Many households still prefer to buy earthen lamps every year during Deepavali and Karthigai deepam festival

Lamps add light to the festival of lights. Deepavali and Karthigai Deepam are two occasions when streets light up with rows and rows of lamps, especially the earthen variety. Lamps made of clay always retain their charm, irrespective of the competition from other forms of lamps. Serial bulbs and wax lamps look pale when juxtaposed with the glow of clay lamps. Against a still light, flames of these lamps flutter in the wind adding life to the celebration in every home. Lamps in various designs and sizes are much in demand during the Tamil months of Aippasi and Karthigai.

While some chose to light dozens of lamps only on the day of the festivities, others follow the tradition of lighting two lamps throughout Karthigai.

Vijayalakshmi Venkatesan, a resident of Srirangam, vouches for the traditional and time trusted ‘man agal vilakku’ (earthen lamp) which she purchases every year during the festival month. Every evening, throughout the month, she lights two lamps at the entrance to her home. During the three days of Karthigai Deepam, she lights 25 lamps. “I purchase the lamps from vendors who visit the area,” she says.

Busy season

Artisans engaged in making theses lamps get busy during the days close to the festival when demand peaks.

Therkku Theru of Melkondayampettai in Thirvanaikovil is the hub for production of these lamps in the city. Rows and rows of houses of artisans line the street where they are engaged in making not only lamps but also tandoors, ‘thayir sattis’, and ‘kadais’ using clay.

“We start making the lamps soon after Vinayaka Chaturthi during the Tamil month of Aavani and continue till Karthigai Deepam,” says Subramaniam, an artisan for 15 years and makes lamps of three types: Kovil nei vilakku, nadu vilakku, and Karthigai vilakku.

A set of 1,000 lamps is sold for Rs. 600. Retail sellers buy in bulk from the artisans and sell the lamps with a margin. “Buyers pay advances of Rs. 12,000 and higher to us to purchase the lamps,” says Mr. Subramaniam. Price range of lamp sets varies from Rs. 500 to Rs. 2,500 based on the size.

Although many orders are received during the festival season, general demand has come down in the last two years, says S. Ramu, an artisan.

With 35 years of experience in making earthenware, he says the demand for clay lamps has come down drastically. “Instead of new lamps, old lamps are cleaned and reused in many places, especially temples,” he says.

“Our family has been in this profession for several generations and we want to keep the art alive. That is the only reason for spinning the wheel without any break,” he adds.