Karthigai Vilakkeedu: Devotional Lighting of Lamps of Purity on the day of the November Star

Text and pix by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Statue of Santhaana Gopaalar

The Tamil month of “Kaarthigai” is dedicated to devotion and purity. “Kaarthigai Deepam” or “Vilakkeedu” as it’s popularly known was recently celebrated by the Hindus, which fell on the day of the “Kaarthigai” star.

“Kaarthigai Deepam” is celebrated by lighting of ghee or coconut oil lamps and clay lamps forming direct lines, circles or specific designs at temples, houses and business premises at dusk, and with the hope of dispelling darkness. The lamps are not put out until the next days.

Besides the lamp lighting ritual, “Sorkka Paavanai” or bonfire which later devolved into “Sokka Paanai” is also traditionally held at Hindu temples. A bunch of dried coconut leaves tied together at the entrance of the temple will be lit by officiating priest at night in celebrating “Kaarthigai Deepam” festival, after a parading of ceremonially decorated statues of various deities within the temple compound.

“There is a story linked between “Kaarthigai” and lighting lamps. Brahma- The Creator, and Vishnu- The Preserver had a dispute between them as to who was greater, and who was the supreme. The Lord Shiva wanted to teach them the truth. He appeared before them in a form of huge column of fire.

Both of them referred their quarrel to Lord Shiva. He told them that he who could discover the crown of the light or its foot first might be considered as the superior. Accordingly, Brahma took the form of a swan and flew up in an attempt to find the crown of the Light, while Vishnu took the form of a boar (Varaha) and began to dig down to find the foot of the Light.

Neither of them succeeded. The knowledge dawned upon them that the Light was superior to both of them” says Prambhashri Somaskanda Chandrakantha Kurukkal, Chief priest of Dehiwala Nedimala Sri Venkadeswara Maha Vishnu temple.

The Chief priest further states, The “Kaarthigai Deepam” is celebrated to bring out this great truth that the supreme God is far beyond the Creator and the Preserver. Brahma and Vishnu thereupon prayed to the column of Light.

Flames reach sky level during the Bonfire

Side view of Lord Iyappan

Ghee lamps are lit for the festival

Beautiful sculptures at the temple main entrance

Clay lamps in a circle

Clay lamps in a line

Lord Vishnu with Goddesses Sridevi and Poomadevi

Decorated deities on a colourful parade at night

During religious rituals at a temple

Lord Sakkaraththaazhvaar in granite

A Hindu woman prays during pooja

Newly installed sleeping Lord Vishnu

A Hindu couple lights the clay pots

Decorated deities after the night parade

Auspicious “Kuththu Vilakku” is lit during the festival

Hindu women participate in a religious ritual

Decorated Lord Iyappan

An Iyappan devotee worships at dusk

Orange flame during festival

Scene depicting Lord Krishna riding the chariot for Prince Arjunan during “Kurushethra” war ~ Passionparade