Let there be light…and love and laughter

When the fingers of a potter run on wet clay over a potter’s-wheel, many creations take birth. It’s this enthralling process of creation which gives birth to a ‘diya’.

Sushmita Dutta

"Deep Jyothi Parabrahma, Deep Jyothi Janardhana
Deepo Hartume Papam, Sandhya Deepam Namostute."

The above Sanskrit shloka means “I prostrate to the dawn/dusk lamp whose light is Supreme Knowledge, which removes the darkness of ignorance and by which all can be achieved.”

When the fingers of a potter run on wet clay over a potter’s-wheel, many creations take birth. It’s this enthralling process of creation which gives birth to a ‘diya’. A mini earthen bowl shaped structure with a small cotton wick, lit with ghee or oil which completes the ‘samagri’ to worship any form of God in India.

Be it Diwali, Karwachauth, Garba or a simple puja at home, no occasion is complete without the lighting up of diyas. Especially, Diwali celebrations seem graceless without out the humble diyas. But have the devotees ever stopped and pondered as to why the diyas are lit and what might be their significance? For without knowing the innate meaning of lighting a lamp, it becomes a meaningless ritual.

The diyas signify the importance of light or knowledge and represent a whole circle of life. It is an epithet of goodness, virtuosity, harmony and truth. The story behind the advent of diyas is quite interesting and dates back to the days of Ramayana.

As we know, Lord Rama fought a deadly battle with Ravana for his beloved wife Sita. When he returned home after demolishing the demon, his dear subjects gave him a rousing welcome. It was a night of pitch darkness, ‘Amavasya’, when the Lord came back with his victory party. The entire city of Ayodhya was lit up with these diyas to signify the victory of good over evil and to welcome their beloved king who was returning after 14 long years of exile.

As hundreds of thousands of diyas lit up every lane and house of Ayodhya, darkness vanished and with arrival of Rama, it was as if the Sun had risen at night.

And this is how the tradition of Diwali and the life of diyas began. Since then, diyas have been a part of the daily religious life of Hindus. These diyas signify the destruction of ignorance and the spread of the light of knowledge throughout.

In India, festivals are more than a ritualistic worship of a particular God. Each festival is a celebration of strengthening of the human bonding and how good conquers evil. These little diyas are an acknowledgement of people’s belief in the joy and divinity of every human being.

Decorating the houses with the beautiful diyas is an age-old tradition. In its long journey where it was just a small brown coloured clay pot, the diya has come a long way today. These days, diyas come in various designer shapes and varieties which are not only used for religious purposes but also for decoration. One might be surprised to see the detail that goes into designing these tiny things. When lit, they actually transform the aura around the house and bring in a sense of positivity.

As the festive season approaches, the markets are flooded with different shapes and sizes of diyas. The arrival of diyas on shop shelves is an exciting sight as it indicates the beginning of the festive weeks. Though many use the ubiquitous electric lights nowadays, the serenity of a diya is unbeatable.

On Diwali night, the Goddess of wealth, Laxmi is worshipped. It is believed that the diyas are lit to light up the path of the Goddess so that she can descend into people’s homes and bring prosperity & happiness into their lives. The diyas are meant to welcome Laxmiji and so it is believed that the more the little earthen lamps, the more will be her blessings on the devout.

That may be the legend of Diwali but the story of the sale of diyas certainly shows how folks depend on them for earning livelihood. It is a work of art to make diyas and lamps in so many different sizes and shapes; these people are not simply potters but artists in their own right. The diyamakers of Dharavi, the world biggest slum in Mumbai, make diyas that are awe-inspiring, for example.

‘Kumbharwada’, the colony of the potters in Dharavi, has been in the business of making diyas since 1912. Their produce is even exported to foreign countries. It claims to churn out around 70% of the diyas, lamps and earthen pots sold in the financial capital of India. So the importance of these diyas in the life of these poor people can well be imagined. They work hard so that they can light up the lives of other people and Laxmi surely grants them her boons.

The diya industry is a huge one, with immense economic and artistic as well as cultural potential.

Never before has any thought been given to these tiny diyas, which light up everyone’s houses, bring the Goddess of wealth to their doorsteps, highlight the goodness in life etc. The light of diyas indeed illuminates the hearts of those who don’t even believe in all these tales. The sight of a small lamp fighting the dark with its small light is awe-inspiring, indeed.

Diyas are the very reason why Diwlali is celebrated with such pomp and fervor for it signifies emulating what the citizens of Ayodhya did in an era long gone by. Everyone should light a diya not only on Diwali but everyday - in fond memory of the incidents that cajole and convince us of being good.