It is a celebration of poetic imagery and ritual symbolism. The traditional Indian lamp, agal diya or kuthuvilakku, is a harbinger of auspicious beginnings. From the humble stone agal and clay diya to a magnificent 10ft tall brass kuthuvilakku with countless annams and antique hanging lamps, the Festival of Lamps exhibition showcases a dazzling spectacle.

Rows of Malabar lamps cast a glow beside Nachiarkoil's classic kuthuvilakkus in various shapes and sizes as well as vasamalais, thonda vilakkus, parrot and hanging lamps, branch kuthuvilakkus, Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Ganesh lamps.

Aesthetic tradition

Etched, sculpted and incised, each lamp speaks of an aesthetic tradition. Many are rare one-off specimen. Nachiarkoil is home to the classic kuthuvilakku; its form and symbolism probably originated in the 10th century Agama Sastra which laid down the format of ritual worship. The Nachiarkoil metal craft artisan practises the ancient technique which includes making moulds of various parts with the locally available river sand.

Innovation by Poompuhar at its units, has in recent times, modified the traditional casting to a box mould method. Here, once the mould is set, a molten alloy of copper and zinc is poured into it. After the metal has set and taken shape, artisans carve, incise, inscribe and do the patterning using hand tools. Burnishing and smoothening follow, after which the final buffing and polishing is done.

Artisan Murugesh crafts antique finish hanging, branch and arthi lamps entirely by hand, using the mould technique. He replicates the kuthuvilakku and other lamps from old sculptures and drawings.

Suryanarayana, a paramaparik stone artisan from Mahabalipuram, hand-crafts exquisite jaali marble lamps. The glow of a candle or the diya which filters through the delicate lace-like jaali screen creates a magical effect . “I work with white, grey and black marble,” says the artisan who learnt the nuances by observing North Indian artisans. “I perfected the thin lacy effect and different jaali patterns through constant practice.”

The Festival of Lamps, organised by Poompuhar (The Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation), is on view at the C.P. Arts Centre, 1, Eldams Road, Alwarpet, till November 27.

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