Festivals in Tamil Nadu: Karthigai Deepam, Festival of Lights

Let yourself be enchanted by the festival of lights during Deepam festival in Tamil Nadu

When you visit Tamil Nadu you will be impressed by its eclectic culture and magnificent Hindu temples, famous throughout the world. To add to the experience, the Deepam festival in Tamil Nadu is a very special time of year to be in the region and be exposed to a fantastic cultural tradition which dates back to ancient times.

The Legend

Hindus of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Sri Lanka all celebrate the Karthigai Deepam – Festival of Lights, in November/December every year according to the Tamil calendar.

The festival occurs when the full moon (pournami) meets with the constellation Karthigai (Pleiades). This appears as a group of six stars considered in the Indian mythology as the six celestial nymphs who reared six babies in the Saravana tank who were later joined to form the six-faced Muruga. He is also called Karthikeya, and is one of the incarnations of the god Shiva (his second son).

History of the festival

This is one of the oldest festivals in Tamil Nadu.

It has appeared in writings as early as the Aganaanooru, a book of poems dating back to the Sangam Age (200 BC to 300 AD). The book describes celebrating the Karthigai Deepam on the full moon day of the month of Karthigai. This was one of the most important festivals of the ancient Tamils.


The celebrations associated with this festival go on for three days. Visitors and locals alike are called to praise the name of Shiva and seek his blessings during these days.

Rows of Agal vilakkus (clay oil lamps) are lit in every house. These lamps are considered an auspicious symbol for every household. They will ward off evil spirits and usher in joy and prosperity for the year ahead.

People also make charcoal-based hand-rotating firecrackers which are operated with a long rope and rotated over the head clockwise, counter-clockwise, in zig-zags and other patterns, creating a show for passers-by.

Families also meet for a celebratory meal with traditional Tamil Nadu food predominantly made with jaggery, coconut and cardamom.

Thiruvannnamalai festival

In Tamil Nadu, the Thiruvannamalai Maha Deepam is lit at 6pm on top of the holy mountain, using 3500 kg of ghee and camphor. This light is then visible from the top of the mountain on a radius of 35 km and devotees come to perform circumvolutions of the holy mountain, called Girivalam and covering 16 km in distance.

It is believed that the god Shiva himself appeared on the Thiruvannamalai hills on this day and lighting the fire commemorates this appearance. The city also puts on a fair and there is a festival atmosphere throughout.

Visiting Tamil Nadu during Karthigai Deepam

As a visitor to Tamil Nadu during this festival, you will be welcomed with a friendly and happy atmosphere especially in Thiruvannamalai but also wherever you’re travelling. You’ll notice bright decorations on the streets and, of course, the oil lamps lit after sunset, but you’re also likely to encounter numerous fairs and street celebrations at the same time.

The fairs are a great way to immerse yourself in the culture, try some street food and maybe purchase some souvenirs.

If you’re doing a homestay tour of Tamil Nadu, your host will most likely involve you in the celebrations as well.

In any case, it’s a special time to visit and a wonderful experience unique to this part of the world.