The 10-day Karthigai Deepam festival observed at the famous Sri Arunachaleswarar Temple in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, culminates with the Maha Deepam lit atop the Annamalai Hills. In 2013, the date of Tiruvannamalai Maha Karthigai Deepam is November 17. The Maha Deepam represents Lord Shiva, who appeared in the form of a pillar of fire with no end and beginning (Jyotirlinga) before Brahma and Vishnu. Karthigai Deepam festival, observed in Tamil month Kartika, is more than 3000 years old and is mentioned in the early Tamil scriptures.
Legend has it once Lord Vishnu and Brahma wanted to know who was the greatest. After an intense debate they sought the help of Lord Shiva.
Lord Shiva said that he who can find the origin or end of his form is the greatest. Lord Shiva appeared before Lord Vishnu and Brahma in the form of a pillar of fire with no beginning and end. This form is referred as Jyotirlinga.
Lord Brahma assumed the form of a swan and Lord Vishnu the form of a boar and conducted an elaborate search to find the end or beginning of the flame. Soon they realized that the Supreme Being has no end or beginning.
The Tiruvannamalai Maha Deepam atop the Annamalai Hills commemorates the appearance of Lord Shiva in the form of Jyotirlinga.
The cauldron for lighting the Mahadeepam is taken to the top of the Annamalai hill through a seven kilometer route. The cauldron is ten feet in height and five feet in diameter and is carried on poles by the Nattar, temple authorities assigned for the job.
Atop the Tiruvannamalai hill, the cauldron is filled with thousands of kilograms of ghee. A wick measuring more than 300 meters is made using special cloth and is inserted in the cauldron.
On the day of the Karthigai Maha Deepam is lit, devotees also trek to the top of the hill to make personal offerings of ghee which is poured into the cauldron using a long pole.
The Tiruvannamalai Maha Deepam is visible from a radius of 35 km.