Karthikai Deepam or Karthikai Vilakeedu in Tamil (கார்த்திகை விளக்கீடு) is the festival celebrated in South India in general and Tamil Nadu in specific since from ancient times on the full moon day of the Karthigai (Tamil calendar) month which coincides with Krithikai (third among the 27 star constellations - Tamil Calendar) star . The month of Karthigai is of special significance to the people of Tamil land since from Sangam Period (3rd B.C. to 3rd A.D.)
Seasons in Tamil Calendar
In a Tamil year there are six seasons:- 1. Spring or Light warmth (இளவேனில்) - Mid Apr - Mid Jun, 2. Summer or Harsh warmth (முதுவேனில்) - Mid Jun - Mid Aug, 3. Monsoon or Rainy with dark clouds (கார்) - Mid Aug - Mid Oct, 4. Autumn or cold and Chill (குளிர்) - Mid Oct - Mid Dec, 5. Winter or Early dew (முன்பனி) - Mid Dec - Mid Feb, and 6. Prevernal or Late dew (பின்பனி) - Mid Feb - Mid Apr. Karthikai festival falls during Tamil month Karthikai (Mid Nov - Mid Dec ) where in and the monsoon season is just completed and the cold and chill season has commenced. The star constellation Karthikai appears from east during evening time. The flower flame lily (aka. fire lily, gloriosa lily, glory lily - Gloriosa superba - Botanical name - in Tamil: 'Kanthal') of the Tamil land is blooming all around and turns the environment into flame hue. The women folks of the ancient Tamil land celebrated this festival of light by lighting the earthen lamps at the courtyard of their home.
'Karthikai Vilakkeedu' in Tamil literature
There are evidences about 'Karthikai Vilakkeedu' in Tamil Sangam literature (Sangam Period - 350 BC to 300 AD):-
In 'Karnarpathu' (forty stanzas about the autumn season), a Tamil Sangam poetry by Kannangoothanar - one stanza reports the Karthikai festival events during Sangam period.
நலமிகு கார்த்திகை நாட்டவர் இட்ட தலைநாள் நாள் விளக்கு
Meaning: The poem mentions about lighting lamps by women to bring rain and their faces blossom like the light.
In 'Kalavazhi Narpahtu,' another Sangam poetic stanza, ‘the blood oozing out from the body of the dead soldier in a battlefield is compared with the flame of lamps lit during Karthikai star day.'
The literary work 'Nedunalvaadai' composed during Sangam period by poet Nakeerar mentions the festival with two these two lines:
இரும்புசெய் விளக்கின் ஈர்த்திரிக் கொளீஇ
நெல்லும் மலரும் தூஉய்க் கைதொழுது…
நெல்லும் மலரும் தூஉய்க் கைதொழுது…
Meaning: People bring out iron lamp and wick lamp with flame and perform pooja by spreading flower petals and paddy grains and offer prayers folded hands.
'Seevakachintamani' by the poet Thiruthakka Thevar (a Jain) is considered as one of the 'Five Tamil Epics.' The verse shown below describes the festival event
‘கார்த்திகை விளக்கு இட்டன்ன கடிகமழ் குவளை பைந்தனர்’
In a Thevaram (7th Century Saiva Siddhanta literaure) hymn Saint Tirugnana Sambandar mentions about Karthikai Vilakkeedu:
கார்த்திகை நாள்… விளக்கீடு காணாது போதியோ பூம்பாவாய்!
(திருஞானசம்பந்தர் பூம்பாவை திருப்பதிகம்- திருமுறை: 2-47)
Meaning: Saint Tirugnana Sambandar restored Poompavai (a girl from Mylapore) to life from the bones and ashes preserved by her father Sivanesar. He sung 10 hymns and prayed Lord Shiva to restore the girl back to life. The girl died due to snake bite and this verse addresses the sudden demise of the girl without witnessing Karthikai Vilakkeedu.
The festival was dedicated to Lord Shiva. As per the legend Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu quarreled about a point - who is supreme among the three Lords (Trinity of Hinduism). Lord Shiva wanted to teach them a lesson and appeared before them as a huge fire column whose ends could not be defined. The Lord asked Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu to discover the origins (the beginning Aadi (feet) and the end Antha (head) of the fire column. Lord Bhrama assumed as the form of the mythical bird swan and flew upwards, while Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a celestial animal boar, and burrowed down into the earth. Their search in either direction was futile, and therefore the two Lords offered prayers to the column of fire with a note of surrender. Lord Shiva appeared out of fire column as fiery Lingam (Lingodbhavar). He explained that the two Lords were created out of him, and the Trinity (three Lords) were then bifurcated into three different aspects of divinity.
The holy hill at Thiruvannamalai ('பழவிறல் மூதூர்'), Tamil Nadu is assumed as the fire column of Lord Shiva. Therefore huge lamp (with long wick and large quantity ghee) used to be lit on this auspicious day every year at the top of this mountain and this festival is popularly known as Annamalai Deepam. Palai Padiya Perungkadungo describes Annamalai Hill flame with the following verse:
'அறுமீன் பயந்த அறஞ்செய் திங்கள் செஞ்சுடர் நெடுங்கொடி'
In all Shiva temples people assemble in thousands before the temple courtyard during evening time on Karthikai festival day and light the 'symbolic fire' known as 'Sokkapanai' to mark Lord Shiva as Column of fire (dome like structure constructed using plantain trunk and dried coconut leaves will be lit) and offer their prayers.
1. கார்த்திகை விளக்கீடு. தமிழ் விக்கிப்பீடியா.
2. தமிழ் இலக்கியங்களில் தீபாவளி. முரளி, வ.மு. தினமணி. 13 November 2012.
3. Karthikai Deepam. Wikipedia (English)