Kaarthigai deepam- cosmological and cultural significance. Written by Jayasree Saranathan, India.

Part-1 Kaarthigai – the month of lamps.

The solar month of Kaarthigai (Scorpio) is known for lighting lamps in Tamilnadu. Lighting lamps during twilight hours on all days of the solar month of Kaarthigai is an age-old practice.

The special occasion is the full moon day in Kaarthigai when all houses and temples will be decorated with oil lamps after sunset. This festival is an important one for both shivites and vaishanvites and is variously known as Bharani deepam, Kaarthigai deepam and Vishnu deepam. This is considered solely as a Tamil festival, as it is not celebrated in other parts of India. This write-up analyses the various aspects of this festival –

cosmological, historical and Vedic.

First of all, let me make a clarification on the difference between lighting lamps on Deepavali (as it is done in most of India barring Tamilnadu) and lighting lamps on Kaarthigai pournami.

The obvious difference is that Deepavali coincides with New / no moon day whereas Kaarthigai deepam coincides with Full moon day. The intricate difference is that, lighting lamps on Deepavali is to celebrate a historical event of the death of Narakasura while that of the Kaarthigai is a kind of worship on a cosmically important day.

According to the astrological text, Kalaprakasika, kaarthgai deepam is celebrated on the Full moon day of the solar month of kaarthgai. The Full moon is the fundamental signifactor. The star krittika may or may not be present. But the deepam must be lighted on the Full moon. If the full moon continues in the next evening, the deepam must be lit then. Even if there is a lunar eclipse, the deepam must be lit. This festival ensures prosperity and good rains to the country, according to this text.

The lighting time must coincide with sun set or just before sunset or at twilight. The twilight is defined as the time when sun will be within 18 degrees below the horizon.

It takes 4 minutes to cross a degree. That means twilight stretches for 1 hour and 12 minutes after sunset. It is within this time the Kaarthigai deepam is lit. The details of how this festival is to be celebrated is given in this link from Kalaprakasika. http://books.google.co.in/books? id=e_8MaBfTncgC&pg=PP7&lpg=PP7&dq=kalaprakasika+translation&source=web&ot s=7096Yp5mnG&sig=_pN0EIEn38uy2pjz277r4gtheM&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=2&ct=result#PPA240,M1

Why the month Kaarthigai?

Lighting lamps is an everyday practice as a part of worship. But why this month of Kaarthigai has been specifically chosen is a question. If we look into the details connected with this month, we will know the cosmological and historical significance of this month.

This month lies opposite to Vaikasi when the summer is at its peak in the northern hemisphere. Kaarthigai is the time of peak summer in the southern hemisphere.

What we call as Agni nakshathra days in the North is experienced in the south during this month. (for details browse the following link) http://jayasreesaranathan.blogspot.com/2008/05/some-thoughts-on-agni-nakshathra.html

The agni nakshathra days are too hot for conducting mundane affairs. But this Kaarthigai month is cold – devoid of solar strength. So the rationale is to generate heat at that time. A gentle but a steady and pleasant heating is done during this month.

Kaarthigai (Scorpio) is the month when the lunar strength is also at his lowest. It is the month when the moon reaches its debility. The moon with the sun in this month (in the constellation of Scorpio) is a low-spirited time for the lunar power. The opposite location of this is the Full moon day, when Moon reaches its exaltation in Taurus from where its bright rays reach Scorpio!

Kaarthigai also signifies Lord Muruga. The lord of this month (astrologically) is Mars also signifying Lord Muruga. Muruga was born in the star krittika in which moon becomes Full in the month of Kaarthigai.

Muruga’s birth is for destroying demons and demons are the ones who inhabited the southern hemisphere according to puranas. We can notice that almost all festivals in the period of Dakshinayana are connected with slaying of some asura – be it about Mahishasura or Narakasura or Soorapadma.

The gods had been active in the southern hemisphere in the southern ayana (Dakshinayana)! Muruga’s birth star is krittika. Krittika has Agni as its Lord. It is generally not advised to do any auspicious thing on the day of Krittika. It is because its Lord Agni will eat them up (swaaha). Kritikka is the Lord of sword – one of the deadly weapons. The sword has krittika as nakshatra, Rohini as gotra, Agni as the deity and Rudra as the Maharishi. Lord Muruga born in such a krittika signifies anger coupled with valour (Aha nanuru and Purananuru verses say so) of the nature of the Celestial Commander in chief that he stands for destruction of demonic forces.

That happened in the land of the demons in the southern hemisphere at the peak time of Sun over there! That was in the month of Kaarthigai. This festival as an important one for the Tamils may perhaps be traced to two factors. One is that Tamil land consisting of the huge landmass of Kumari of the Pandyans was in the southern hemisphere many year ago. It is probable to assume that the inhabitants (Tamils) were frequently troubled by the demons from deep south. Muruga saved them from the demons and hence came to be glorified by them.

The other factor may be about the connection with Meenakshi – Sundareswarar whose descendants came to rule the Kuamri land with the divine help of Shiva (Soma sundra) – the son-in-law of the land. Further back into antiquity, it is possible to relate the inhabitants of that land to the subjects of Daksha-prajapathi whose daughter married Lord Shiva. We can see that the daughter of this land has been married to Lord Shiva during different incarnations and that is how Shiva became the torch bearer for the dynasty of the southern lands of Tamils (Thennavar).

There is even an opinion among scholars that the people of ‘Then-pulam’ (departed ancestors ) mentioned by Thiru valluvar was about remembering the ancestors of a by-gone era who were located in the Southern hemisphere! Due to connections like these, it is probable that the Kaarthigai festival became a special one for Tamils.

Now about the association with Vishnu. Kaarthigai deepam is known as the Vishnu deepam and it is an equally important occasion at Vaishnavite houses and temples. It is because the Full moon of Kaarthigai denotes Vishnu paadam!

If the Vishnu-paadam in the North signifying Vishu corresponds to the Vernal equinox, the Vishnu deepam corresponds to the Autumnal equinox in the South (hemisphere). Autumnal equinoctial point is Lord Thrivikrama’s sthithi (where he stood) and also the third foot on Bali pressing him down to the underworld.

This can be understood from the explanation found in Surya siddhantha. Surya Siddhantha explains the sojourn of the sun through the two ayanas as Vamana avathara. The sign of Capricorn (Makar) at the start of Uttarayana denotes the first step of Lord Thrivikrama –him measuring the bhoo-loka.

The second step is the loftiest one pointing to Heavens at Vernal equinox (vishuvat). The third step must be brought down to his sthithi, but placed on Bali pressing him down to underworld which is the plane below the southern equinoctial location. In Vedic parlance North / Uttar is about the plane above our plane of existence. South / Dakshin means the plane below our plane of existence. The directions as such are understood in this way only.

The first step is at Uttarayana. The second step is at Vishuvat – Vernal equinox. The third step is at Autumnal equinox! With that the asura (Mahabali) is vanquished.

This is remembered as ‘Sokka –p-paanai’ or bonfire lit on the Kaarthigai deepam day in the Vishnu temples.

Part-2 Is Kaarthigai deepam a Tamil festival?

A dominant view among the masses is that Kaarthigai deepam is an important festival for Tamils only. The Tamils of very ancient times were located in the south of the equator and had Lord Shiva as their saviour.

There are verses in Sangam literature that tell us about the antiquity of this Tamil land and culture when Gods were walking on the land and interacting with people. The first Sangam that was held 10,000 years ago was presided by Lord Shiva himself. (Adiyaarkku Nallar says so).

The Pandyans were the descendants of Shiva and Paarvathy. The Pandyans were known as "Panchavar" due to their origin from Pancha paani (another name for Paarvathy). Lord Shiva had always heeded the prayers of the Pandyan kings and 'the 'Thiruvilaiyaadal puranam' is a compilation of numerous instances in which Lord Shiva helped the people and the kings of this Tamil land which had Then-Madurai as its Capital. Shiva is agni personified. His anger is a well known trait.

His son Kaarthikeya, born in Krittika, destroyed the demon, Soora padma of the Southern land of the Asuras. The association with these two Gods is very much part of Tamil's memory and culture. When we say that the Tamils were in the south of the equator, it means that they followed the sun's movement with reference to the south pole. Their year must have started at Thula – 180 degrees opposite of zero degrees Aries.

The first event in their new year in Thula / Libra is Soora samharam.

The first event of spiritually growing time must be some time opposite to Akshaya thritheeya of the Northern hemisphere. Akshaya thritheeya happens when moon is in Taurus with sun in Aries. The corresponding event in the south occurs with the sin in Sagittarius (similar to Aries sign ruled by Mars) with moon in Taurus! (It is on that day, Kaathigai deepam festival is celebrated.)

This is one probable explanation for why Kaarthigai deepam became a special to Tamils and not to others. This time continues with them even after the lands moved and people shifted to what is now South India. Another interesting correlation is the specialty of Thiruvannamalai where this Deepam festival is an important event.

Geologists are of the opinion that this hill was once a volcano! Yes, what we see today as Thiruvannamalai is an extinct volcano which was once spewing fire from its cap.

This offers the explanation for the myth of the Fiery Shiva as Arunachaleswara

whose head and feet could not be found out by Brahma and Vishnu. The burning hills personified as Shiva was non-explorable. The memory of that geological event is perhaps kept on by lighting deepam atop the hill on the Kaarthigai pournami day!

Perhaps it was on this day sometime in the remote past, the myth of exploring the head and feet of Shiva happened. Since Shiva was the deity of the Pandyans, this festival could have been started from the times it was known that this hill once personified Shiva with fire leaping from its peak.

But Vishnu worship also was known in Tamil lands.

The Thrivikrama (Vamana) personification connected with this day (as explained in the beginning) also existed in the Tamil lands. This can be understood from the fact that the Vikrama Era started soon after the Full moon of Kaarthika (lunar month) -indicating that this calendar in fact was originally followed in the South rather than in the Northern parts.

To explain this better, we know that among the various calendars that are (were) in use, Vikrama calendar and Salivahana calendar were the most popular ones. There is no authentic proof for why and how these two calendars were formed. Most historians following the history written by the invading Britishers think that Vikrama Era was initiated by King Vikramadhithya and it was later replaced by Salivahanas.

But the unique difference between these two calendars indicates that the origins may lie elsewhere. It is that the Vikrama calendar follows the Southern pattern – the new year starts with the month of Kaarthika Whereas the salivahana calendar starts with Chaithra – following the Northern pattern.

The North – south I mention here is about the hemispheres. The Vikrama calendar is the calendar of the Southern hemisphere starting from the dark phase – from the day after the Full moon in Kaarthika. The salivahana calendar is the calendar of the Northern hemisphere starting from the day after the New moon in Chaithra. Naturally Salivahana seemed to be realistic to the people about 2000 years ago living in the north of the equator, as they thought it fit to replace the calendar of the south

and followed the Salivahana Era. This is how the transition could have come.

The Vikrama calendar which started on 56 BC (coinciding with zero ayanamsa at Aries) must have been an adaptation of some previously used Southern Calendar which was based on Vikrama's third step from Vernal to Autumnal equinox (just the opposite in the south)!

Such a calendar would obviously begin in the Krishna Paksha – because South is about darkness – of the demons. South is about starting the year some time in Libra or Sagittarius. This is how the Kaarthigai deepam could have come to be associated with Tamils of the long past, irrespective of their god-beliefs - in Shiva or Vishnu.

Some reference to Kaarthigai deepam in Aga nanuru:-

அகநானற 141 மைழகால்ந ீ ் ிய மாக விச ு ் ி ல் ஙக மப கறமயல மறநிறம கிளர, மதி நிைறந்து, அறமீன ேசரம அகலஇரள நடநாள: மறுகுவிளக் குறுத்து, மாைல தூூக்கிப், பழவிறல மதரப பலரடன தவனறிய 141-10 விழவஉடன அயர, வரகதில அமம!


(The rainy season is over. The sky wears the color of a small rabbit. In such a time, the Moon has become Full (pournami) on the 6-star constellation of Kritthika. Lamps have been lit in the streets. Garlands have been hung. In this antiquated place known for victory, when all the people are celebrating the festival (of Lights), let my man come quickly and join us in the festivities. )


அகநானற 11 வானம ஊரநத வயஙொகாளி மணடலம ொநரபொபனச சிவநத உ ு ் விர ் அங க ா ட் ு, ர பப ் ட இ ைலயில மலர ந ் ம ு க யில் இ லவம ் ் த ை கலிொகாள ஆயம மலிபுொதாகுபு எடுத்த அஞசடர ொநடஙொகாட ொபாறபத ேதானறி,

Meaning:(The bright sun moving in the sky has made the forest hot. In that forest, the "Ilavam" flowers that have blown in a row resemble the bright lamps lit in a row by the enthused women .)


அகநானற 185 ொபரவிழா விளககம ேபாலப, பலவடன இைலஇல மலர்ந்த இலவொமாடு

Meaning:(The Ilavam flowers looked like the big festival of Lights)


Part -3

Kaarthigai – why worship by oil-wick lamps?

The uniqueness of the Kaarthigai festival is about the mode of worship. Usually worship is done as a form of 'archana' with flowers or yellow rice. But worship is done to deepam and by means of deepam in the Kaarthigai festival. Small earthen lamps called 'agal' with oil and wick are used for worship.

The worship is done from inner chambers of the house to outside the housein the open space outside, as though the worship is to the glowing Full moon itself or to match with the celestial worship that is done by the Full moon on that day.

The rationale and the purpose of this kind of worship is understood from the Divya Prabhandam,

from the first 3 Thiruvandhathis sung by Poigai aazhwar, Bhoothathhazhwar and Peyaazhwaar respectively. This is about what personifies the agal, the oil, the wick and the deepam.

These important components of the lamp are exhibited at three levels or by means of three 'vyahruthis', namely, bhoo (physical level manifestation) Bhuvah (vital level manifestation) And swah (mental level manifestation).

The bhoo, buvah and swah are the basic components of all things in the created world. These three are lorded by the 4th component, 'mahat' (the explanation of these based on Taittriya Upanishad and Chadoghya Upanishad are already discussed in this blog in posts on Pithru tarpaN)

Juts to know the basics of this three-some existence, our physical body with skeletons, skin etc is bhoo. Our vital body with blood, fluids etc is Bhuvah. Our mental body with thoughts and mind is Swah.

The Lord of these three is our atman – that is the 'mahat' for the body.

The Mahat is the ultimate entity of any given vyahruthi. To realize that, the communion must happen at the three levels in unison. All the three levels of our existence – at physical, vital and mental level must work towards a singular goal of realizing that Atman. When that happens we say that the lamp of the Mind is lit with physical and vital bodies so that the Eternal Lamp of the Knowledge in the form of Atma is realized. This is the exact 'tatparyam' of lighting the lamps which is done with the three vyahruthis.

From Divya Prabhandam

The Prabhandam verses indicate the lighting of the Knowledge by the three levels of Vyahruthi. At the first level, the entire earth becomes the lamp or 'agal'. This is because the earth stands for the entire human race

that is to live on this earth at different stages of its existence.

When the earth is the lamp (agal vilakku), the oceans become the oil, and the sun becomes the deepam or 'sudar' or light. The worship is done to the Eternal Lord of the cosmos. The first verse in the first Thiruvandhathi personifies this.

When the worlds becomes the lamp with oil of ocean and the wick of devotion, the sun glows as the light.

This describes the activity at the physical level of existence of the deepam.(bhoo) When this is done, the next level of how the worship happens by the mind

This is described in the first verse of the second Thiruvandhathi (by Bhoothathhazhwar).

The devotion (anbu) is the lamp (agal)

The desire (aarvam) is the oil, The mind (Chindhai) is the wick. The light or deepam that is lit with these is Knowledge! (Gyana) This describes the activity at the vital level of existence. (Bhuvah)

Once a person reaches this level, What happens is the act of 'seeing' the Cosmic Lord in his Eternal form! This is described in the first verse of the 3rd Thiruvandhathi by Peyaazhwaar. When knowledge (para bhakthi, para-gyana ana parama bhakthiuof the Lord is attained, what one sees is the from of Lord with all divya aayudhas and in divya mangala swaroopa.

Without the physical body and the vital forces as manifested by the indriyas (senses), the wick of the Chinthana (thought or mind) can not be lit. When it is lit, what one sees is the deepam or 'voLi' or 'Sudar' of gyana or Knowledge of the Brahman! This is rationale of the worship by deepam.

On the day of Full Moon in Kaarthigai, -when the sun and the moon are looking at each other, -when the sun as the Atma karaka and the moon as Mano karaka are glowing on two sides of the world, -when Thirvikrama has completed his three steps of scaling all the three vyahruthis, the Light of Knowledge is lit a s mark of worship to the Cosmic Lord of Brahman!

The apparatus chosen also is something that of personifying the three vyahruthis. -The agal is the physical / bhoo component. -The oil is the Vital / bhuvah component. -The wick is the mind / swah component. -The lamp that is lit is the Paramatma -The Eternal Knowledge is indicated by that light - the Knowledge that removes the darkness of agyaana, - the Knowledge that takes us from tamas to Jyothi swaroopa sattwa - the Knowledge of the cosmic nature of the Creator - the Knowledge about the way to salvation.

Another taatparya is that It is with this Light (of Knowledge) that the Devas worship the Lord eternally! They always see the Lord – by their Light. (sadaa pasyanthi soorayah)

If there is Light, it means you will be 'seeing' the Lord! The purpose of lighting lamps in the pooja room is this.

When the oil and wick lamp is lit, The devas get manifest there (because 'div' means light. They are devas because of 'div') Once the devas are there, they must be seeing the Lord. So, the Lord also will be there.

Regular readers of Sri AMR of Kumudam Jothidam, would have known that he used to always recommend lighting lamps as the remedy for many problems. The reason is as above. When the oil and wick lamp (not candle light that exudes unwanted gasas) is lit, the kind of light and the change in atmosphere is such that of devas in the presence of Lord. In the presence of a such an atmosphere, our lamp of Gyana lit by our body, senses and mind, will also be kindled. Knowledge will be the born.

In astrological texts, it has been said that lighting a lamp removes all kinds of sins as this means that all the 33 crore devas reside in the lamp. They are the ones who are in constant company of Brahman. Where the Brahman is, there they are. When one lights a lamp (of some earthen material – of mud or metal, as maN- agal or viLakku, it stands for bhoo, gingelly oil (or ghee) for bhuvah and the agni as light for swah), he is not only worshiping the 3 vyahruthis, but also bringing down the devas to his place. As devas are in constant company of Bhagavan, Vaikunta naathan Himself descends at his place where he lights this lamp of 3 vyahruthis with the devas residing in them.

This is why round -the -clock lighting of oil lamp is to be done in all temples. In the absence of these lamps, Bhagavan can not be said to have come down in His supreme form.

This is the reason deepa-aaradhana is done in temples. The devas do personal aaradhana when lamps are shown for aaradhana.

The deepa- aaradhana, when brought near the devotees, must be worshiped by the devotees, for they (deepam) being the devas who have Bhagavan with them or for they having just worshiped Bhagwan, have come near us and they bring His Blessings to us.

The karpoora aaradhana also (by camphor) also has the 3 vyahruthis in it, in that, though the camphor sublimes in contact with agni, it's watery nature can be seen just before the agni goes off, showing its Bhuvah constitution. The one who worships by deepam therefore gets near the deavs and thereby near God Himself. He is entitled to better life, better birth and ultimately Moksha with the dawn of Knowledge.

There is a story of a mouse which accidentally kindled the wick of a lamp in a temple while it was running to save itself from a chasing cat. The act of kindling the lamp and making it glow for some more time gave it a future birth as a princess. It means even casual or un-intentional lighting of a lamp has its positive results on the person. Kaarthigai deepam is the Supreme time of lighting lamps

due to those cosmic significances discussed in the earlier posts.

From Taittriya Upanishad There is another significance for lighting the lamps. This is indicated by Thirumangai aazhwar in Peria Thirumozhi (5- 9)

The Lord (Arangan) is called in terms of Vedas and Upanishads. He is a Chandoghyan, He is a sama vEdi And He is a Taittriyan What kind of taittriyan? 'Ain - thazhal vOmbhu Thaittriyan' Ain thazhal is generally understood as the "pancha agni"

But in the context of taittriyan, it means something else! Because if we look at the meaning of 'vOmbhuthal' in 'vOmbhu', It means to protect, to be manifest in, to grow, to be fixed in something etc. In the context of Taiitriyam, there are 5 'samhithas' In which the Lord is manifest or fixed. In that context, the deepam is a wonderful description of worship of the cosmic Lord in a cosmic or Nature's way!

This taittriya worship is about maha-samhithas which are 5 in number. Samhita means juxtaposition. There are five such types. From Taittriya Upansihad,

I-iii-1:…. " we shall state the meditation on juxtaposition through five categories – relating to the worlds, to the shining things, to knowledge, to progeny, and to the body. These, they call the great juxtapositions. Now then, as regards the meditation on the worlds. The earth is the first letter. Heaven is the last letter. The sky is the meeting-place.

I-iii-2-4: Vayu is the link. This is the meditation with regard to the worlds.

Then follows the meditation with regard to the shining things.

Fire is the first letter. The sun is the last letter. Water is the rallying point. Lightning is the link. This is the meditation with regard to the shining things.

Then follows the meditation with regard to knowledge. The teacher is the first letter. The student is the last letter. Knowledge is the meeting-place. Instruction is the link. This is the meditation with regard to knowledge.

Then follows the meditation with regard to progeny. The mother is the first letter. The father is the last letter. The progeny is the focal point. Generation is the link. This is the meditation with regard to progeny.

Then follows the meditation with regard to the (individual) body. The lower jaw is the first letter. The upper jaw is the last letter. Speech is the meeting-place. The tongue is the link. This is the meditation with regard to the (individual) body.

These are the great juxtapositions. Anyone who meditates on these great juxtapositions, as they are explained, becomes conjoined with progeny, animals, the splendour of holiness, edible food, and the heavenly world."

-----------(end quote)--------------

The deepam festival also is part of such Juxtaposition. The earth is the first seat The heaven is the last seat. Full moon is the meeting place. The 'Vilakku' is the link.

The earth is our karma bhoomi, where we are born to shed our karma. The result of warding off karma is a place in the Heavens (cosmic place of no-return state to earth or to the chain of birth and death) The meeting place is the Manas / mind (Since moon is the mano karaka – signifactor of mind) It is with thoughts and devotion of manas we can scale from the earth to the heavens. The Vilakku (deepam) is the link!

It is Vilakku in Tamil, because 'ViLanga-ch-chaivathaa adu ViLakkul' It makes things obvious, lights up the place, clears the mind of all darkness and dirt. That Vilakku or deepam is the sandhi – the link. It personifies clarity of mind , of purpose so that Knowledge dawns on us. This must be remembered every time we light up a lamp. That is, we are lighting the lamp to remove the darkness from our mind, to gain Knowledge.

The lamp is lit in the kitchen first. (In those days Pooja room was in the kitchen.) From annam (food) everything springs. So from the place where annam is made, the light is brought. In temples the light is first lit in the 'madappaLi'- in the kitchen and from there taken to the Lord's sannidhi for lighting the deepam. (happens like this Srirangam)

The deepam that is lit is Kaarthigai is taken on to Maargazhi mornings when the 'NOnbu' is done to attain Him. The attainment happens with the onset of Thai – the next month.

This is seen as Makar Jyothi at Sabarimala – the journey for which aptly starts in Kaarthigai!! Thus this Thiru-k-kaarthigai is all about journey of the mind supported by the body (of agal) with the control of the sensesfor the attainment of Param Jyothi!

The one who undertakes this journey with this awareness,

the one who lights the Jyothi with this awareness can be assured of a journey to Mokshato the Ultimate Goal of attainment of the Lord of his worshipto the ultimate Knowledge of coming out of the cycle of birth and death! May the Lord who is positioned as Light in our minds guide us with this Lamp. Echoed in Periyaazhwar Thirumozhi 5-10 as "Sudar voLiyaai nenjinuLLE thOndrum en Jyothi Nambi"

Let me conclude this article with a prayer on DeepamThe prayer with which deepam is lit:_ Deepajyothi parabrahma Deepa sarva tamopahaha Deepena saadhyate sarvam Sandhyaa deepo namostute Meaning:I prostrate to the dawn/dusk lamp; whose light is the Knowledge Principle (the Supreme Lord), which removes the darkness of ignorance and by which all can be achieved in life.

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