The Karthigai Deepam festival is celebrated in the Tamil month of Karthigai (November – December) at Arunachaleswarar Temple, Thiruvannamalai. It begins on Uttradam day with flag hoisting and goes on for nine days. In the early hours of the tenth day, Bharani Deepam in five ’agantams’ is lit in Arunachaleswarar’s Sannithi. In the evening, the Pancha Murthis are brought to the Katchi Mandapam. At dusk (Pradosham), with the Karthigai day synchronising with full moon day, the deity, Ardhanareeswarar, is taken in a procession to this place with the five deepams, which are put in a big receptacle near the flag staff. At the same time, the beacon light on the hill is lit. The huge concourse of devotees from all parts of the country in a million voice raise a cry simultaneously, “Annamalaikku Arogara.” It is a sight for the Gods!

Rows of earthen lamps in front of every house… this is the image that at once comes to the mind when one thinks of Karthigai Deepam — the festival of lights celebrated throughout Tamil Nadu during the month of Karthigai (November-December). Not many of us are aware that it is one of the oldest festivals celebrated in the State, perhaps even before people began celebrating Deepavali and Navarathri. Also, unlike many other Hindu festivals, Karthigai is basically a Tamil festival and is virtually unknown in most other parts of the country.

One of the earliest references to the festival is found in ’Ahananuru,’ which dates back to the Sangam Age (200 B.C. to 300 A.D.). The Ahananuru clearly states that Karthigai is celebrated on the full moon day (pournami) of the Tamil month of Karthigai. It was one of the most important festivals (peruvizha) of the ancient Tamils. Avaiyyar, the renowned poetess of yore, refers to the festival in her poems.

Karthigai is essentially a festival of lamps. The light emitting lamp is considered an auspicious symbol. It is believed to ward off evil forces and usher in prosperity and joy. While the lighted lamp is important for all Hindu rituals and festivals, it is indispensable for Karthigai.