A variety of lamps are used in Tamil Nadu for rituals both in homes and temples. The deepam or lamp is the most significant of the metalware made and the type of lamps include aarthi/votive lamps, deepalakshmi, hand lamps and chain lamps. Standing lamps called kuthu-vilakku and have a round slim-wicked bowl standing on a pedestal; there can be many tiers to this lamp and it is used at all ceremonial occasions. The most common decoration on top of the kuthu-vilakku is the hamsa/ mythical swan.
Aarthi or votive lamps are hand-held with the handle often carved in the shape of a cobra, fish, peacock or monkey. Deepalakshmi or paavai-vilakku is a temple lamp with a female figure holding a shallow bowl for the wicks. Hand-lamps lack have deeper bowls and the backs have religious symbols, such as goddess Lakshmi with elephants on either side or parrot-shapes on the rim. Christians and Muslims have the shapes of the cross and the crescent moon, respectively, on the lamps. Hanging lamps have elaborately decorated bowls suspended with chains. The lamp usually has figures of Gajalakshmi or Ganesha, and the chains have female figures at regular intervals. Almost all the metals are use to make these lamps, including precious metals like gold and silver. They emphasise the utilitarian and aesthetic aspect of the craft. The Shilpa Shastras, the ancient treatise on sculpture has a complete section on the necessary characteristics and production of lamps.
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