Why do we light deepam for Kathigai?HH Sri Sri Paramcharya explained this in 3rd Volume of Deivathin KuralWe light up a series of earthen lamps on the day of the star of Kruttika in the month of Kaartigai. At that time we are to sing this sloka as given in the saastraa-s:-keedaa: patangaa: masagaascha vrukchaa: jale stale ye nivasanti jeevaa: I drushtvaa pradeepam na cha janma baajaa bavanti nityam svabasaa hi vipraa: II
This means, “We pray that, whosoever sees this lamp that we are lighting, they be worms, birds or mosquitoes or trees and such plants; all life forms which live in water or on earth; or may be human beings of whatever caste or creed; seeing this light may have the effect on them that all their sins are washed away and they may transcend the cycle of life and death and reach ever lasting happiness”!
Not only life forms in land and water. By saying ‘patangaa:’ (birds) and ‘masakaa:’ (mosquitoes) all flying birds and insects have been included. Though they fly in the air, the mosquitoes lay the eggs in water only. Birds similarly have to come down to a nest to rest and lay eggs. There are fishes which can live only in water while some animals like frogs and crocodiles which are equally adept in land and water. Having identified each such variety, the prayer is for cancellation of all their sins and crossing over the ocean of life.
This Kaartigai Deepam seen by any of these life forms may give them ever lasting merit, it is prayed! The word ‘drushtvaa’ in the slokam means, ‘having been seen’. ‘Vruksham’ the tree is also mentioned. The tree cannot see. As per science, the plants do have some senses. But, we do not know if they have any capacity to see. They do differentiate between sunlight and shadow and grow towards the sunlight! I feel that the interpretation is that, it does not matter even if they cannot see or do not see this light. The prayer is that, still the effect of cancellation of all sins should be there!
As light does not differentiate between Tom, Dick and Harry; between all castes, creeds and sects; between birds, animals, plants and insects; between mobile (jangama) and static (staavara) life forms; the Love from our hearts should be universally applicable and effective! With such inner intension, the outer earthen lamp should be lighted, with the prayer as quoted above to make the Kaartigai Deepam effective.
In the past during festivals, it was the custom to light up what is known as ‘chokkap paanai’, which was a massive earthen lamp. In Thiruvannamalai, it is a practice even in modern times, on Kartigai evening as the Sun goes down, to light up a huge Deepam in which several Kilo Grams of Ghee is poured in a wide hole in the rock face on top of the hill. The wick is several feet thick. It is a sight to be seen and heard some ten lac people shouting, ‘Arohara’ as the light comes on to be seen miles away.
Similarly as the pilgrimage season ends in Sabari Hills in Kerala, the light comes up on ‘Kaanta Malai Hill’ known to Ayyappa devotees as ‘Makara Jyoti’ on Makara Sankranti evening! The idea is to instill universal unconditional Love in the minds of all onlookers!
Normally there are more animals with two and or four legs. The fly, roach and beetle have six, spider has eight and some of the creepers like the centipede have many legs. There are prayers in the Veda-s seeking the welfare of two, four, six, eight and many legged animals and those without legs, such as the snake and the fish!
The fully realized soul does not differentiate between Brahmin and Non-brahmin, says Bhagawat Gita (5.18.). Though we may differ in our occupations and Karma Anushtaana, when it comes to compassion and love, there should not be any differentiation whatsoever! That is how, Rantideva did daanam to a brahmin and finally gave his last bit of water to a sudra. In this Kaartigai Deepam slokam too, all human beings are included as ‘svabasaa hi vipraa:’, meaning ‘the whole range of people from non-brahmin to the brahmin’! Our saastraa-s do not differentiate even between the good and bad, when wishing well. Our saastraa-s go even beyond and conveys its best wishes to all those residents of the Naraka (Hell) too.