India is an extremely spiritual nation. Hinduism accounts for 81% (ref.) of the country’s religion – that is, almost 900 milion people. The Karthigai Deepam chariot festival is one of the most important Hindu festivals of the year. Annually thousands of devotees assemble in Thiruvannamalai, Tamil-Nadu, to take part in the many street and temple ceremonies and to offer sacrifices to Shiva. The film juggernaut observes these events from close range and so transports the viewer to an unfamiliar world.
In a voice-over one of the pilgrims tells us about his life. He is a saddhu, a holy man, travelling from one temple to another, begging his way around the country. Following the death of his wife and daughter he left all his worldly possessions behind and now all he owns are the clothes on his back. But he is at peace with his ascetic existence. His faith, which is not restricted to a single God, is all he needs. He worships Jesus, Allah and Shiva equally, depending on the temple he visits.
The Karthigai Deepam Chariot festival is the oldest festival of South India which is also its most elaborate and most important. This festival falls in the Tamil month of Kartigai when the star Krithika is on the ascendant and usually occurs on a full moon day. Before we describe the festival, let us take a glimpse into its antiquity.