Karthikai Deepam is a Hindu festival. The festival is observed in every home and every temple, and falls in the month of Kārttikai (mid-November to mid-December) as per Tamil calendar.
This occurs on the day when the moon is in conjunction with the constellation Karthigai (Pleiades) and pournami. This constellation appears as a group of six stars in the firmament in the shape of a pendant from the ear.
Many legends and lyrical poetry have grown round this star. The six stars are considered in Indian mythology as the six celestial nymphs who reared the six babies in the saravana tank which later were joined together to form the six faced Lord Murugan. He is therefore called Karthikeya, the one brought up by the Karthigai nymphs. Houses and streets are lit up with rows of oil lamps (Deepam) in the evening of the festival day.
Story behind Karthigai
Once Brahma and Vishnu due to their ego started arguing with each other to decide who is the greatest. Both claimed to be the greatest, instead of doing their duty. At that time the God Shiva appeared in the form of fire and told them whoever finds the top or bottom of the fire is the greatest. Lord Vishnu took the form of a boar and delved deep into the earth, Lord Brahma that of a swan and flew towards the skies. Lord Vishnu failed in his search and returned. But Lord Brahma, chancing upon a piece of Thazhambu, a flower, learnt from it that it had been floating down for thirty thousand years from Lord Shiva’s head. He seized upon this and claimed to Lord Shiva that he had seen the other’s top. Lord Siva realized the falsehood and pronounced that there would never be a temple for Lord Brahma in this world. He also interdicted the use of the flower Thazhambu in his worship. Lord Shiva appeared as a flame, this day is called “karthikai maha Deepam”.
Rows of Agal vilakkus (oil lit lamps) are lit in every house. Karthigai is essentially a festival of lamps. The lighted 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. This festival is also celebrated to commemorate the bonding between brothers and sisters in south India. Sisters pray for the prosperity and success of their brothers and light lamps to mark the occasion.