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Kartika Purnima: A Festival of Lights and Divine Celebrations

Kartika Purnima: a mesmerizing blend of cultural festivities, divine celebrations, and illuminated traditions. This Hindu, Sikh, and Jain festival, celebrated on the full moon day of the Kartika lunar month, holds a special place in the hearts of millions. Let’s explore the multifaceted facets of this festival, ranging from the awakening of Vishnu to the triumph of Shiva, and the luminous celebrations in South India.

Essence Kartika Purnima

Kartika Purnima, a festival of lights, transcends cultural boundaries, uniting Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains in joyous celebrations. Occurring on the 15th day of the Kartika lunar month, this day witnesses a divine confluence of traditions, marking the awakening of Vishnu, the victory of Shiva, and the radiant celebrations in South India.

Hinduism

The festival’s roots intertwine with Prabodhini Ekadashi, signaling the end of Vishnu’s four-month slumber. Fairs and celebrations that commence on Ekadashi find their culmination on Kartika Purnima, making it the pinnacle of the festivities.

Tulasi Vivaha, a sacred ceremony, also finds its culmination on Kartika Purnima, symbolizing Vishnu’s return to his divine abode after sojourning with King Bali. Devotees mark this day by worshiping Vishnu and celebrating the sacred union of Tulasi and the deity.

Karthika Deepam in South India

In South India, specifically Tamil Nadu, Karthika Deepam is celebrated with rows of lamps adorning balconies, creating a mesmerizing spectacle. The Purnima aligns with the Krittika nakshatra, bringing light to the darkness.

Tiruvannamalai hosts a ten-day festival, illuminating the city and celebrating the Karthika Deepam with fervor. The air is filled with joy as people come together to celebrate the victory of light over darkness.

Radha-Krishna Celebration

Vaishnavite tradition holds Kartika Purnima in high esteem, attributing special significance to the worship of Radha and Krishna. Legend has it that on this day, Radha-Krishna engaged in the enchanting rasalila, captivating the devotees with their divine dance.

Temples dedicated to Radha-Krishna, such as the Jagannath Temple in Puri, observe a sacred vow throughout the Kartika month, culminating in raaslila performances on Kartika Purnima. Devotees participate in the celebrations, connecting with the divine love of Radha and Krishna.

Shiva’s Triumph

The term “Tripuri Purnima” draws its roots from Shiva’s epithet, Tripurari, the foe of the demon Tripurasura. Legends intertwine with the triumphant killing of Tripurasura by Shiva in his formidable form, Tripurantaka, on Kartika Purnima.

The five-headed Tripurantaka, wielding a bow made of Mount Meru and the serpent Vasuki as its string, symbolizes the destruction of the demon and the subsequent declaration of a festival of illuminations by the gods. Kartika Purnima earns the moniker “Deva-Diwali” – the Diwali of the gods.

Divine Manifestations

Kartika Purnima transcends the terrestrial realm, celebrating the manifestation day of Matsya, Vishnu’s fish incarnation. Devotees honor this divine form, acknowledging Vishnu’s multifaceted avatars that contribute to the cosmic balance.

In the Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Kartika Purnima commemorates the divine union of Vishnu and Tulasi. Cursed to be born as a princess and marry the asura Shankacuda, Tulasi’s unwavering devotion leads to her union with Vishnu, symbolizing the essence of the tulasi plant and the Gandaki river.

Kartikeya’s Birthday

Southern India reverberates with celebrations as Kartika Purnima doubles as the birthday of Kartikeya, the god of war and Shiva’s younger son. The festival gains heightened significance when it coincides with the Krittika nakshatra, known as Maha Kartika.

The nakshatra alignment influences the festival’s outcomes, with Bharani and Rohini nakshatras holding special significance. Philanthropic acts on this auspicious day are believed to bring blessings equivalent to the performance of ten yajnas, elevating the spiritual essence of the celebration.

Pushkar Fair

Pushkar Fair, one of Asia’s largest camel fairs, kicks off on Prabodhini Ekadashi and culminates on Kartika Purnima. Devotees take ritual baths in the Pushkar Lake, seeking salvation and considering the act highly meritorious.

A ritual bath, known as “Kartika snana,” holds paramount importance on Kartika Purnima. Pilgrims flock to sacred water bodies like the Ganges in Varanasi, engaging in holy baths that are deemed auspicious and spiritually elevating.

Kartika Snana and Devotional Practices

The prescribed holy bath, known as “Kartika snana,” extends beyond Pushkar to encompass revered tirthas, including the Ganges in Varanasi. Devotees engage in this purifying act, aligning with the spiritual essence of Kartika Purnima.

Temples come alive with the tradition of Annakuta, an offering of food to deities. Devotees express their gratitude through this sacred practice, honoring the divine and embracing the spirit of Kartika Purnima.

Philanthropy and Taboos

The festival encourages philanthropic acts, with devotees embracing charity, donation of cows, feeding Brahmins, and fasting. The act of giving gifts, especially gold, is believed to fulfill desires, fostering a sense of communal harmony and compassion.

Kartika Purnima imposes a temporary halt on activities categorized as violence (himsa). Devotees refrain from shaving, hair-cutting, cutting trees, plucking fruits and flowers, and engaging in sexual intercourse, fostering a sense of restraint and spiritual discipline.

Tripuri Purnima Festivities

Devotees commemorate the killing of Tripurasura with grand processions featuring images of Shiva. Southern Indian temple complexes radiate with illuminated towers, symbolizing the triumph of light over darkness.

Southern India, especially Varanasi, comes alive with the glow of thousands of diyas (earthen lamps) on Kartika Purnima. The ghats along the Ganges witness a spectacle as lamps flicker in houses and Shiva temples, creating an enchanting atmosphere.

Lights and Symbolism

Kartika Purnima earns the title “Kartika Diparatna” – the jewel of lamps. The symbolic act of placing 360 or 720 wicks in temples represents the 360 days and nights of the Hindu calendar, fostering a connection between temporal and spiritual realms.

Lights are not only symbolic but also serve a benevolent purpose. Floating lights in miniature boats in rivers and placing them under tulasi, sacred fig, and amla trees are believed to aid fishes, insects, and birds in attaining salvation, reflecting the interconnectedness of all life.

Karthika Maasalu in Telugu Households

Telugu households in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana observe Karthika Maasalu, lighting oil lamps every day from Deepavali to Kartika Purnima. The Swaminarayan Sampradaya also joins in the celebrations, adding a spiritual vibrancy to the festival.

Devotees of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya mark Kartika Purnima with faith and fervor, contributing to the collective celebration of light, divinity, and spiritual devotion.

Boita Bandana in Odisha

Odisha resonates with the celebration of Boita Bandana on Kartika Purnima, recalling its maritime history as Kalinga. People set afloat miniature boats made from banana stems, paying homage to the ancient tradesmen and mariners who traversed distant seas.

The festival is a vivid commemoration of Odisha’s maritime heritage, with people setting afloat miniature boats adorned with lamps. This ritual connects the present to the historical Bali Jatra, celebrating the maritime prowess of ancient Kalinga.

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Jainism

For Jains, Kartika Purnima marks a sacred journey to Palitana, a revered pilgrimage center. Thousands embark on the Shri Shantrunjay Teerth Yatra, covering 216 km of challenging terrain to reach the Adinath temple atop the Shatrunjay hills. The hills, closed during chaturmasya, open on Kartika Purnima, attracting devotees seeking blessings.

Jainism holds Kartika Purnima in high regard, especially after the monsoon season’s four-month hiatus from worship. Devotees believe Adinath, the first tirthankara, sanctified the hills by delivering his first sermon. The day symbolizes a spiritual reunion, drawing millions of pilgrims who believe in the sanctity of the hills for attaining salvation.

Sikhism

In Sikhism, Kartika Purnima is celebrated as Gurupurab or Prakash Parva of Guru Nanak, the faith’s first Guru. However, controversy surrounds this celebration, as some Sikh scholars historically validate Vaisakh (Mid-April) as Guru Nanak’s birth month.

Historical records suggest that Maharaja Ranjit Singh, influenced by Bhai Sant Singh, shifted Guru Nanak’s birth celebrations to Kartik month. This change aimed to prevent Sikhs from joining the Kartika Purnima fair at the Hindu pilgrimage site, Ram Tirath Mandir in Amritsar.

Conclusion

As Kartika Purnima concludes its vibrant tapestry of celebrations, the festival leaves an indelible mark on the hearts of millions. From the awakening of Vishnu to the triumph of Shiva and the luminous festivities in South India, Kartika Purnima embodies the spirit of light, devotion, and communal celebration.

Kartika Purnima, a luminous celestial alignment, unites diverse religious narratives in a shared tapestry of devotion. From the fervent yatras of Jain pilgrims to the contested celebrations in Sikhism, the festival reflects the myriad ways in which communities express their spirituality on this auspicious day.

Ravi S. Behera
Ravi S. Behera
Mr. Ravi Shankar Behera, PGDAEM, National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE), Hyderabad is an independent freelance Consultant and Author based in Bhubaneswar. He is an Honorary Advisor to grassroots Voluntary Organizations on Food Security, Forest and Environment, Natural Resource Management, Climate Change and Social Development issues. Ravi has lived and worked in various states of India and was associated with international donors and NGOs over the last twenty three years including ActionAid, DanChurchAid, Embassy of Sweden/Sida, Aide et Action, Sightsavers, UNICEF, Agragamee, DAPTA and Practical Action. He has a keen interest in indigenous communities and food policy issues.
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