The festival of Diwali is celebrated on Amavasya or the new moon day when there is darkness everywhere. Since it is believed that evil spirits and dark forces become powerful and active when there is no light, people light millions of diyas or oil lamps in every corner of their home to dispel the darkness. The oil in the diya symbolises negative sentiments like greed, jealousy, hatred and lust that lurk, and are nurtured in human minds. The cotton wick in the diya is symbolic of the atma or the soul. The diya creates light when the oil is burnt by the wick. So the lighting of diyas represents hope and positivity, and indicates our willingness to free ourselves of negative thoughts.
Earthen diyas are native to the Indian subcontinent and are part of India’s pottery tradition that goes back thousands of years. Many are not aware of the effort that goes into making the simple brown clay diyas that are synonymous with Diwali. The clay to make these diyas is collected from the beds of rivers and ponds during the hot summer months of May and June when they are dry. The clay is then filtered and soaked in water, and then pounded and kneaded manually to make it smooth and free of lumps. The prepared clay is then shaped into a diya on a potter’s wheel, and finally baked in a hot kiln.
In times gone by, traditional diyas made of clay were synonymous with Diwali, and were considered essential to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of Wealth. But with the arrival of strings of electric lights, floating candles, and perfumed wax lights, the popularity of earthen diyas took a huge hit.
However nothing can replace the beauty and divine light of a simple diya, fashioned from Mother Earth’s own clay.
Chembur Pulse visited a shop selling traditional clay diyas in Deonar. The diyas, available in several sizes, have come all the way from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh where they are made from clay sourced from local river beds. Apart from simple diyas which are available for twenty rupees for a dozen, there are elaborate diyas shaped like peacocks, elephants, and camels. The wares in this shop, opposite the old Metal Box factory in Deonar, are a feast for the eyes. If we encourage these talented artisans by buying diyas and other products from them to light up our homes, we will not only be supporting an age old craft tradition of our country, but will light up the lives of our valued craftsmen.