Spreading radiance and prosperity

Keeping the Karthikai lamps alight  

FEW THINGS have fascinated the human mind as much as the phenomenon of light. Civilizations that found innovative ways to use light have prospered because of their ability to continue doing useful work long after sunset, besides reducing the irrational fears associated with the hours of darkness.

It should not be surprising that most of the things we tend to fear in life are those which are hidden from view or cloaked in darkness, so that their real nature in unknown. Imagination, then plays upon our fears when there is feeble light, making us see ghouls and hobgoblins in every shadow that moves.

On the other hand, a single flickering flame from a lamp instantly banishes the all-pervasive darkness and brings cheer all around. Shadows that dance in the light are far more manageable than the mysterious shadows that seem to come alive when light levels are low.

Light is associated with most things we hold sacred, for radiance is an entity that seems to share some of the characteristics of divinity. A single flame from an oil lamp can kindle countless other lamps without losing any of its own brilliance or warmth. A lamp does not diminish, however much it gives of itself. Neither does it grow in brightness, owing to its selflessness in sharing the precious flame.

When carried aloft in the form of a flaming torch, a light is a symbol of victory and leadership. Down the years, lighted lamps have often been used to signify wisdom and learning. Even today, people who live close to the borders of heavily forested areas, consider flaming torches are one of the best weapons to drive away wild elephants, leopards and hyenas that may stray into human habitations.

Not many people nowadays, at least in the towns and cities, would think of carrying a `hurricane lamp' to light their way home, at the end of the day. Still, these gadgets were once invaluable for their ability to protect the flame and keep the lamp burning even during strong winds and a heavy downpour.

Outlined in flickering flame

Outlined in flickering flame  

Light dispels darkness and gives shape and substance to a world that had been plunged in gloom, just like the cumulative wisdom of the ages gives meaning and substance to our lives. When used as decorative elements, strings of little lights provide the most spectacular results, for they seem to recreate the beauty of the starry heavens right here upon the earth.

An intricate `kolam' is immeasurably enhanced if just a few oil lamps are placed at various points upon it. It is not without reason that people continue to consider lights as harbingers of good fortune, abundant harvests, better health and material prosperity.

During the Tamil month of `Karthigai', the focus has always been on lamps and light. One reason for this is that the months of November and December are the coldest ones of the years with the sun tending to set rather early.

Goddess Lakshmi is believed to look favourably upon homes that have been swept and cleaned, and brightly lighted in the evening, thereby presenting a pleasing sight to passers-by.

Devotees pray for happiness and prosperity, throughout the coming months. Perhaps, the little lights that burn so merrily upon the walls and terraces of houses, should remind us to take time out to enjoy the simple things in life, for they are the most enduring.

By Michael Raj A. A.

Photos: K.Ananthan S. Siva Saravanan