It is a Latchadeepam, a lakh flames.
For fifteen years of my life, I’ve lived in a small town called Villupuram in the state of Tamil Nadu in India. I’ve always considered it to be one of the blandest places of my life. I’ve rarely ventured out, except for regular visits to the church, to tuition centres or supermarkets and the Mahalakshmi Stores to buy clothes. I can name a few other places, summing it to a handful.
Every April, the Tamils celebrate Tamil New Year, the first month of which is Chithirai. Chithirai 1 is either April 13 or April 14 of the English calendar. In order to celebrate the New Year which is varudapirappu, which is not just new year but the ‘birth of a new year’, the local Anjaneya (Hanuman) temple lights one lakh (100,000) lamps. It is called the Latchadeepam and stands for the hope of light in the lives of the people in the year that is to come.
Along the road leading to this Anjaneya temple, a temple fair is hosted during the first week of Chithirai. I remember being taken to the fair every year by my mother, along with my sister. We’d go there, roam those streets, buy little things like earrings, play utensils, posters, hair clips, eat wide appalams, ice-creams, try to poke flying bubbles, etc., And as I grew up, I’d make two visits to the fair – one with the family and the other with friends.
Today, as I went to the Latchadeepam with two old friends, there was the same noise of sellers beckoning to you. The bigger shops had recordings of announcements proclaiming ‘onnu pathu rooba, edhu eduthalum pathu rooba’ (One for Rs. 10, take any for Rs. 10), some familiar faces bending down to check out thoppa Chettiar dolls (Chettiar with a paunch), the smell of jasmine flowers rolled next to long stemmed roses, etc., We walked up and down the road, twice, went into the temple, watched young police men look at us, laughed internally, stopped for an appalam bigger than our faces and munched on that familiar taste, each breaking off a piece from one side.
And suddenly, the town which I had never acknowledged, Villupuram, felt like home.
100000 lamps, 100000 flames! What more do we need for the year ahead!
Here’s to lighting more…
Location: Villupuram, Tamil Nadu, India.