“Let the knowledge of light conquer the ignorance that lies in the darkness.”
Lamps are an integral part of our history and have always been a part of the tradition since time unknown. These entities of light are associated with the divine realm, bringing forth blessings and positivity into the lives surrounding them.
During Diwali, be it celebrating Lord Kartikeyan or Lord Rama, homes around the country are decorated in bright colours and most of all, with the divine light from lamps. Beautiful earthen diyas and brass lamps line parapet walls and window sills, spilling light into the courtyard and the patio, dousing the home in a golden glow and happiness.
Here are 5 types of lamps to add to your collection this festive season:
- Paavai lamps
Paavai lamps translate to “Lady with a lamp.” These lamps have originated in South India with their usage dating back to the era of Pandya kings. They are referred to by names such as Deepa Lakshmi, Paavai Vilakku, Vilakku Lakshmi, Kai vilakku yendiya kaarigai and many more.
It is said the first lamps were modelled after the Yavanas or Greeks. The graceful feminine forms of these lamps were recognized for their beauty, leading to their recognition throughout the region. The lamps were soon carved into stone and became associated with religious references. Temples were adorned with intricate carvings of women holding lamps, seemingly welcoming and lighting the path towards deities. Alternatively, these lamps were also made from metals and some are in use to this very day.
Another religious reference that these lamps were associated with is in terms of offerings. These lamps showed women holding up the light of knowledge and as time passed, artisans were commissioned to carve out or make these beautiful Vilakkus in the image of the royals. There are numerous examples of lamps that embody heavily adorned men and women, with detailed facial features or in a signature style. Kings and Queens would be replicated with crowns and jewellery and on unique stands such as elephants and chariots. Some lamps were also made in pairs to acknowledge the royal couple.
As time passed, elderly women from affluent families desired to have their features replicated into the Paavai lamps. It became an item that was reminiscent of the elderly. What once began as an object of devotion towards the divine, soon turned into a token of remembrance, one that was immortalized in metal or stone. The lamps were then passed down, from generation to generation and soon deeply integrated into the culture. However, the evolution of the lamps did not cease here.
Soon, lamps embodied deities themselves, with significant features highlighted for easy recognition. This led to them becoming an integral part of auspicious rituals and slowly replaced the simpler designs. Designs changed through various regions of South India, each Paavai lamp embodying the native cultures.
The design of the paavai lamps changes between the sects of Hinduism as well. The Shaivites and Vaishnavites had different lamp forms with very similar features and adornments. The Paavai Lamp of the Shaivites represents Goddess Meenakshi with a parrot on her right shoulder and the Vaishnavites’ represents Goddess Aandal with a parrot on her left shoulder. There are other iterations of the lamps that show the Goddesses with the parrots on both shoulders and without parrots as well. This remains to be a perfect example of the change within a single culture and the need to represent the Paavai within the boundaries and use them to symbolize their deities and traditions.
The Paavai Vilakku is also referenced in dance forms and in art, becoming an example of beauty, grace and devotion throughout the years.
- Kuthu Vilakku
Much like the Paavai Vilakku, the Kuthu Vilakku is a traditional lamp that is native to South India. The columnar lamp has a simple form and design and can be distinguished into four parts. The base, the stem, the oil well and the topper. These lamps greatly vary in size and shape and can be differentiated from region to region. Some Kuthu Vilakkus have a single spire as a topper and a simplistic thick stem. They also do not have wick indentations along the lip of the oil well but can comfortably accommodate 5 wicks.
Some Kuthu Vilakku toppers feature the Annapakshi in all its glory and have a thin, ornate stem. These lamps often have 5 wick indentations that are considered auspicious, also referred to as the Bhadradeepam. These stunning lamps are almost always made of brass and are often gifted to daughters at the time of marriage.
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- Floor lamps
Homes in ancient India were simple and built with organic elements that did not allow for numerous windows and openings in the walls to let the light in. Despite it being daytime, some areas of the house were shrouded in darkness and these areas were lit with lamps. Oftentimes, the pooja room would be accommodated around this space where the lamp shines brightly throughout the day.
Floor lamps were the most common and affordable to all classes of society. The simplest of them being mud or earthen lamps. These lamps, also called deepam, diyas, are crafted from terracotta and baked in a clay oven. Traditionally, they have a deep oil well and accommodate a single wick. Unlike the smaller sizes we see today, these lamps were often made in larger sizes and can still be spotted at places of worship.
Some other types of lamps that can be set on the floor are Gajalakshmi Vilakkus or Kamakshi vilakkus. There are also numerous other types like Vishnu Vilakkus and ones featuring different Gods. There is also the simple Maada Vilakku and Kubera vilakku that bring bright light and prosperity into the home.
- Hanging lamps
As the name goes, these stunning lamps make for quite the decor feature in your home when suspended against door frames, gallery walls or from the ceiling. There are two types of hanging lamps: One has a bulb for an oil reservoir whereas the other must be filled occasionally by hand.
The former is a sight to behold and is topped with unique and stunning figurines of birds, animals and sometimes, divine figurines. The oil bulb slowly supplies oil to the well below and ensures that the wick stays lit. The latter is mostly made with a divine figurine or Annapakshi in the centre surrounded by small teardrop-shaped oil wells. Most hanging lamps can be set on the floor as well as they have a flat base. On rare occasions, lamps will have additional features such as bells suspended from the oil wells.
- Aarti lamps
Aarti lamps are almost always made for the purpose of worship and auspicious rituals. These lamps have a small well that can accommodate a single wick or camphor in the centre of the lamp. Most of these pieces have a uniform design and a long handle to facilitate easy usage.
We hope this little article helped shed some “light” on the variety of lamps that you can bring home. Do let us know if we missed anything in the comment section below.
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