All over India, as Diwali approaches the shops are brimming with diyas, that range from plain terracotta ones to really glittering beauties. Rural women, in their colourful dresses and chunky jewellery have started trickling in cities with their stock of diyas, which they have made in hundreds over the months.
But the most popular diyas still are the ones made from clay. They remain the staple of many households and though they have a rustic beauty, they are eternal favourites during traditional festivities. You can buy them in all sizes and colours. Some are filled with wax and painted over and others serve as plain, oil lamps.
Each state has its own way with lamps. For example every Diwali, the Maharashtrian community of Pathare Prabhus lights up the entrance of homes with diyas made of cactus plants and not the common terracotta diyas as used elsewhere. Called dhandive, the lighting of the cactus diyas is a unique practice that the community has been following for generations. “No one really knows why the cactus is used as a diya but the closest theory is that we were a guild, and this was the native plant of the region (Patan) we hailed from,” said Anitha Kothare, a member of the community as she readies to light 16 such dhandives in her home.
Pottery artisans in Kolkata are busily churning out diyas to keep up with the increasing demand. Lamps in various shapes and sizes are being made and among these are the shankho diyas (earthen lamps shaped like a conch), sea shell diyas and Ganesha diyas.
But if you really want to splurge, you can pick up diyas made in silver, which have precious and semi precious embellishments on them.
But eventually it doesn’t really matter which one you pick up as the festival of lights is about inner light and not about how you create it artificially in and around your home. Says Murari Lal Agarwal of Awaran, a house of decorative items located in New Delhi, “You see, with the changing times there has been a change in the taste of customers.
Knowing that only clay diyas will not entice the buyers, we have stocked up a range of designer ones. This time we have imported wick-trays made of terracotta from places like Kutch in Gujarat and Kota in Rajasthan. All these bear intricate designs known only to the artisans of those regions. Then there are those adorned with zari and mirror work in exuberant colours. Ensuring affordability, they are all priced from Rs 50 to Rs 3000.”
You can either choose from the traditional round diya or pick some in an exotic shape like a lotus, a tulsi or a mandir and place them all in a decorative plate also made of clay. There are some who like to colour the diyas in bright shades, but many like it when they are simply varnished and the natural colour is retained.
The earthen diya used on the occasion of Diwali, reflects an ancient design sense that is simple and stunning in concept and universal in appeal. Diyas can also be ornamented with mirror-work or zari, shells, beads, golden lace or with with some small decorative glass pieces. They can be also embellished with fragrant, dried flowers. For those who prefer things a little more traditional, take your pick from the variety of pooja thali diyas with idols of Ganesha, Lakshmi and Hatari.
A decade ago, there was a great concern, that unable to match the popularity of electric diya decorations, the earthen clay diya will go into oblivion. But it has not happened perhaps because the charm of hand-crafted artifacts can never really fade though fads may come and go.
The meaning of lighting a lamp is that we remove all darkness from our souls and cleanse ourselves of ignorance and anger. Thus light symbolises our highest self. The wick in the traditional oil lamp symbolises ego and the oil or ghee used symbolise our negative tendencies.
When we are lit by self knowledge, the negative tendencies (oil) melt away and finally the ego (wick) perishes. When the ego perishes, we realise that we are all part of the whole called humanity and that life is a continuum.
There are many versions of diyas today. Fairy lamps, paper lanterns, string of lights, designer candles and more are some variations and many pottery workshops today encourage people to come and design their own version of diyas.
For the creatively inspired amongst us, there are diya moulds easily available in markets. Or you can even make a diya of your own with POP (Plaster of Paris). Floating diyas in urlis with flowers and candles instantly adds to the festive quotient. There are many designer wall units in stores today with space for diyas or tea lights and when lit up, the effect is magical.
A diya rangoli with marigold flowers is a great way to add colour and warmth to the entrance of a house. A garden wall with brick projections and wall cavities (plastered with broken mirror pieces) where diyas can be placed, can look stunning. To reduce waste, recycle old diyas by dunking them in water overnight and repaint them for a new lease of life.
What really matters is that this Diwali, we also light up someone’s life and resolve to donate a hamper of happiness to someone who cannot afford to celebrate.