Kaarthigai Deepam is an important festival, celebrated among the Tamils in India and all over the world. It is one of the oldest festivals dating back to the Sangam Age (200 B.C to 300 A.D). Celebrated on Pournami, the full moon day of the Tamil month Kaarthigai, falling between the months of November and December, it has references in old Tamil literatures like the Ahanaanuru and Tholkaapiyam.
Kaarthigai Deepam marks the day of birth of Lord Muruga or Karthikeya, the Tamil god. Goddess Parvati took the form of a river, Saravana Poigai, where she gave birth to six babies in six lotuses. The babies were raised by Karthigai Pengal, the wives of great sages. The babies took one form with six heads, as Karthikeya. For this reason, Lord Muruga is also called as Arumugan, literally translating to six-faced.
There is also another interesting mythological story associated with it. Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu were quarreling to establish the powerful among them. To beat their egos, Lord Shiva appeared before them as an infinite pillar of fire. They decide to find the top and bottom of the fire; even after years of trying, they fail. Lord Shiva then appeared at the Thiruvannamalai hills as a flaming light. This day is celebrated as Kaarthigi Deepam. Every year, on this day, a huge lamp called ‘Bharani Deepam’ is lit up in Arunachala Temple in the city of Thiruvannamalai.
The flames are considered as Shiva Lingas; the melting nature of the flames is analogous to Lord Shiva, the almighty who purifies the maya of the spirit. The divine flames from the lamps are also considered a symbol of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity.
The Agal Vilakku is a traditional oil lamp made of clay. It is celebrated by lighting Agal Vilakku’s around the houses followed by other Hindu rituals like pujas and aartis. Come the day of Kaarthigai Deepam, a plethora of glowing earthen lamps line the houses and streets. The houses are cleaned and the courtyards are waxed with cow-dung, which is believed to have antiseptic properties. The intricate kolams (rangolis) are drawn with rice powder and the lamps are generously placed all over the house: near the doors, windows, and the balconies.
The temples will have extensive pujas and rituals and will be heavily crowded. Flattened rice, puffed rice balls and Athirasam, a sweetish snack are the offerings to the gods.
The leftover fireworks from Deepavali are usually displayed during Kaarthigai Deepam. The fireworks and the endless rows of Agal Vilakku’s form a celestial image of the festival.
A similar festival named Kartik Purnima is observed in other parts of India.