Karthigai Deepam is the festival of lights when the bright flame itself is worshipped as God Almighty. Karthigai Deepam is one of the very ancient festivals of Tamil Nadu, referred to even in the Sangam literature of the pre-Christian time, when principal worship is made to Lord Shiva and his divine son Muruga. The celebration of the festival consists mainly of the lighting of traditional lamps in large numbers both in temples and at homes, and offering of prayers.

When is Karthigai Deepam Celebrated?

This festival is observed in the Tamil month of Karthigai (November–December) on the auspicious day when Purnima, the Full Moon coincides with Krittika or Karthigai Nakshatra, the star constellation of Karthigai (Pleiades). In the current year 2018, Karthigai Deepam is celebrated on 22nd November, Thursday. While the festivities last for many days, the main rituals are observed, worships are offered, and traditional lamps are lighted, principally around the sunset time of that evening, and the celebrations continue in temples and at homes till late in the night.

Legends of Karthigai Deepam

As per a popular legend, a controversy arose once between Brahma, the creator, and Vishnu, the protector, as to who among the 2 was more powerful. Lord Shiva is said to have appeared between them in the form of a massive pillar of fire and declared that whoever finds the ends of the large column, will be declared the winner. Vishnu assumed the form of a wild boar and went digging down into the earth, to find the bottom end, whereas Brahma, like a swan, flew upwards to see the top end. But both could not reach their destinations. However, while Vishnu returned conceding his inability, Brahma is believed to have made a false claim that he did find the top of the incredible fire pillar. He also produced the petal of a flower as proof of his reaching the top, which was only falling when Brahma was flying up. Shiva is said to have emerged out of the massive fire then, admonished Brahma for his untruth and demonstrated to the world that he is the supreme divinity. It is this fantastic episode which is remembered and celebrated as Karthigai Deepam.

Shiva is believed to remain as a mountain of fire and is worshipped in the form of the hill of Arunachala in the holy town of Thiruvannamalai, on top of which a giant flame is lit on the occasion.

Muruga was born from the flame that issued out of Shiva’s third eye, and his six baby forms were initially well taken care of by the divine damsels Karthigai Pengal, the personification of star Krittika. Hence, Muruga himself came to be called as Kartikeya and Karthigai star day became special for his worship. Karthigai Deepam thus became an occasion for Muruga worship too.

Karthigai Deepam Pooja

Special worships and grand celebrations take place on the occasion of Karthigai Deepam, especially in Shiva temples. While a huge flame is lit on top of the hill in Thiruvannamalai town, rows and rows of traditional lamps are burned in temples and at homes, in the evening. While some observe fasts during the daytime, special snacks and eatables are made as offerings to the deities, and Poojas are performed. Children burst crackers too to celebrate the occasion.