They once used to light up wedding processions and temple festivals, but petromax lamps have lost their sheen in the last decade.
Dwindling patronage has sounded the death knell for the lamps, with its use being limited to fewer occasions.
The mention of petromax lamps might take people back in time to a popular comedy sequence involving actors Goundamani and Senthil. Years later, actor Goundamani’s famous one-liner “petromax lighte than venuma” went on to find place in a song in the film “Aranmanai.”
Such was the popularity of petromax lamps. But in the last 10 years, with the dawn of modern lighting facilities, these lamps have faded into oblivion.
Tucked in between rows of shops on Long Bazaar is an outlet that continues to rent out these lamps, despite the dying patronage.
Forty-year-old G. Arumugam has been carrying on his family business of renting out these petromax lamps. The business relies mainly on temple festivals.
“My grandfather started this business more than 80 years ago,” he mentioned.
“Earlier, people used to place orders for the petromax lamps for wedding processions, funerals and several temple festivals. The lamps were high in demand several decades ago and we used to supply 10 lamps for one occasion. We used to collect a rent of Rs. 350 for six lamps. This included 75 paise wage for one labour, who carried the lamp, and kerosene charges,” his 75-year-old father M. Govindasamy recollected.
There would be no wedding processions without these lamps that is carried by persons on their heads, he said, adding, “Now, there is no demand for these lamps. We get orders only for six months in a year for temple festivals.”
Mr. Arumugam said it was in the last 10 years that the demand for these lamps started to decline.
“Wedding processions are rarely held now. Focus lights are used to decorate wedding and festival venues, and so, people no longer prefer petromax lamps,” he said.
It was difficult to maintain these German-made petromax lamps, which are six-feet high, he noted.
“As of now, we have 26 double mantel lamps that are 1,000 watts and another four of 400 watts. Several of our lamps developed snags and it is difficult to get materials to rectify them,” he said.
Presently, they charge customers Rs. 600 to Rs. 700 for one lamp for five hours.
“We have to pay Rs. 250 for labour. We engage four persons to carry these lamps as only they know how to balance it on their heads,” he said.
Earlier, the government allotted them quota for kerosene but this was stopped in the 90s. “We are finding it very tough to get kerosene to light the lamps,” he said.
He said persons involved in renting out these lamps have ventured into other trades. For Mr. Govindasamy, who does tinkering work at the shop, it is sad to see the once-popular petromax lamps fade into darkness. “It is a dying trade,” he laments.