The Tamil month of Karthigai has commenced.This month is very special for South Indians – especially Tamilians.Houses are kept clean, lamps are lighted at the entrance of the house.Sisters prepare “Adai” and pray for the welfare of their brothers. ( “Adai” is a south Indian snack item that is prepared using a combination of rice and pulses.S ometimes, drumstick leaves are added to the Adai batter to make it more tasty. “Adai” is best had with jaggery and ghee).
People in the South are also familiar with the “Annamalai” deepam (deepam means lamp) in the holy shrine of “Thiruvannamalai” in Tamil Nadu. It is said that only those who are blessed can visit the holy shrine of “Thiruvannamalai” which boasts of yogis like Ramana Maharishi, Seshadri Swamigal and Yogi Ramsurat Kumar who lived in the holy town of “Thiruvannamalai”.On the occasion of Karthigai, offerings are made to the Lord in the form of sweets like “appam” (made from jaggery and rice flour), “pori” (a kind of puffed rice sweetened with jaggery). The Lord is offered flowers and fruits. “Paanagam” - a drink made of water, jaggery, dried ginger and cardamom is also prepared and offered to Lord Shiva and his consort Parvathi.
It is a custom in South that brides are given lamps by their parents that can be lighted during the month of “Karthigai”. I simply love lamps and I think only South India can boast of so many different kinds of lamps. My personal favorites are the “deepa laxmi lamp” and the “anai vilakku” (elephants carrying the lamp).I simply do not know from where I developed this love for lamps but the sight of a bevy of lamps in a dark room is always fascinating and spellbinding.
Today, 20th Nov 2010, the visit to the local Shiva temple is one more experience in my spiritual journey in life. The temple is crowded with devotees thronging to have a darshan of Lord Shiva.The entire temple is lighted with lamps.There is divinity in the air.Oh, God, what a sight it is to see Lord Shiva, bedecked with flowers and decorated with Rudrakshas! Lord Ganesha is on the left side and his mother Parvati Maa on the right side. Outside the sanctum sanctorum, Lord Murugan (Karthik) is smiling at you as if telling you “Yamirukka Bhayamen” (Why fear, when I am here ?).
The traditional aarthi begins. It was “pradosha” on 19th November 2010 and one gets the vibhuti (the holy ash) that was used to do the archana of Lord Shiva. Electric lights are dimmed. The bells chime. The aarthi begins. The darkness in the sanctum sanctorum is eclipsed by the light emanating from the lamp. Your mind starts muttering, “Om Namah Shivaya”. What a divine fervor ! The priest Raghu Bhat is sincere in his rituals and with a smile on his face, he propitiates Lord Shiva again and again with the lamps that seem to be glowing.
You start yearning for the sight of Lord Shiva again and again.The lamp is so lucky ! It is able to get so close to the Lord. For the next 15 minutes, there is only the aradhana of Lord Shiva along with the sound of temple bells chiming. Friends, just imagine. You are in darkness. The only light that you can see is that emanating from the lamp.And, in front of you, is Lord Shiva who in the form of the “Lingam” is showering his grace on devotees.
Lord Shiva – the Lord who saved the 16-year old boy Markandeya from death. Lord Shiva - who was so fond of his devotee “Kannapan” and so enamoured of his devotion that he did not mind “Kannapan” offering him meat, that too meat that was tasted by him before offering to the Lord. Kannapan was concerned that he should not offer Lord something that was not tasty. The callow Kannapan did not care about anything. All that mattered to him was his devotion to Lord Shiva.
When the local priest of the Sri Kalahasti temple frames Kannapan for the theft of jewels, the Shiva Lingam sheds tears of blood from both eyes…….Kannappa vows to end the blood flow and he gouges his own eyes one by one, hoping to provide eyes to Lord Shiva, to the amazement of all the priests. Lord Shiva is pleased with Kannappa’s effort, appears before him, reminds him of his past (as the warrior Arjuna in Mahabharatha), appreciates his big heart and provides him with moksha. Till this day, the shrine of the great devotee Kannappa exists in Srikalahasti (near Tirupathi).
After the aarthi is over, it is time for the “Prasad” to be distributed. You return home thrilled with the darshan of the Lord.
You begin chanting the famous “Maha Mrutyunjaya Mantra”.
“Om Tryambakam Yaja Mahe Sugandhim Pushtivardahnam
Uruvaruva kamiva bandanan mrutyormukshiya ma amritat”
[We bow to the 4-eyed Lord Shiva, who is full of sweet fragrance, who always nourishes human beings. May he free me from the bondage of samsara and death, just as a ripe cucumber fruit is separated from the stack and may I be fixed in immortality”]
Om Namah Shivaya.