The festival of Karthigai Deepam is the one of the oldest living festivals in India. It takes place in the Tamil month of Karthigai when the star Kirthiga is on the ascendant and usually occurs on or before a full moon day. In ancient tamil literature, the oldest available work Tolkappiyam which dates back to 2500 B.C. carries a marked reference to this festival. In another ancient Tamil classic, the Kalavazhi Naarpadu, dating back to the third Sangam period (around 1000 B.C.), the poet writes, “In the battle, the blood oozing out from the dead soldiers’ bodies is like the red coloured flame of the light lit on Karthigai Deepam”. Another song in Sambandar’s Thevaram says that the Lord is verily the Deepam (lit during the Karthigai festival).
Everyone knows that Karthigam Deepam is the lighting of the flame on the summit of Arunachala on Karthigai day but not many people know about the exact reason this festival is celebrated. Readers may remember the legend of the Navaratri festival in earlier posts about how Goddess Parvathi having incurred the wrath of her husband, Lord Shiva, came to the holy hill of Arunachala to do Tapas and regain the favour of her Lord. And so, after a long period of arduous Tapas which the Goddess Parvathi performed with great devotion and strength, Lord Shiva’s wrath was appeased and He came down to Arunachala to take her back. When He arrived, Lord Shiva was so moved by the strength and force which emanated from the Goddess as a result of her Tapas that he decided that She was his equal in every way. Therefore he granted her half his body so that the Two would become totally united in One form. This was the birth of Ardhanareeswara. Physically It signifies the Divine Union of Shiva and Parvathi. Spiritually it signifies the absolute union of Advaita. Not two but One. Shiva and Parvathi are not two but One. Man and God are not two but One.
This momentous event is believed to have happened in the month of Karthigai on the day of Kirthiga Nakshatra and that is why till today the flame is lit on the summit of Arunachala in memory and honour of this wonderful Union which unite Man and God. Moreover Shiva is believed to have manifested as an infinite column of fire at this time and this phenomenon is also linked to the lighting of the flame.
When Sri Muruganar asked Bhagavan Ramana about the significance of the Karthigai Deepam festival, Bhagavan composed a stanza of four lines in which He says, “The true significance of the Karthigai Deepam festival is to turn the intellect inwards and have it fixed in the Heart, thereby merging it with the indweller of the Heart”