History & Culture

In time for Karthigai Deepam

Mahabalipuram stone lamps. Photo: V. Ganesan   | Photo Credit: V_GANESAN;V_GANESAN -

Among the myriad handcrafted ‘deepams’, the Nachiarkoil’s brass kuthuvilakku stands out. At 8 ft and higher, the elegant kuthuvilakku is the centre of many legends. It is considered a symbol of knowledge as it is cast in the image of a human in ‘dhyana mudra’, the base symbolising his yogic sitting posture, the stem his erect body, the top his face and the five wicks, the panchabutas.

Over time, the classic kuthuvilakku with its typical silhouette topped by a ‘pravar’ or ‘hamsa’, has acquired many avatars such as branch lamps or ‘vriksha deepams,’ hanging lamps, ‘thoonda’ vilakkus, Lakshmi, Ganesha and Saraswati lamps.

As master artisan Kashinath stands beside a magnificent 8 ft high branch lamp, lit with the 108 wicks held by parrots, he shares the process of lamp making. “We first make a model of a portion of the lamp, say, the base in wood or aluminium and place it in the lower portion of a specially created wooden box. The mould is now covered with sand for the base impression to be made. The mould is then carefully lifted and a channel attached to the sand mould through which molten brass is poured. Then the brass base is taken out, cut to shape with hand tools, turned on the lathe, polished and minute engraving is done.” “I’ve worked at my craft for 35 years”, says Kashinath, “and trained more than 100 artisans. But each Nagarcoil lamp is the handiwork many artisans with specialists doing prototype making, cutting, trimming, polishing and engraving.

Suryan, a traditional vishwakarma from Mahabalipuram, has carved stone lamps and agal diyas in soft stone, red, green and white marble. His circular stone lamps have Ajanta painting style carvings of gods and goddesses on the dome with cutwork and ‘jaali’ work through which the light from agal lamps or bulbs shines enticingly.

M. Nagarajan, paramparik potter from Villipuram, also makes kuthuvilakkus and agal diyas through an ancient process beginning with collecting clay from river beds, drying, shaping the products and firing them on wood fire kiln covered with straw.

The Festival of Lamps is on at Poompuhar Showroom on Anna Salai till November 30.

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Printable version | Mar 2, 2021 12:31:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/the-kuthuvilakku-and-its-many-avatars/article7919306.ece

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