Tuesday, December 16, 2008



Karthikai Deepam
Karthikai Deepam is a festival of lights celebrated by Tamil Hindus on the full moon day of Karthikai month (November/December), which is observed in every home and in every temple.

This occurs on the day when the moon is in conjunction with the constellation Karthigai (Pleiades) and purnima. This constellation appears as a group of six stars in the firmament in the shape of a pendant from the ear.

As usual, 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 Muruga.

He is consequently called Karthikeya the one brought up by the Karthigai nymphs. Houses and streets are lit up with rows of oil lamps (Deepam) the evening of the festival day. This year it was observed last Friday November 12.

Feel of Karthigai Deepam
Rows of agal vilakkus (oil lit lamp) in front of every house... this is the image that at once comes to mind when we think of Karthigai Deepam - the festival of lights that is celebrated throughout Tamil Nadu during the month of Karthigai (November-December). Not many of us are aware that it is one of the oldest festivals celebrated in the State, perhaps even before people began celebrating Deepavali and Navarathri.

Also, unlike many other Hindu festivals, Karthigai is a Tamil festival and is celebrated in all the Tamil diaspora throughout the globe.

Festival of lamps
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.

Mythological aspect of Karthigai festival
Lord Siva appeared as a huge flame of light before Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma (Hindu gods), who each considered Himself supreme and said that the matter could be tested if the two could search for Lord Siva’s Head and feet. Lord Vishnu took the form of a (varagar) boar and delved deep into the earth, Lord Brahma that of a (Annam) swan and flew to the top, 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 Siva’s head. He seized upon this and claimed to Lord Siva that he had seen the other’s top.

Lord Siva realised 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 Siva appeard as a flame, this day is called Maha Dheepam.

Karthigai festival in Tiruvannamalai hills is very famous. On Karthigai day a huge fire lamp is lit up the hill, visible for kilometers around. The fire (dheepam) is called Mahadheepam, Hindu divotees visit here and pray God Shiva.



How Pillayar came to be
Thilaka V. Wijeyaratnam

In one of their sojourns in space, God Siva and His consort Parvathy spotted a group of elephants - males and females on earth. Goddess Parvathy was fascinated by the elephant face. She told Lord Siva it’s like the word Aum in Tamil the pranava mantram. If they could have a child like that, they could be constantly viewing the symbol of pranava mantram.

And so Pillayar manifested himself and in Hindu Mythology he is considered as the elder child of God Siva and Parvathy. This fact is revealed in the thevaram (psalm) “Pidiyathanuru umai.” sung by Saint Thirugnanasambandar.

There are many distorted versions of how Pillayar came to be with elephant head. One is that God Siva in anger chopped off Pillayar’s head and when His Consort broke down with sorrow, He cut the head of an elephant and fixed it to His (Pillayar’s body). It is the most absurd and ridiculous explanation.

People who concocted this theory seem not to know that no Saiva God is blood thirsty - least of all God Siva the Supreme God who is compassionate and merciful. Why couldn’t such writers go through texts on Saivaism and the religious songs and write the correct story? Such stories mislead people of other religions and also Hindu children.

Time the Saivaite leaders and the department of Hindu Culture, the Siva Council, the Hindu Council and Hindu Congress correct such erroneous accounts through the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Refined people do not run down the religion or religious belief of the others.

There are many stories in Hindu Mythology of Pillayar. It is a given fact that even in Hindu Temples, the incumbent deity may be God Siva or Aadi Parasakthi or Badrakali or God Murugan, the first Poosai (worshipping with flowers - poo-flower) is done for Pillayar invoking his blessings. It is after Pillayar worship, Poosai for the other deities are conducted.

Once there were three evil men Asuras - who were embodiments of ago, who had built their own palaces - of silver, gold and iron. Their structures were called Thiripuram. As their wickedness both towards the Devas and mortals knew no bounds, Devas and mortals appealed to God Siva to save them.

So God Siva set out to put an end to the egoistic Asuras. As He left His abode, Pillayar was seated at the entrance. God Siva ignored Him and set out in His chariot. Pillayar was annoyed that He was ignored.

He broke the axle of the chariot. God Siva could not proceed. But He realised why it happened. He returned, appeased Pillayar and then set out. With one angry look and derisive laughter at the over-confidence of the Asuras He burnt the Thiripurams to ashes and destroyed the Asuras.

In another incident the Deva called Moon laughter at the figure of Ganesha. He cursed him to wane off. So Moon ran to God Siva for salvation. God Siva took the crescent Moon and kept him on his crown. He was pardoned and was allowed to get back his full form after waning off for 14 days.

Thus we see the waxing moon. In another incident, there was a prolonged drought. Sage Agastiyar had taken all the waters of a river that ran through Thamil Nadu into his Kamandalam - the brass jug the rishis carry with them to collect water for religious rituals. The people and the Devas appealed to God Ganesha to help. He took the form of a crow (kakka) and tipped the Kamandalm. The water spread out into a river.

As it’s done by the crow, the river was named Kaviri (Ka-crow, viri-spread). Now it has changed to Cauvery with the passage of time. Agastiyar annoyed, chased the bird. The crow changed into a small boy and ran.

The Sage chased him and catching him knocked him on the head. Pillayar took his original form and Agastiyar realised he had knocked God Pillayar on his head. The peni tent Sage begged pardon and the habit of devotees crossing their hands and knocking on their heads thrice is a reminder of the incident.

In Hindu Mythology there are so many stories of Pillayar.

Mythology is not the religion. Neither is it the essence of religion. Mythology should not be mistaken for Hinduism. Like morality plays the stories in Mythology teach people to choose righteous living.

Teach people to distinguish between good and bad, between right and wrong and gives lessons in humanitarian deeds. There are stories about Gods who help genuine devotees, desperate ones and prove the fact the Presence is always there to help the good and the sincere. Even animals in need are helped by the Gods.

Many would be familiar with the story of the ripe mango fruit and the competition between God Pillayar and boy God Murugan. Sage Narada is famous for involving two parties in the fight.

Though he does it out of mischief, finally he sees to it that all ends well.

Once he went to Mt. Kailas the abode of God Siva with a ripe mango and offered it to God Siva, which He gave to His Consort Parvathy. Both Pillayar and Murugan wanted the mango. God Siva told Sage Narada to solve the problem he created. Sage Narada told Pillayar and Murugan, “Whoever comes round the universe first will receive the mango.”

So off went Murugan on His peacock. Pillayar of course has only a rat as his vahana. What would be do? He looked worried. Sage Narada told Pillayar, “Why are you hesitating. Aren’t your parents your entire universe.

Go round them and claim the mango,” Pillayar did likewise and got the mango. Murugan came flying back on his peacock and when He saw the mango in Pillayar’s hand, flew into a tantrum and denouncing all He had, left in a loin cloth and settled on the hills of Palani in Thamil Nadu.

This mythological story gives a message to the children. Your parents are the first Gods for them. Worship them, respect them, revere them. How Murugan was appeased is another story.

Thus mythological stories which are often presented in the form of dance and dramas bring out the messages contained in them. The question often asked is why is Pillayar such a big figure having a rat as His Vahana. Mythology explains that in the story of a Kantharvan called Kiravunchan -

This Kantharvan once tried to seduce the wife of a rishi called Sabari. The Rishi caught him redhanded and cursed him to be a rat - the rodent that digs the soil and lives in a rat hole. The offender fell at his feet and begged pardon. The Rishi relented and told him, “In the hermitage (ashram) or Parasara Rishi, Lord Ganesha you will find. He will make you His Vahana.” As said Pillayar was there being cared for by Parasara Rishi.

This rat - rather mole was playing havoc in the garden of the Rishi. Unable to stand the destruction of the plants in his garden, the Rishi turned to Pillayar for help.

Pillayar sent his weapon to destroy the animal. It burrowed deep into the earth’s bowels. The weapon followed him and dragged him back. He fell prostrate at the feet of Pillayar and told his history. Pillayar felt pity for him and took him as His Vahana. That’s how says this mythological story, Pillayar has the rodent as His vehicle. The pictures depicting Pillayar on the rodent may make one think how could such a weighty figure ride a meek mouse.

The spiritual aspect is the picture represents Pillayar not in the physical form but in the Astral form which is weightless. That is the philosophy behind this story.

There are many spithets of Pillayar. Sage Viyasar was the one who told the story of Mahabaratha. He requested Pillayar to write it down as he related it. Pillayar agreed to do so on one condition - that Viyasar should not pause to think even.

He should continue to dictate the story non-stop. So Viyasar started to relate the story. Pillayar broke one of His tusks to inscribe the story on ola leaves. Since He has only one tusk he is known as “Ekathanthan”.

As He removes the hardships (vigna) in the life of His devotees He is called Wignesha.

Gana-Esha - God with elephant face.
Sithi Vinayaka- He brings success to those who pray to Him.
Pranava Rupa - One who has the face, the form of the Pranavamanthiram.
Vela Muha - Vela - Elephant Muha - Face
Iynkaran - Panchakaran - with five hands - the four from the body plus the trunk.
Uma Sudan - Son of Uma (Goddess Parvathi)
Pillayar Poosai is done before anyone sets out on any business.


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