Significance of Deepam
Deepam, is the most important festival Thiruvanamalai celebrates on Karthik purnima (full moon day). It has great spiritual significance. Every year there is a week long preparation in temple; with festivities, rituals & sacred ceremonies; to light the sacred fire on the peak of the sacred hill, Arunachala.
The local population, around three hundred thousand prepares to welcome a floating population of two million, who go around the hill chanting, praying or blissfully enjoying. The circumambulation is also known as 'Girivalam' or 'Parikrama'. One might wonder - why the town, since ancient times, attracted pilgrims from all over India and now the world too ?
With the winter Solstice approaching the days gets shorter and the nights gets longer. This is the darkest time of the year. Similarly all humans face a 'dark night of the soul', a desperate time. It is during this time they ask, "Why me?" or "Why this?" Life's tribulations puts a person in an existential crisis. If the person is spiritually inclined it transmutes to existential quest and when the seeking is awakened, it is the light of knowledge that can dispel the darkness of ignorance.
Each spiritual centre in India, offers it's own stream of knowledge or path to yoga, that seekers relate to based on their spiritual predisposition. Eg. In Mathura and Ayodhya people can feel the energy of Bhakti, in the Himalayas it is energy of traditional Hatha yoga or Kriya yoga, etc. (One must know all paths lead to the same goal of enlightenment). Arunachala radiates 'Jnana' or the greatest knowledge ie. 'Advaitha' (Non-dualism). This philosophy says everything exists by the Self alone.
Sri Ramana Maharishi, a Jnani and scion of Arunachala, the beacon of Jnana Yoga, a preceptor or guru for those who are drawn to the path of 'Atma vichara' or 'Self enquiry' - which answers the primordial question 'Who am I?' He says that, "Everything is the Self, therefore abide as the Self". To abide as the Self one has to find out the source of everything, including the source of the mind or the source of the world, which is verily the Self. The knower of the Self is free from the clutches of ignorance or darkness.
When we understand the symbolic significance of Deepam, we will realise why our ancestors, a part of the Siddha tradition from Tamil Nadu, have lit a fire on the peak and pilgrims climb the hill to pour ghee or 'Deepam oil' into the sacred cauldron.Symbolically, going around the hill is the journey of the soul, starting from the Source and returning to the Source. The preparation in the temple is an analogy of the individuals preparing for knowledge. Climbing the hill is a metaphor for surmount difficulties. Pouring oil signifies each pilgrims pledge to keep the flame of knowledge kindled. The Deepam or light on the peak symbolises hope for all aspirants of 'Self Enquiry'. The cauldron symbolises the custodian of knowledge.
The preparation culminates in one moment when the sacred fire is lit which means enlightenment happens in an instant. One has to get ready for the lamp of knowledge to be lit. Arunachala becomes the divine light house guiding ships tossed on the troubled waters of samsara to safety of Jnana. Arunachala inspires Self-enquiry.