Kartikai (Kaarthigai) Deepam in Pondicherry

Yesterday was Kartikai (Kaarthigai) Deepam, an evening that marks the culmination of a ten day festival in the Tamil month of Kartikai (usually in November or December) – the Tamil equivalent of Diwali (or Deepavali) – the festival of lights.  We were completely ignorant of the fact until that night, when Marta, a friend visiting from Poland, confirmed that, indeed, there was something going on today. This, she found out by speaking with a friend from Warsaw who was in Kolkata (!) as the rest of us sat drinking tea on our rooftop remarking on the huge ring around the full moon.

Lalu had woken Marta up at around 3am during their overnight bus ride from Bangalore to Pondicherry to point out the thousands of people moving towards Tiruvannamalai, site of Arunachaleswarar temple (an important Shiva temple) on foot. “Something was going on,” however, sleep precluded further inquiry.

Starting the late afternoon and early evening, Mark and I heard sounds like gunshots (which turned out to be fireworks) going off from our room on the roof in the French section of town. Later, at dinner, another Mark, an Aprovecho intern and colleague of Mouhsine’s (who is directing the technical portion of the design and commercialization of fuel efficient cookstoves for Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) mentioned that in the neighborhood where he lives, there were lit diyas surrounding all the houses. I asked if he lived in a Hindu section of town, and he said he thought he did.  (Mouhsine, with whom we’d spent the better part of the day, lives in a Muslim part of town.)

In our neighborhood, home to government buildings, French institutes, and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, we saw no signs of celebration; no indications of a major festival being celebrated on the other side of the canal.

Only today, and in retrospect, I noticed the kolams in front of houses and commercial establishments in the Tamil side of town.

Mark and I try not to be in a Christian country (like the U.S.) for Christmas.   Ironically, we missed the equivalent of Christmas and New Year here, too.


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