Sunday, March 7, 2021

My favourite diya

It’s beginning to feel a lot like… Diwali. The festival theme is creeping in when we catch up with friends or ring the family back in India. To get into the mood full on, what else can we do but bring out the diyas! We ask our friends here to pick their favourite diyas.

Reading Time: 12 minutesThe warmth of family

I’ve ‘upgraded’ from diyas to tealights ever since I moved to Oz! And while it may not be possible to have a favourite tealight, there can be such a thing as a special arrangement! Especially for me as a photographer.
My favourite Diwali light arrangement snapshot is this one, from as recently as last year. My parents came visiting from Bhavnagar Gujarat, their first visit down under, making it a very special Diwali for all of us. You can see Mum’s hand arranging the tealights.

Cool candles 
I like candles of different shapes. Mum gets my sister and I to pick our own candles for Diwali. When we were young, we used to bring out the number candles left over from our birthday cakes. They became our ‘special’ Diwali candles.
Then we started buying our own cool candles. Cupcake candle was always a favourite.
We found animal candles, ice cream cone candles, watermelon candles and other fruit shaped ones, and car and truck candles.

One year we picked really cool thong candles. But Mum said she didn’t want chappal candles for Diwali.


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Light that dispels the darkness of ignorance
The nilavilakku always ignites the fondest of memories for me. It takes me back to my childhood and my annual holiday visits to Kerala. Quite contrary to popular belief, the nilavilakku is not just significant to the Hindu religion, but also extends its significance to other religions.

A strong and vivid memory is the huge lamp that adorns one of our ancient churches, the oil and wicks constantly replenished to ensure that the lamp is always lit, signifying the victory of good over evil always.
I remember my aunt telling me about offering oil as a donation to the church, a practice by most believers who visit the church which helps keep the lamp constantly lit. And we would always collect a little oil from the base of the lamp to bring back home, as it is considered to be holy.
My belief in the ritual has waned over the years. But every time I light the nilavilakku in my home, it’s not just fond memories but also the belief that light is like knowledge which dispels the darkness of ignorance.

The magic of light
I don’t do diyas, but I do have a favourite diya in a work of art. In this watercolour portrait of a young girl dressed in a salmon-pink sari and shielding a richly painted, lit diya from the wind, we see the quiet, secret magic of light. It gilds the golden blouse of the subject, casts a warm, friendly glow over her sari and face, and seems to have its own personality.

SL Haldankar’s Glow of Hope (1945-46)

The portrait is highly skilled in its realism, and yet the direct gaze of the young girl (artist Haldekar’s third daughter Gita Uplekar, then aged just twelve) and the shadows blanketing the mustard-coloured wall behind her, combine to create a sense of mystery and subtle happiness.

‘Glow of Hope’, finally, makes light both a beautiful and complicated thing.

The diya as heritage
There are days that are all about tradition, and Diwali is one of them. In these times of fancy LED lights, there is a soothing romance about lighting up your home with those traditional earthen diyas that flicker long and slow through the jubilant Diwali night.

Eight years ago, for our son Arjun’s first Diwali, my wife Jasdeep and I bought this old-style, rustic, handmade diya. It has since remained the centre piece of our Diwali decorations each year.
An important part of passing on our cultural heritage to our kids in this adopted homeland is for them to understand the folklore associated with these festive occasions, and diyas are therefore an inherent part of Diwali celebrations in our households.

This particular diya holds a special place for us for it has marked every single Diwali for us, since Arjun was born. This Diwali too, we shall wash it clean and fill it with sarson ka tel (mustard oil), dip a cotton wick deep into its sanctum, and let it sparkle our Diwali night.

Candles with a cause 
I was raised in Australia, but there were a few times that I was lucky enough to celebrate Diwali in Delhi with my grandparents.

Tia Singh

I remember buying diyas from the Blind Relief Association’s annual Diwali Mela. This Mela has become quite an institution in Delhi over the past 30 years. It all started with a simple effort to teach visually impaired people a skill – making earthenware diyas and wax candles – as a means of earning a living.
Today, their beautiful, handmade candles see people lining up at the stalls, and subsequently selling out. Although they themselves cannot see, their effort to spread a little bit of light is inspiring.
I encourage all to embrace the spirit of Diwali by buying charitable candles to light up their homes with. There are plenty of places that sell the most wonderful candles for a variety of charitable causes – women, children, and animals in need.

My favourite diya is a charity candle.

Hope and light
 Diwali symbolises hope, knowledge and the victory of light over darkness. Of the various rituals involved in the celebrations, the lighting a terracotta oil lamp, or diya, is my favourite. The diya illuminates the whole house with its warm glow and is a delight to behold. On Diwali, every nook and corner of my house is lit with an oil-and-cotton-wick diya – it brings a sense of enjoyment and celebration in my household.
On one such fine occasion back in Mumbai 15 years ago, there was festivity in the air just before Diwali.
For almost a week, I had been noticing a frail old lady, fondly called Aaji (grandmother), sitting in a dark and lonely corner of the local mall. Her handmade diyas were not exactly selling like hot cakes. But that didn’t sour the friendly smile with which she greeted passers-by. That she had not lost hope was endearing.

When it was time for me to buy diyas, I decided to get them from Aaji rather than a fancy showroom. I didn’t need to light the diya for its light; I felt a glow inside when I bought it from Aaji and saw her face light up.
The diya travelled with me across the ocean as a cherished possession. Aaji’s undying optimism – that’s what it reminds me of today.

Never judge a gift by its wrapper
I have a set of brass diyas that are very close to my heart. On our first trip back to India as husband and wife, Gopal and I visited Pune. It was Diwali. Gopal had been to university here, and rented a flat with a few other students.

A retired couple, the Sardesais, were their neighbours and would invite them for meals from time to time. During our visit to Pune, they invited us newlyweds for dinner and showed us the fun side of their retired life. Uncle, a retired army officer and Aunty, a social worker, made the most of this stage of their life.
As we took our leave, the Sardesais gave us warm blessings. To my utter bewilderment, Sardesai Aunty handed me a box of Bagpiper whiskey. Times must have changed in India, I thought, if new brides are given alcohol instead of something traditional!
Back home, I opened the pack – out came the parts to two beautiful brass diyas. I will never forget Aunty’s laugh when I described to her my (double) surprise, the next day.
For 14 years since, the brass diyas have come out for Ganpati Pooja, Diwali and all other auspicious functions at our home. When it’s time to put them away, they are disassembled, and stored in the very same whiskey box they came in!
My diyas remind me of the gorgeous couple who gifted them to us – their blessings are always with us.

Welcoming light
My husband Ajay and I opened our restaurant Bijolias Indian in Seaforth in 2004. I bought a lamp then to place alongside my cherished Ganesha statue. It is made in India and although it has a tealight in it, it looks like the real deal, very antique. It has been lit every evening since November 2004. I feel it brings us a lot of good luck as it sits beside Lord Ganesha and shines its glow over everyone and everything! It is very close to my heart and I call it my “Aladdin ka chirag” (Aladdin’s lamp).

May this lamp light your paths as well and bring you all lots of happiness this festive season. May the festival of lights light up your lives with peace, prosperity and good health.
Happy Diwali from all of us at Bijolias Indian.

Inviting Lakshmi in, driving darkness out
A fond childhood memory involves my mum lighting the traditional lamp each evening and taking it to the main door, chanting “Deepam, Deepam, Deepam” (lamp, lamp, lamp).

She would leave the lit lamp on the floor, praying to and inviting Goddess Lakshmi to enter our home and banish the darkness. The main door would be left ajar, with the lit lamp at the threshold, for half an hour. Only after this lamp was lit, that the lights would get turned on for the night.
This is the traditional way of ending the day with thanks and gratitude, and saying prayers with the hope of finding light in darkness, achieving knowledge where there is ignorance and spreading love where there is hatred.
Living in Australia now, I follow the traditions that my mum instilled in me. Here’s a photo of a lamp that Mum gifted us. I feel blessed to have her love and light around us all the time.

The lamp of fond memories
It is when our festivals come round, that I miss India the most. Our festivals are all about big gatherings of family and friends, and connecting over old stories, jokes and laughter.

Immediately after moving here, I missed that conviviality. But then, many years ago, a friend visiting from India around Diwali brought along this lamp as a present.
This lamp brought me a lot of cheer that Diwali in my early years away from home. Every time I look at it, it brings back the memories of those full-filled afternoons spent with dear friends reconnecting over masala chai and samosas.
The times spent with dear ones may pass, but the lamp will ensure that those memories remain alive.

Surrounded by light
I have always looked on a simple light with awe. A single flame, emitting the same light and solace to every person in the world, regardless of religion or creed!
One day a message was given to me that my destiny would be with light. Just before my marriage, a confirmation of this message came in the form of a lamp. Shortly after, I married someone whose name means ‘victorious light’.
My in-laws’ home is called ‘God’s light’, and the home we bought ourselves as a young couple had been christened ‘House of lights’.
Quite coincidentally, there are many significant others in my life today, who have names that refer to light!


Mum’s long-lost lamps
My favourite diyas are a pair of one-foot long silver lamps. The bottom stands have images of goddess Lakshmi and on top, there is a swan.

These lamps can host five flames at a time, representing the five elements of space, air, fire, water, and earth.
The story of these lamps is that they were given to my mother on her wedding day by my grandmother. After coming to Australia 15 years ago, Mum never saw the lamps again and lost a good memory of her wedding day.
One month ago, she celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary. We remembered our memories in Australia, but we didn’t have a memory from the actual day my mother was married.

Then, last week, my grandmother came to Sydney after 7 years and brought the lamps with her. It was the first time I saw the lamps and I was taken aback by how large and ornate they were.
It was such a nice memory from 25 years ago! I’m happy to have had the lamps pass down through three generations of women in my family. They are like a long-lost treasure that has fortuitously turned up when it was given up for lost. My grandmother and I had a lot of fun decorating it to take these photos.

Yum yum!
My favourite lamp is a ma vilakku.

Ma vilakku is a Tamil word meaning a lamp made of rice flour and jaggery, lighted with a wick dipped in ghee (clarified butter). This lamp not only lights the home with an aesthetic appeal, but the natural substances used to light the lamp are also believed to have medicinal properties that spread well being and positivity around the home.

It is also decorated with vermillion to add auspiciousness. The best thing about this lamp is that it is absolutely delicious to eat after the offering! 

Forget tealight candles. How about teacup candles?
I’ve just got introduced to craft candles – perfect timing, since Diwali is coming up!
Handmade and old-style, they are simply stunning, and look and feel luxurious. You could DIY them – with a container of any sort, wax flakes, metallic wick holders and a double-boiler – but who has the time?!
This particular one shown here, I got as a gift on my birthday recently. It is a scented soy candle made in an up-cycled vintage teacup. It will be my favourite diya this Diwali.
The lovely lady who made this beautiful candle for me runs a business called The Scentimental Lady – look her up! 

She will make you a bespoke candle, in your own special container if you wish, and with your own choice of fragrance. And guess what, you can go back for refills!

Ganesh in different forms

For me Diwali is the time to make everything around the house including ourselves be at our beautiful best. I’m always particular about decorative items to reflect beauty. My all-time favourite diya sits on a Ganesha idol. I call it “Atharva”. Atharva is one of the many names of Lord Ganesh.

Atharv is also the name of my son, named so because he was born on Ganesh Chaturthi. So for obvious reason, this diya is closest to my heart. We got this diya for Atahrv’s first Diwali and have lit it on Diwali ever since.

Crowd favourite
Deepavali is a composite word that means ‘a row of lamps’. Well, I prefer ‘a wall’ of lamps! Why have a row when you can have an entire wall?!

My favourite diya will have to be my wall of diyas. It is always a crowd pleaser at my event management company Décor-A-Shaan. As clients walk in to my warehouse, they invariably stop at it and ask about it. I can literally see their eyes light up, ha ha!
I acquired it in India at Baroda at a crafts market. I loved it as soon as I saw it, even though I knew it would be a hassle to bring it over to Oz. But I am so glad I did. It has been used not only at Diwali functions but also at weddings, community functions, corporate social events and as stage decoration. It’s great as a photograph backdrop as well as a decoration in its own right.

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