Monthly Archives: October 2016

Lamps in India : beauty and devotion

               Lamps are an important part of Indian culture and tradition and is a revered object at homes and temples. It is called deepam in the south and diya in the north. It is a part of ritualistic worship at temples and homes.Lamps across India are found made of clay,terracotta,porcelain,brass,bronze,silver etc.The earthen lamp is the commonest lamp made on the potter’s wheel from clay. The potter introduced variety in lamp-making and thus we have dome shaped lamp holders and bunch of five diyas. Diyas on top of a elephant figure or a horse figure  or as a hanging lamp are also available.Sometimes dances in India are centred around lamps.


The earthen diya.

By Sreekumar K. S. (originally posted to Flickr as Picture 011) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Earthen diya with five wicks.

By Ramesh NG (originally posted to Flickr as The Diwali Diya) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

          Metal lamps are found at Hindu temples. Brass, bronze and silver are common. South India and Gujarat have their own array of lamps. Many temples have niches in the walls where lamps are placed. A lamp pillar or deepasthambham has plates at equal intervals and holds the oil and wicks. The plates get smaller and the top of the pillar is decorated with a lion or peacock on top. Lamp  used at the time of prayer is called aarti deepa which comes with a handle. The lamp is a symbol of Goddess Lakshmi and is known as deepalakshmi.


Lamp as deepalakshmi, South India.

By Xufanc – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Aarti diya.

By Amitbsws (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Lamps arranged in niches,Thiruvegappura temple Palakkad, Kerala.

By Argopal at ml.wikipedia – Transferred from ml.wikipedia by User:Sreejithk2000 using CommonsHelper., Public Domain,

         Deepavali or Diwali means a row or array of lights and  symbolises chasing away darkness from one’s life and ushering in prosperity and abundance.  The festival commemorates the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana. The whole town of Ayodhya was lit up with lamps to welcome Lord Rama along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana.

            In Tamil Nadu a lamp is called Vilakku and in Kerala it is called Valakku. There is a lot of variety in the lamps of South India. Kuthuvilakku and Nilavilakku are traditional oil lamps used in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Many times,  a human figure is shown holding a lamp, the cup being the oil container. In the Padmanabha temple at Thiruvananthapuram the male is shown as the figure in the statues, which are mostly brass lamps. There are many inscriptions recording the gift of lamps to  presiding deities. The idea of statue lamps was probably taken from the Romans or Phoenicians as the Tamils had trade links with them.


Paavai vilakku (lady with a lamp), Tamil Nadu.

By Xufanc – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Tiered lamp in bronze, 13th-14th century, Kerala.

By Wikipedia Loves Art participant “airforceJK” [CC BY 2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Lamps set around a rangoli ( a decorative design) on Diwali.

By siddarth varanasi – Flickr: DSC_0438, CC BY 2.0,

       Lamps with human motifs is more common in South India. However many south Indian lamps are found in the temples of Benaras as per O.C Gangoly. The hamsa lamp or swan lamp is found in South India which has a perpendicular stem which is the pedestal of the lamp and is called deepa-briksha. This is broken into various knobs and the whole is surmounted by a model of a swan or hamsa. The hamsa is a beautiful and auspicious bird and is the vahana or vehicle of Lord Brahma. Lamps have been depicted in many paintings both medieval and modern.


Diwali celebrations at Kotah, painting, Rajasthan.

By Indian Unknown Details of artist on Google Art Project [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Copper alloy lamp with peacock and elephant, 18th century, Maharashtra.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Lamp at Padmanabhapura palace,16th century, Kanyakumari,Tamil Nadu.

Bibinca at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

       During the month of Kartika(mid-November to mid-December) in the Hindu calendar a festival of lights called Karthikai Deepam is celebrated in Tamil Nadu.The lamps are lit when the moon is in conjunction with the Kartigai(Pleiades) and is a full moon. This constellation is a group of six stars in the shape of an ear ornament. This day is called as Kartik Poornima and observed by  Hindus across India with lighting of lamps. It is also known as Dev Deepavali and is celebrated in Benaras or Varanasi by lighting of all the ghats on the river Ganges. It is believed that the Gods descend on earth on this auspicious day, to bathe in the Ganga river. Devotees take a dip in the river and offer lamps to the Goddess Ganga in the evening and perform Ganga aarti.


Nilavilakku  lit up  for Karthikai deepam, Tamil Nadu.

By Aravind Sivaraj – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Image of chromolithograph ‘Indian woman floating lamps on the Ganges’ by William Simpson,1867.


Photograph of chromolithograph titled, “Indian woman floating lamps on the Ganges,” by William Simpson (1823-1899) Medium: Chromolithograph Date: 1867. Downloaded from this British Library Web Site by Fowler&fowler«Talk» 11:27, 3 May 2011 (UTC)

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Ganga aarti at Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.

By ( [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Hanging lamp, Kerala.

By Sajith Erattupetta – Own work, CC BY 4.0,


Lamp with swan motif, Kerala.

By Fotokannan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,



References :

  • Gangoly, O. C/The Journal of Indian art, 1916: South Indian lamps, p 129-136.



Posted by : Soma Ghosh













Durga in Indian art: some painting and sculpture depictions

Durga is an important deity from the Hindu pantheon. She is revered as a destroyer of evil. She is  a Goddess or a devi. The word devi in Sanskrit means divine or heavenly and a shining presence. The concept of devi first appeared in the Vedas in 200 B.C. but gained focus in Puranic literature with texts like the Devi Mahatmya. Goddess Durga reigns supreme and is the divine feminine as Devi in Hinduism and a divine mother as Mata. The legend of Durga appears as an avatar of Parvati, who is angry, ferocious and has eight to ten arms, holding weapons and skulls, riding a lion or tiger. She is a warrior goddess  who kills Mahisasura whom the male Gods were unable to control. Durga is a unified form of all Gods.She is one who saves a devotee from durgati or misfortune. Her mythology is described in the Devi Mahatmya, a part of the Markandeya Purana from the 4th to 6th century.


Durga on amulet, Rajasthan.

By Vassil – Own work, Public Domain,

The nine manifestations of Durga or Navadurga are worshipped during Navaratri in the month of Ashwin of the Hindu calendar; Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta,Skandamata,Katyayani,Kaalratri,Mahagauri and Siddhidaatri. Durga is associated with two mountain ranges, the Himalayas in the north and the VIndhyas in central India. She is Paravati in the Himalayas; daughter of the mountains. Durga images have been found in Afghanistan(ancient Gandhara) and also in Tibet.


Navadurgas, painting, Banaras.

By No machine-readable author provided. Elishams assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 2.5,


Mahavidyas and Navadurgas on Amber Fort palace door, Rajasthan,16th cenury.

By Adamina – DSC05814Uploaded by Ekabhishek, CC BY 2.0,

Durga is Sachika in the Jodhpur area of Rajasthan. She is called Sharika in Kashmir, Meenakshi in the south, Kamakhya in the east. All over India local goddesses are identified with Durga. She is Chandi in Punjab and Haryana. In Kerala she is Bhagavati and worshipped as Bathukamma in Telangana. The Devi Mahatmya is a religious text which describes the Devi as the supreme power and creator of the universe.  This text is used by Shakta groups (who worship the Devi as supreme), Vaishnavas, Shaivas and others.The other important texts are the Devi Bhagavata Purana and Devi Upanishad, important texts of the Shaktism tradition of Hinduism. In fact the earliest evidence for the feminine aspect of God appears in the Rigveda as Devi suktam. Hymns to the devi or Goddess appear in the epic Mahabharata too. By the 3rd or 4th century, the devi became an important aspect of Hindu tradition. The mahadvidyas are a group of ten aspects of Adi Parashakti (Durga) in Hinduism. The mahavidyas include Buddhist goddesses too and are important aspect in Shaktism; and include Kali, Tara,Tripura Sundari,Chinnamasta,Dhumavati,Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamala.

The Shiva Purana says Lord Shiva invoked Durga from his left half to create and together both created Shivaloka. As per the Devi Mahatmya ,Mahisasura, son of demon Rambha unleashed terror on earth and defeated the Gods. The Gods then approached Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Together they created a woman on whom they bestowed weapons and she was Durga.  The demon’s entire army was challenged by Durga. Mahisasura attacked Durga as a buffalo-demon whom Durga kills with a trisula(trident) after a fierce battle.


Sculpture of Durga, Kashmir, 9th century.

 By Image: Gallery:, Public Domain,



Devi mahatmya manuscript, 17th century.

By Image: Gallery:, Public Domain,

The Devi Mahatmya has three episodes. In the first Durga is the sleep state or yoga nidra of Lord Vishnu. The demons Madhu and Kaitabha are threatening to destroy the cosmos. Brahma calls upon the Goddess to emerge and she comes out through Vishnu’s eyes,mouth,nose, arms and chest. Thus Vishnu becomes awake and vanquishes the demons. The second episode is the story of Durga as Mahisasuramardini. The male Gods have been defeated by demons or asuras whose leader is Mahisasura. A strong rage or the tejas of all the Gods takes the form of a woman, Durga who rides lion and is armed with weapons given by the Gods and slays the buffalo-demon, Mahisasura. In the third episode too, the Gods are defeated by the demons or  asuras  Chanda and Munda and Shumbha and Nishumbha. This time the Devi or Durga emerges from the skin of Parvati who is the consort of Lord Shiva and during the battle from her forehead emerges Kali with a tongue dripping with blood and who wears a necklace of skulls and who finishes off the evil beings.


Sculpture of Durga, Karnataka,13th century.

By Image: Gallery:, Public Domain,


Kalighat painting, Kolkata (previously Calcutta)19th century.

By Unknown – The Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, CC BY 4.0,


Wall relief at temple at Aihole, Karnataka,  7th-8th century.

By Dineshkannambadi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Goddess Kali and the saptamatrikas in battle, from a Devi mahatmya manuscript, Mysore.

By Unknown – LACMA[1], Public Domain,


Durga fighting Shunga and Nishunga,painting from Devi Mahatmya, mid 19th century.

By Punjab Hills, India – from a Devi Mahatmya, Public Domain,

In the 10th or 11th century another text the Devi Bhagavata Purana and the Shakta poem Soundaryalahiri became important. Thus Devi or Durga as Lord Shiva’s consort, mahisasuramardini, cosmic power, divine feminine became an important part of Indian religious tradition and culture.

The Devi Bhagavata Purana looks upon the Devi or Shakti as the creator of the Universe and as the Brahman or ultimate reality. This text celebrates the divine feminine and is a mix of mythology, metaphysics and about the conflict between Gods and asuras or good and evil. Durga is described as the eternal truth, the nirguna or formless, saguna, with form, the unchanging reality or purusha and the changing reality or prakriti and the very soul of living beings.

Soundaryalahiri is a poem written by Adi Shankara and sage Pushpadanta about the beauty and grace of Goddess Parvati. It is tantra text book with instructions about pujas, offerings and various yantras.

The matrikas are seven female divinities, together called saptamatrikas; Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshwari, Indrani, Kaumari,Varahi and Chamundi. They assist Lord Shiva to battle Andhakusura and assist the devi in their fight with demons.


Saptamatrikas ,red sandstone, Madhya Pradesh, 9th century.

By Ms Sarah Welch – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Every year during the month of Ashwin(which falls during late September and early October),Durga Puja is celebrated in many Indian states especially West Bengal, Asom, Odisha, Bihar,Tripura,Meghalaya and Jharkhand. Durga Puja celebrates the victory of Goddess Durga over the buffalo-demon Mahisasura. She is worshipped as destroyer of evil and protector of her devotees with great pomp and festivities.


Durga puja idols, Kolkata,21st century.

By Aryan paswan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,



  • Pal, Pratapaditya,ed./Goddess Durga : the power and the glory, Mumbai: Marg Publications,2009.

Posted by : Soma Ghosh