Perforated clay lamps were used in India from Harappan times. Later on, perforated metal lamps were introduced in India in medieval period. They were generally made of brass and copper. When such lamps are lit, they create attractive designs of light and shadow in surrounding area.
The round perforated rolling lamp shown here has a gyroscopic contrivance and is used mariners on ships.
One of the most important milestones in the history of mankind is the discovery of fire. It has played a very crucial role in the progress and development of man and therefore, in India, fire and lamps are considered very auspicious.
In earlier times, lamps were perhaps only wicks lit in hollows or shallow depressions in stone. Later on, lamps were made of sea shells, clay and various metals like brass, copper and silver. In the ‘Ramayana’ and the ‘Mahabharata’ there are references to lamps made of gold. The earliest lamp was simple - a small bowl made of clay with a beak-like projection, popularly known as Panti. Interestingly, this type of lamp is found in India as early as the Harappan period (3300 BCE to 1800 BCE) and continues till this date!
In India, lamp symbolizes the human body and flame symbolizes the soul. Thus the individual is a Deepak (lamp) and the soul is a jeevan jyoti (the flame of life). Indians believe, that the soul is immortal. Even after the death of a person, a lamp is lit to guide the departing soul into the other world.
At every stage of life therefore, lamps are lit to celebrate the eternal life force. In earlier times special lamps were lit at coronation ceremonies, on the return of a victorious warrior and at every other important occasion. The aarti (ritualistic adoration with lighted lamps) is performed even today to strengthen and establish relationship between man and God, brother and sister, wife and husband, mother and child. Ancient texts mention Deepadaan (gifting of lamp) as a act of high merit. There are several festivals connected with lamps – Deep Amavasya (July – August), Diwali (October – November) and Ganga poojan which are celebrated with great pomp.
With the passage of time there has been innovation in the types and shapes of lamps meant for different occasions and requirement.
Sir Ratan Tata Art Collection.
Indian Decorative Art
19th Century CE