Light worship in Thiruvannamalai, South India!
Thiruvannamalai Deepam festival!
How people started worship of Light?
Light worship is prevalent in India from ancient days. Even the daily prayer of millions of Indians starts with, “Lead me from darkness to Light”. World around, many tribes have followed Sun worship, fire worship and worshipping several deities in the form of stone idols. How this has started? From the pre-historical days, man is fascinated as well as baffled about the Sun, moon, rain, river systems and other natural formations like hills and ocean. They were intuitively aware of great powers which control the entire creation. But they could not dwell into their mystery. Hence they started revering the Sun and moon, hills and sky, oceans and rivers which provide them with sources for livelihood.
They had primarily few basic needs. Food to sustain them, covering to protect the body from extreme weather conditions, a dwelling to safeguard the women and children from wild animals. They learned the use of fire and water mostly by trial and error methods. Earlier, they were consuming raw meat. With the invention of fire, they understood that the meat roasted in fire acquired a special taste and aroma. Slowly they learned small ways to ease their hard labor. Later they learned to use milk and milk products. Raising crops for consumption took many thousands of years of thinking. They learned that it would be wiser to live in small groups so that they can defend any enemies both human and wild animals.
After settling in some habitats, they refined their knowledge about nature, environment, sessions and adaptability. Culture came after many decades of experiment with living and thinking. Slowly they evolved certain customs for births and deaths, living with women and begetting children etc. Naturally, the Sun was their first god which illumines the world with rays of light, providing heat and nourishments to plants and trees. Slowly they tended plants and trees which gave them fruits, tubers and leaves. They learned to rear milch animals which were sources of wealth. Besides sweet nourishing milk, the animals offered them flesh and meat. Their skin turned into hides and clothing. The process was very slow and painstaking. It was not achieved in a day. May be few million years elapsed after man learns to communicate read and write.
He constructed public utilities like lakes and wells, bathing places for men and women, rain water collection through channels etc. Only after observing the wastage of water, he learned to conserve it. But our ancients were not greedy and they helped one another in building the social fabric of society. Necessity is the mother of invention and the primary man invented many things useful for the welfare of all. Trade and business came after many years of bartering goods. It was cumbersome to carry things too far off places to barter. Hence ‘shandis’ or market places evolved. Slowly bartering was replaced by copper coins and other metal coins. People were relieved from carrying heavy goods to barter. Instead, they gathered in a market place, exhibited their produces and thus the exchange of coins for goods struck root. People thought of having a worship place in common for groups. Thus temple constructions took place, idols were established, consecrated. People started offerings to the idols by way of grains, coins and by sacrificing lambs and other animals.
Yesterday, a grand festival was conducted in Tiruvannamalai in South India by lighting a huge lamp atop a high hill by fixing a big metal vessel with tins of ghee and cloths immersed in the ghee tank served as a means to light. The famous temple Lord Arunachala was decorated and brought outside amid chanting of lakhs of devotees, a signal lamp was lit and shown to the people above the hill. Instantly they lit the cloths soaked in ghee for all the people around twenty kilometer radius to watch. The huge lamp will remain lit for few days until all the ghee poured in it is intact. This is the best example of light worship conducted every year during November. Many lakhs of pilgrims visit the temple town to watch the ten days festival and to look at the huge light atop the hill. This is to commemorate the memory of Lord Shiva who manifested as a ‘ball of fire’ without any beginning or end. The other god Brahma and Vishnu were asked to find out the origin or end but they failed in their search. Since there was an argument who is the mighty god among Brahma and Vishnu, Lord Shiva manifested as a fire pillar to subdue their egos. The same fire pillar has solidified in the form of hill. Hence people go around the hill which is around fourteen kilometer in circumference since they consider the hill itself as Lord Shiva!