Today is Kaarthigai Deepam. A festival of lights celebrated in Tamilnadu. We light small earthen lamps and decorate the house-front. While munching on the pori-urundai (jaggery mixed popped rice balls), its pertinent to see the history of this lovely festival.
Kaarthigai is the name of a Tamil month and the Deepam festival occurs on the first or second full-moon day after Deepavali, which is a no-moon day. Deepavali (Diwali) is the more prominent festival of lights in North India. Its also the festival of noise (?! kidding) in South India. But its almost certain that Kaarthigai Deepam and Deepavali are the same festival.
Tamils follow a solar calendar. Its a month behind the other calendars of India. For example, Ugadhi, the Telugu and Kannada new year's day occurs in mid-March while the Tamil new year's day is mid-April. Infact, the Tamil Calendar is also behind the naming convention used in the other solar calendars like the Punjabi one.
Consequent of this, the Tamil Chithirai or Vaikasi is one month behind Chithra or Baishaki in other calendars. Now, I don't know how all these calendars still converge on the day of winter Solstice which is January 14 or 15 in all the states!!
Anyway, its likely becos of these calendar confusions, Tamils celebrate Kaarthigai Deepam a month behind Deepavali.
People all over the world celebrate the Sun and its winter Solstice. Thats the shortest day of the year and also the day on which Sun starts its northern journey. A similar festival for Light (artificial) or its source Fire is perfectly understandable. The Jews celebrate Light on Hanukkah roughly around the same time as we do. I'm certain the fire worshiping Zoroastrians also have their Deepavali equivalent, they being the symbiotic cousins of the Vedic-Aryans.
How nice it'll be if Indians celebrated this festival for what it is. A festival of Lights. Alas, our small minds don't seem to comprehend the magnificent simplicity of this festival. We need clichéd reasons to celebrate Light.
The most clichéd of these reasons is the one about the victory of Good over Evil. Isn't Good always subjective? George Bush was obviously fighting for the Good side against the Evil Saddam Hussein. But how many on the planet subscribe to this view or celebrate it? Which brings us to the question of Rama, on whose name many north-Indians celebrate this festival.
Really? Is the victory of the racist, male-chauvinist, real-or-imaginary king Rama, any cause for celebration? And how silly is that a reason to celebrate the festival of lights? Even the other protagonists in the story (Sita, Jabali, Vali) called Rama, a dishonorable man. And to his face. I'll take George Bush any day over Rama.
Now, to the south Indian story for Deepavali. That Krishna helped by Sathyabhama killed Naragasuran and hence the good-over-evil motive for the festival of lights. While, the teachings of the Philosopher-King Krishna are close to the pinnacle of Indian achievement in Philosophy, why believe in such a silly story as Naragasuran being evil? He may well have been bad or it could be a typical Aryan story vilifying non-Aryans. But why bother?
These stories besmirch the antiquity of this festival which must be several thousand years old. I myself remember Mahavira's Nirwana on Deepavali, but he merely happened to die on this festival day.
I hope, we all mature as a civilization and appreciate the abundant wonders of the universe, most of which we comprehend as light from distant objects. Lets celebrate Light. Its Beautiful. Happy Kaarthigai Deepam!