Karthika Deepam –Another Festival Of Lamps And Lights After Diwali In Tamil Nadu

Most winter festivals have something to do with lamps and lights as the darkness sets in early.  You have Diwali bursting with crackers. Harvest festivals like Lohri, Sankranti, and Pongal have huge bonfires burning with light and warmth.  There is another festival of lights called Karthika Deepam celebrated in Tamil Nadu and parts of Kerala in just a few days after the grand Diwali celebrations.

Deepam photo
Frontier Step of All Functions by Gautham Ramakrishnan under CC BY 2.0

Karthika Deepam – Festival of lights

Karthika Deepam, also called Karthikai Villaku, is a festival celebrated in Karttikai (mid-November – mid-December) month of the Tamil calendar.  On this day, the full moon appears along with a constellation of six stars that look like diamonds in an earring.   In Kerala this festival is called Thirukarthikai.  Elsewhere, in other parts of the country, the same day is celebrated as Karthika Purnima.

Karthika Deepam has been celebrated since time immemorial in South India.  There is a mention of this festival in Aganaanooru, a book of poems and Auvaiyar of Sangam literature dated from 200 B.C. to 300 A.D.

It is dedicated to Lord Karthikeya. The festival is also dedicated to Lord Shiva who became a pillar of light to crash the egos of other demigods.  Brother –sister bonding is also celebrated on this day.


Legend has it that it was on this day that six fire sparks from Lord Shiva’s forehead fell in Saravan tank and formed into six celestial babies.  These babies were brought up by six nymphs. Later, these babies were joined together by Ma Parvathi and thus was born the six-headed Lord Karthikeya. The six nymphs then were blessed with immortality and became the stars in the sky. 

earthen lamps photo
India – Chennai – Festival of Lamps by McKay Savage under CC BY 2.0

According to another mythology, Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu entered into an argument as to who was greatest among the two. Lord Shiva became an unending pillar of light and asked them to find the start and end points of this light. Brahma became a bird and went up to see the top.  Vishnu went below as a boar(Varaha avatar) to see the end point of the light. Both could not see the Starting (aadhi) or End (anth) of the light, but Lord Brahma lied that he had seen the top, so he was cursed by Lord Shiva.  This Pillar of light appeared in Tiruvannamalai temple on Arunachala hills and it is here that the festival is celebrated in great fervor.

Celebrations And Rituals In Tamil Nadu Households

The festival is celebrated for three days starting on the full moon day. The first day is celebrated as Bharani Deepam, the second day is called Thirvunnamalai deepam and the last day is called Kuppa Karthigai.

Deepam photo
Antique Kamakshi lamp by Subbiah Ramalingam under  CC BY 2.0

On all the days of this festival,  lit Brass lamps, silver lamps, and Agals are placed around the house. Agals are earthen lamps which are the most prominent lamps lighting all the nooks and corners in a house on this festival days.  On the last day, even the dark places like bathrooms and near dustbins have lamps to destroy darkness.

The festival is celebrated at dusk when the sun is setting.  First, all these lamps placed together and a puja is done.  Then sweet balls of Avul Pori prasad, made of puffed rice, groundnuts, and jaggery, is offered to the gods. Nei appam, sweet balls made of flour and jaggery and fried in ghee, is also offered. Finally, the lamps are placed around the house, in all the rooms, on the terrace and outer walls.  Kids also burst crackers on this day.

Karthika Deepam In Thiruvannamalai And Other Temples

This festival is observed grandly at Thiruvannamalai temple in Tamil Nadu. This temple is some 200 kms away from Chennai.  It is dedicated to Lord Shiva

A mega-size lamp, called Mahadeepam with 3500 kgs of ghee, is lit on the Arunachala hills. This light can be viewed from any part of the holy city(35kms radius). The temple is then lit with smaller lamps.  It is the cue for households around Tamil Nadu to lite their lamps at this auspicious moment.  On the next day, the resultant ash of this Maha deepam is distributed among incoming devotees as Prasad.

This year the festival will be celebrated on 22nd November.  Visit the Thiruvannamalai temple, join the celebrations and receive the blessing of the destroyer of Egos, Lord Shiva.

Featured Photo by siddarth varanasi under CC BY 2.0

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