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The Elephanta Caves

The Elephanta Caves , located on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri, about 11 Km off the coast of the Gateway of India, Mumbai, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit to these caves, excavated probably in the 6 th century CE, is awe-inspiring, and also thought-provoking. Over the years, I have visited the caves a number of times, and also attended a number of talks by experts in the fields of art, history and archaeology on the caves. Together, they help me understand these caves, their art, and the people they were created for, just a little bit better. Every new visit, every new talk, every new article I read about the caves, fleshes out the image of what the island and the caves would have been like, at their peak. I last wrote about the caves on this blog, in 2011, almost exactly 11 years ago. Since then, my understanding of the caves has, I would like to think, marginally improved. Hence this attempt to write a new and updated post, trying to bring to life, the caves of Elephan

Karthikai at home - all lit up!

Karthikai or Karthik Poornima, the full moon day in the Tamil month of Karthikai (mid Nov- mid Dec) is the south Indian equivalent of Diwali, where we light up our homes with lamps. Having missed Diwali this year, I was all the more eager to celebrate Karhikai, and did so enthusiastically with Samhith helping me out! He helped me unpack all the wonderful Diyas from their storing place, and looked on patiently while I prepared them for lighting, putting in wicks and pouring oil in them. He was curious about the shapes, and so eager to help, that he wanted to light them too! It was difficult to convince him, but finally we agreed on a deal - I would light them and place them, but he could choose where to place each Diya! So, here is what Karthikai was like, at our place..... and the placing is totally Samhith's idea :)

The big diya is a new one this year..... a gift. Normally, I avoid such decorated diyas since we cant really light them properly, and what use is a diya which cant be lit? But we managed to solve the problem by placing a smaller one inside..... the smaller one is new too, and you know what, once I poured in the oil and lit it, the glass ensured that the lamp stayed lit for over 12 hours!!! Thats the kind of lamp I like to buy.... one which I need to light just once, and relax!

This is another new one - one I bought - and this one stays lit for a long time too...

Our neighbour is out of town, and so we decided to use their part of the landing too..... since I didnt have time to put a kolam there, I placed the diyas on a plastic plate - that way, they wont drip either!

Interestingly, one of my online friends, Sowmya, had this wonderful post on her blog where she tried to look for the reasons why Karthikai is celebrated. Like most Indian festivals, there is no simple answer to this one, but from what I have heard and read, the most believable reason is the story of Shiva appearing as a column of light at Thiruvannamalai, where the festival is celebrated till this day by lighting a huge lamp on the hill which can be seen for miles around. Richard, who lives at Thiruvannamalai, has some wonderful pics and descriptions of the festival held there. The day the lamp is lit there is known as Annamalai deepam. The day before is called Bharani Deepam, while the next day, when other temples celebrate the occasion by lighting lamps, is called Sarvalaya deepam. Well, that explains the legends, but practically, the festival must have begun with the idea of lighting lamps during one of the coldest months of the year in the south, when the days were the shortest. My mom still lights lamps for the entire month of Karthikai, which sort of explains this. 

So, that's my world for now.... all lit up!


  1. Lovely Anu, diyas and candles have such a charm.

  2. This is one festival i look forward to, alas this year we dint celebrate in a big way cos an Uncle had passed away....

    I Enjoy pulling out all the different velakkus amma and gramma have stored away.... putting kumkum on them, lining them up on trays, getting them ready for the evening ...

    There is a Elephant vilakku which gets passed on through the generations, really beautiful one wit a pavai standing on top holding the velakku...

    Plus i LOVEE pori urundai... absolutely LOVE it... again, this is a dish that is not made ever again, but on that one day!!

  3. Hey! Beautiful pics and beautiful diyas! But I have a bone to pick -- karthik poornima is not the equivalent for Diwali in any of the S Indians states except Tamil Nadu. It is an important day for all Hindus; for a lot of them it is due to Tulsi Puja and it is the most important day for Sikhs cos of Guru Nanak Jayanti.

  4. @Mridula: Oh yes, diyas and candles have something so much better than electric lights!

    @Aarti: I wondered why you hadnt posted on karthikai. I remember seeing your pics of agals and the elephant vilakku last year... we dont take out any of the brass agals simply because its all packed up in the attic and too much trouble :(

    @Usha: hey, tulsi puja is about 3 days before karthikai.. and apparently, kartik poornima is celebrated by lighting lamps in not just the southern states, but also Maharashtra.. apparently, in Kolhapur, the place where the five river joins, the ghats are also decorated by clay lamps.. did u know that? i saw it on TV once....

  5. Hi Anu, gr8 display of diyas .
    coming to the karthigai, I was told it is to honour the karthigai pengal, who brought up Subramaniumm aka Karthikeya . We do light the deepam for the entire month.

  6. What a lovely tradition - so beautiful!

  7. Anu
    very happy to see yr karthika deepams
    Pls have a look at my events at karthika vilakku

  8. Wonderful sight, especially for folks going up and down the stairs. I liked the rangoli pattern, it has traditional elements to it.

  9. Beautiful Anu,. I am happy to see the diff. varieties of diyas lit up.shall read Tirupati -1 too. saw it just now.

  10. Beautiful diyas, They look so pretty and the rangoli is very good. I am eager to read Tirupati-1. shall do soon.

  11. @Varsha: there seem to be so many reasons, its a total confusion!!

    @ladyFi: thanks!

    @Aswathi Babu: Thanks... i loved yours too...left a comment there..

    @Anil: Oh I love lighting lamps on the stairs.. it looks wonderful! but not everybody thinks the same... we used to light lamps on all the steps, and then someone complained, so we left off, and light only a few now!

    @Chitra: thanks...


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