evil forces, darkness, ego, fear, ignorance, and unhappiness and usher in prosperity, peace, joy, and divinity.
The burning of the clay lamp depicts the victory of light over darkness. The wick of the clay lamp represents the ego whilst the flame represents infinite spiritual knowledge. Thus, the power of knowledge can burn (remove) the ego.