Karthikai Deepam – Keeping Traditions Alive

Karthikai Deepam or Karthikai vilakkidu is a Hindu specially Tamils Festival of Lights. The festival is observed in most Hindu homes and every temple, and falls in the month of Kārttikai (mid-November to mid-December) as per Tamil calendar.

Today is Karthigi Deepam. It brings back many childhood memories.

My sister and I would eagerly wait for the sun to set. Then, we would wait for the lamp to be lit in one of those distant hill temples. As soon as we see the lamp lit, we would race with each other to light up the inside and outside of our house with little lamps (called agal vilaku in Tamil).

We had to keep the lamps filled with oil through out the evening. We also had to move the wick up every few hours.

Amma soaked rice the previous right. Appa and I would hand (dry) grind the rice. Amma didn’t like it to be too mushy or too coarse. Appa and I would take turns grinding it to perfection. Then we would add sugar and cardamom. Appa made mava vilaku and Amma would put ghee and a wick to light the lamp.

This was one of my favorite festivals.

I didn’t realize until much later in life that as I was lightning the lamps in my house in Chennai, there was a little boy named Kumar who was doing the same in Trichy, about 300 kilometers away. He was eagerly waiting for his to mom to make his favorite karthigi adai filled with coconut pieces. He couldn’t get enough of the sweet appams and salt appams that she made.

Fast forward a couple of decades.

I find myself doing the same for Adi and Ari. We are going to be lighting the lamps later today. I am making them sweet appams. I am getting ready to grind adai and throw in a lot of coconut pieces. I know the boys will gobble it all up.

Despite my lousy cooking skills, I know they’ll look back fondly at the sweet appams that their Amma made. I know they’ll light the lamps. I know they’ll try their best to keep traditions alive.

Holiday season is upon us. Keep those traditions alive. Whether it is the egg nog drinking or the pie eating contest. Whether it is the gathering around the piano to sing a few holiday songs or getting out in the cold and making a few snow angels. Light up that holiday tree and marvel at it like a little child.

Keep those traditions alive. Because, we live on for eternity through those traditions.


Also published on Medium.

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Ambal Balakrishnan

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