One of the oldest celebrations in the Vedic tradition is the Karthikai Deepam festival. It is the celebration of consciousness and awareness which is represented by lights. According to the Vedic calendar, this was the first day that the concept of time started from the big bang, the beginning of the creation of the cosmos. In North India it is also known as Dev Deepavali. The celebrations last for ten days during which Mahadeva liberates the whole cosmos. In the morning one lamp is lit in front of the garbha (main energy center) in each city. From it, many lamps are lit for each deity. In the evening all of these lamps are merged into one main lamp. It is a powerful understanding about the Consciousness becoming many and again merging into one.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the enlightened master, beautifully says,
“A person who cannot celebrate deities and temples will live a dry spiritual life!”
Their whole spiritual practice becomes a matter of logic, grinding logic. It is like a person eating himself! It is the temples and deities which bring the joy of Hinduism into our lives! Festivals and celebrations are as important as completion and creation of the space in our lives!
The Beginning of Time
Karthikai Deepam was the day Shiva appeared as a light beam of consciousness to Brahma and Vishnu. Brahma is the highest intellectual possibility one can reach while Vishnu is the highest infrastructural possibility. They are the two components of matter – the physical realm and the mind. Both of them thought they were the ultimate! It usually happens once we reach something extraordinary in any aspect of life! On seeing this, Shiva had to liberate them from delusion and give them the ultimate enlightenment. The day Shiva appeared as the shaft of light is celebrated as Karthikai Deepam while the day Brahma and Vishnu got liberated is celebrated as Shivaratri.
The Play of Consciousness
Karthikai Deepam is also celebrated as Devi’s enlightenment day. Umadevi, through her tapas, became a part of Ishwara (consciousness). Devi did the panchaagni tapas (penance of the five fires) to achieve enlightenment and to become one with Shiva. On that evening, when the sun set and the moon rose, Shiva appeared as the light of pure consciousness and gave half of it to Devi. Devi then realized her masculine part and became Ardhanareeshwara – a part of Shiva.
If you are in the male body and realize the feminine part in you, you get enlightened. Similarly, if you are in the female body and realize the masculine part in you, you get enlightened. Each person can experience the same thing Devi experienced. Whatever was created goes back and merges into the ultimate, Shiva. The main lamp lit on the first day is Purusha or Shiva.
The various lamps lit from this lamp represent prakriti (nature) or Devi. It is the day when prakriti merges into purusha.