Tamaso mā jyothirgamaya

One evening I came home from school to find a kolam (rangoli) drawn in my room. “I remember celebrating Diwali a couple of weeks ago. So, it should be Karthigai”, I thought. As part of my everyday routine after school, I washed, changed, and just when I was about to step out, I heard my mom asking, “Where are you off to?” She was almost done with the kolam in the living room and was adding the finishing touches. “To hang out with Charu, why”, I responded, with a hint of confusion. “Not today. She would be busy helping her mom out with the prep work for the festival. Don’t disturb them”, she retorted. She got up and headed to the kitchen. I followed her to make my side of the argument. “What am I supposed to do then?”, I snapped. She returned to the living room and switched on the television to witness the Karthigai Brahmotsavam in Arunachaleswarar temple in Thiruvannamalai, where the lights are lit on top of the hill, on a flagstaff in the temple, at dusk. “Why don’t you burst the leftover crackers from diwali?”, she suggested. I started to rejoice. “After the pooja”, she added. She started to heap the ‘bakshanams’ in their respective containers which will be offered as ‘naivedyam’ to the deities later that evening. “You can help me out in the meantime. Please prep all the ‘agal vilakkus’ (clay oil lamps)”, she instructed. I fueled the lamps with oil and placed a wick on all of them, ready to be lit. Suddenly sparked with curiosity, I turned around and asked her, “Did Raja mama and Kanna mama (maternal uncle) help granny during Karthigai?” Her answer was yes, as expected. I always tend to lose at this sort of comparison game. She started to reminisce about her early days in Neyveli and how they celebrated the Karthigai festival. She fondly remembered, “Your granny used to adore the bougainvillea in front of our house to such an extent that she even decorated the tree with lamps during this time of the year.”

There are several theories or stories deeply etched in Hindu mythology about the origin of this festival. However, the following reason suggested by my mom seems relatively logical to me. Since the duration of sunlight is comparatively less during the winter months, earthen lamps were used in those days to illuminate the pathways around the house. This could potentially be one of the reasons why we light lamps at dusk during the ‘karthigai’ month and at dawn during the ‘marghazi’ month. 

Of all the ‘bakshanams’ prepared for this festival, ‘pori urundai’ tops the list in my books. Irrespective of using ‘nel pori’ or ‘aval pori’, this sweet puffed rice ball is a lip-smacking delight. ‘Pori’ or ‘puffed rice’ in itself is a favorite all time snack in many South Indian households. This ‘pori’, which is used to make bhel puri (a popular chaat item), in combination with bite-sized coconut bits offers a delectable texture in the mouth. 

Personally, I think the Karthigai festival represents an opportunity for all of us to celebrate our potters, their craft, and the economy they struggle to sustain. While the majority of South India prays for rainfall, I have a hard time adjusting to that sentiment during this time of the year. To a potter, the sun is as important as rain is to a farmer. Although the heavy downpour that South India is currently experiencing might seem to dampen the hopes of a potter, they cannot stop trying, can they? Afterall, this festival is all about emphasizing that hope.

Share your memories with us about this auspicious festival day !

Happy Karthigai Deepam to you and your family :)

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