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The Tradition of Lamps in India
By  Chitra Balasubramaniam 
http://www.indiagov.org/perspec/nov99/lamps.htm

Lamps are an integral part of Indian culture. They weave their, own magic irrespective of whether they are in the, form of a mere candle or the traditional oil filled wick lamp. The poetic beauty of the flickering flame cannot be described in words.

The origins of the lamp clan probably be traced back to the time fire was discovered. fire holds an irreplaceable place in man's life. In India, it came to, be associated closely with the Hindu religion and form of worship. Therefore, it is but natural that the objects in which ceremonial fire - was lit or kept also ,aroused feelings of reverence. These objects were, therefore, considered equally important and were made with the utmost care. In the beginning, natural substances such as stones, shells, tree7products etc., must have been used. These paved the way to their present beautiful shapes, with craftsmen giving "the, lamps more depth and meaning.

We find in India a gamut of beautiful lamps made of all sorts of material - clay, terracotta, porcelain, brass, bronze, silver and at times even dough. There is literature on lamp making. Norms exist regarding its size, lighting and measurements. Festivals of lamps are celebrated and rituals are prescribed for their worship. Even dances center around lamps.

Most importantly, there are different types of lamps used for different purposes. The lamp is considered a woman and is symbolic of Goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) and is referred to as Deepalakshmi.

The earthen lamp or "mitti ka diya is the most common, easily available and seen lamp. Made on the potter's wheel from clay, thousands of these are turned out every year for use by people. A good diya has to be soaked in water before use. The single diva is the most common lamp. However, the potter often lets his imagination run riot to churn out different types of diyas. Some are just attractive domes with openings to hold the lamp so that only the slight flickering can be seen while the dome protects it from wind. Some are a bunch of five diyas - one in the middle, surrounded by four others.

Porcelain lamps shaped like diyas are also made these days, as are the ones in terracotta and clay. Designer diyas hold a place of their own. They come in all sizes. The diya is held atop an elephant or a bankura (horse); there are hanging lamps in the shape of pigeons or birds wherein the chain is hooked onto the bird's beak and the body of the bird houses the place for filling oil or wax.

The place of pride is taken by lamps made of various metals. Lamps in olden times were made of commonly available metals including gold and other precious metals and stones. The tradition continues in the temples, where exquisitely made lamps can be seen. Temples in South India have an amazing diversity of lamps. Gujarat also has its own repertoire of lamps. Some temples have niches in the walls where lamps can be placed. Others have rows of brass lamps placed on the exteriors Many of them also have huge lamps at the entrance. The lamp is in the form of a huge pillar, carved intricately. Plates at equal intervals hold the oil and the beaks of the wicks. The circumference of the plates is the widest at the bottom and gets progressively smaller as one moves up. The top is decorated with a lion or a peacock. The base has figures from Hindu mythology. Such pillar lamps or deepstambbas are mostly cast in bronze.

Different lamps are made for different purposes. An aarti deepa, used at the time of prayer, is different from the one used to light the sanctum sanctorum. The aarti deepa usually has a handle attached to it for holding it.

The arrangement of the lamps is also artistic and varies according to place and occasion. These are either placed in circles or in rows.

Lamps thus play an important role in everyday life in India. Lighting a lamp near a Tulsi plant is a ritual followed by people almost all over the country. Diwali, essentially a Festival of Lights, is all about lamps lighting up life and chasing away darkness. Lighting a lamp in a house is believed to bring prosperity, plenty and abundance to the family. Electricity has not been able to replace the traditional and emotional significance of a humble lamp in the lives of the people of India.

The author is a freelance writer.

 

 

 

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