Last Sunday we celebrated the festival of lights, very popularly known as Kaarthigai Deepam in South India. Kaarthigai is the name of a tamil month which falls before Maarghazhi, another auspicious month. Kaarthigai falls in the Nov-Dec period when the sun sets sooner than usual and the evenings are darker. Then, the ladies of each house light lamps or diyas or deepams and arrange them in eye-bewitching patterns throughout the house. I guess that this custom should have started purely for practical purposes to fight the dark with light and to provide light to travelers and the inmates of the house. Over the years, it evolved into an elegant and charming custom which displays the sheer beauty of lights.
How interesting on introspection!!! Almost all the religions involve the use of light(either in the form of candles or diyas) to fight the darkness in the month of December. Christians use this opportunity to light their fashionable candles while the Hindus celebrate the ever popular Diwali and the lesser popular Kaarthigai Deepam (more popular in South of India… Come to think of it, each part of India has its own festivals and customs. Even hugely popular festivals like the Diwali and Ganesh Chathurthi are celebrated in different ways all over India! This sort of diversity is fascinating and mind boggling at the same time! It is this diversity that is at the root of Indian culture. Each part of India is unique yet an integral part of the culture. We can compare it with a collage where each part of the design stands out yet forms a seamless integration with one another to give a complete design. In my neighbor’s view, it is like the palpayasam( a sweet made of milk) where the cashewnut is separate yet an integral part of the sweet. He is a connoisseur in food and related subjects.
The custom is that atleast a handful of new diyas are brought and lit along with other old ones. In some parts of Tamil Nadu, the diyas are colorfully painted to increase their attractiveness. There are different types of diyas ranging from the small mann vilakku to the enormous Kerala vilakku and the intricate Thanjavur vilakku. Each has a beauty of its own and a rich culture behind it. The diya oil is poured (some houses follow the tradition of using ghee for the diyas kept inside the house) and the cotton thiri is kept in them. After all this preparation, a pooja is done in the evening and then the lady of the house lights the main lamps of the house. Other ladies and kids light other lamps and place them all over the house. It is sheer delight to look at houses decked in lights. This is repeated everyday, right from the start of Kaarthigai till the day of Maha Deepam. There are people who keep the diyas starting a week before the D day and others who keep it from three days ahead.
My earliest memories of this festival have been those times spent in helping my mom and paati in preparing the diyas, the pooja, placing the lamps and finally going around my colony to find out which house has the best array of lamps, the maximum number of lamps and the best kolams that go along with the lamps. Then, all of us go to the temple. My paati used to make delicacies on the day of Maha Deepam and we’d hang around the kitchen waiting for her to give us samples of all that she is cooking. And, though we’d be around and she’d give us a bit of everything (except those for the Lord), there’ll be atleast one surprise item in the menu that day. Till date, I don’t know how or when she manages to prepare it. There are so many times when we would be cockily sure about the entire menu only to be beaten by that surprise addition. Then, as we grew older, our games shifted to guessing out the surprise delicacy added to the list. Nowadays, though, I am more happy lighting the diyas and preparing them than with the food. (Is it an indication for me finally becoming a grown up???) This year, we had started right on dot and kept the diyas (not many but not too less too!) on all days. The last day, we checked out each house in our locality and adjudged the winner of this year. It was so much fun to do it with friends around. I am only sad that I won’t be able to celebrate this festival next year at home as I would be leaving home sweet home for work or study. Well, you can’t have everything in life all the time, right?