A metalsmith as soon as made a go to to the Sri Mahadeva Temple, an historical Shiva Temple in Ettumanoor, a city located within the central area of present-day Kerala. The artisan had crafted a suspension lamp as a present for the temple, however the temple clergymen initially declined to simply accept it, expressing considerations concerning the substantial quantity of oil it will devour to maintain it lit. In response, the metalsmith confidently acknowledged that the lamp might burn even with out oil.
Unexpectedly, a stranger appeared and took the lamp, putting it contained in the belikalpura (a construction that homes the principle providing stone) of the shrine. Immediately, the sky rumbled with thunder, and lightning struck, igniting the lamp. Remarkably, it has by no means ceased burning since that second. This story is simply one of many many legends surrounding the well-known Vada Vilakk of the Ettumanoor temple. “Valiya Keda Vilakku, with repeated use, took on the colloquial expression Vada Vilakku. Nonetheless, each phrases point out a way of eternity: ‘valiya’ means massive and ‘keda’ implies that which can’t be extinguished. Equally, ‘vada’ refers to one thing that doesn’t wilt,” explains writer Indu Chinta.
It’s the fascination for such legends and historic narratives that made Chinta to modify from pursuing a profession in environmental engineering to be an explorer of tradition. A recipient of the Kerala Folklore Academy Award in 2020, Chinta lately printed a novel e-book, Iconography of Deepam, on the standard lamps in Kerala.
“The challenge started with a request from the federal government of Madhya Pradesh,” the writer recounts. “They approached me to put in writing an article for a particular publication by the Triveni Museum, which was scheduled for launch on Republic Day earlier this 12 months. The museum meant to determine a brand new part devoted to showcasing varied lamps from totally different areas of India. They sought my illustration for the state of Kerala. That’s how my journey into this topic started,” she provides.
She additional says: “As I began engaged on the article, my exploration grew extra profound. Additionally they granted me the liberty to resolve the path wherein I needed to take this research. It grew to become obvious that, regardless of their ubiquity in spiritual ceremonies and important life occasions comparable to births, deaths, marriages, naming ceremonies, and housewarming rituals, there was surprisingly restricted written or printed materials accessible on the subject. Consequently, I made a decision to delve into the lamp’s cultural context, investigating its position inside cultural and ritualistic programs.”
It was in 2017, throughout her time at IIT Madras, that Chinta’s profound ardour for tradition was kindled, very like the oil that fuels the standard lamps she would later write about in her e-book. “Tamil Nadu is a state teeming with tradition, and my coronary heart has all the time been near the preservation of tradition and the artwork of writing. Throughout my time at IIT Madras in mid-2017, I started to really feel that the second was ripe for me to make the leap from my present pursuits to a full-time exploration of writing and tradition,” she says.
“I launched into weekend journeys, even in and round Chennai, the place Tamil Nadu’s wealthy cultural tapestry by no means ceased to captivate me. The thought steadily fashioned in my thoughts that the time had come to transition right into a full-time engagement with writing and tradition,” she provides.
Chinta’s travels took her by the colourful landscapes of southern Karnataka and introduced her to the northern reaches of Kerala, to Kasargod and Kannur. “In Kannur, an opportunity encounter with an enthusiastic Italian couple who had lately witnessed a Theyyam efficiency left me curious and impressed. I made a decision to attend considered one of these performances myself, initially with the intention of writing an article for a newspaper. I watched Thee Chamundi or maybe Putiya Bhagwati, considered one of my earliest experiences with Theyyam, and I used to be completely awestruck,” she remembers.
The custom of Theyyam encompasses the rituals, customs, and traditions linked to the temples and sacred groves of Malabar. Within the eyes of the native inhabitants, Theyyam serves as a conduit to the divine, and so they actively search blessings from the Theyyam performers. “I returned to Kannur, drawn again by the irresistible attract of Theyyam, and this time, I made a decision to doc my experiences by each phrases and images. It rapidly grew to become evident that the written phrase alone couldn’t do justice to this unbelievable custom. As my journey unfolded, I cancelled my return ticket to Hyderabad and spent your complete Theyyam season in Kannur,” she says.
“The fruits of my work throughout this transformative interval was my first e-book, Theyyam: Merging with the Divine. It’s onerous to place into phrases the enchantment and revelation I skilled. ‘Magical’ can be an understatement – it was actually an epiphany.”
Chinta began the work for Iconography of Deepam additionally with journeys to Kannur—to Kunhimangalam and Payyannur, two historical centres of lamp-making within the southern state.
“The artisans I noticed there are actually outstanding, not only for their craftsmanship however for the outstanding continuity of their traditions throughout many generations, particularly in Kunhimangalam,” she remembers.
“They’ve upheld these practices for hundreds of years, residing in tight-knit communities tucked away from the principle roads. I used to be profoundly impressed by the dedication of the youthful technology, who contemplate their craft a cherished inheritance and take immense delight in it. Even younger ladies displayed a eager curiosity, intently watching their fathers, uncles, or brothers within the workshop, desperate to study. It’s a tight-knit group, and data is transferred by oral traditions.”
In Kunhimangalam, the lamp-making households possess one thing known as Dhyana Slokas, that are basically their commerce secrets and techniques. These are intently guarded and never disclosed to outsiders. Over time, this data has been handed down orally. “These Dhyanaslokas play an important position, notably within the handcrafting course of versus machine manufacturing,” says Chinta. “They dictate the exact proportions of metallic to make use of when creating particular kinds of lamps. In Kunhimangalam, 33 distinct kinds of lamps are made, every with its devoted dhyana sloka outlining the precise measurements. The artisans start their work with a prayer, infusing their craft with a way of divinity and deep reverence for every lamp they create.”
Iconography of Deepam delves into the importance of lamps not solely inside spiritual rituals but additionally within the realm of efficiency arts, together with Kutiyattam, Kathakali, Tholpavakoothu, and Mudiyettu. It uncovers the intriguing historical past behind why Kerala doesn’t rejoice India’s grand Diwali pageant with a lot fanfare and as a substitute observes its distinctive Competition of Lights.
Whereas students started learning Kerala’s oil lamps nearly a century in the past, cultural skilled Carol Radcliffe Bolon of the Smithsonian Establishment in Washington, D.C., recognises Chinta as the primary writer to place the lamps of Kerala into their full cultural setting.
The writer is at present within the strategy of making ready for the publication of one other e-book devoted to the artwork of Theyyam. She can be gearing as much as discover and doc the fascinating tales that lie hid throughout the tradition that surrounds us.