So beautifully spanning out is Diwali across every element of characterisation that the appeal of it as being the Festival of Lights isn’t the only magical fore in its hearty celebration. Replete with references in the religious and equally steeped in the esteemed bearing of history is this prominently Hindu but enormous cultural celebration so trademark a character of the Indian life. Today emerging to be a global festival indeed, with both the Indian diaspora and the non Indians as well very much fancying the exuberance and joy that Diwali exudes in every facet of assertion, this is a piece of our heritage and history so precious to our hearts and so significant for every Indian home that sees thus a trail of excitement and festivities and rituals alike line up to usher in this true beauty of both essence and aesthetics.
So true is Diwali to its identification as being a festival of lights that has even helped many a unique elements of it to find worldwide popularity as being exclusively traditional but global still fancies. Of course the most ’eminent’ bearer of this beauty that Diwali harbours all through its being happens to be what is known here as the diya, with no exact English translation available pointing just to the extent of ethnicity that these traditional essentials of a festival so identifiably Indian furthers. Essentially a clay lamp that uses oil to emit light upon being firelit, these diyas or deeps are what have endowed upon Deepawali its name. But while these small makes of artisanal skill of course are what captures mainly the true essence of the festival significant in so many different assertions of it, there also are associated quite a few equally traditional and curious identities that defines Diwali as much as the innumerable sparkling rows of the many a magical diyas does.
One such standout visage that the days of Diwali delights with indeed in their unmissable glow in colors and brightness alike happens to be some very quirky looking, rather fascinating lanterns. With of course the characteristic lantern charm at play with however the Indian context in the splash of vibrancy artistically rendered, these yet another of the traditional sources of light seeking to encompass every element in a quintessential dwelling of the Diwali dazzle are what are locally known as kandeel.
The very name of it might sound to be quite an iteration of the common candle perhaps, that which makes also for a fairly decorative lighting equipment in again true adhering to the Diwali spirit, but the kandeel happens to be quite a different feature altogether. Whether one considers the make of it or the radiant sight instead of its pretty hanging in front of homes, the kandeel has to be one of the more exquisite items for Diwali to attain its glory in both the divine and decor inclined dimensions of it.
Interestingly though, the kandeel is but just another expanse for the diyas to shine out bright and pretty and has forever been as mainstay an element of the Diwali celebrations as the oil lamps themselves. Essentially occurring as a wooden frame of a crystal form covered in matte or glossy papers and shaped variously but almost always with tails at the bottom that sway to the wind when hung outside, up there in the sky almost- well, traditionally at least, these lanterns assert even further the prettiness of which the festival is encompassing, as innately as its religious and traditional and historical essence. The making of the kandeel is an art in itself and as something that can very well come across as an interesting DIY craft, makes for all the more ‘ritualistic’ an expression for Diwali to assume even more specialness across its celebrations.
More specifically, the kandeel has always been the akash kandeel or the akash deepa, as it is known in Sanskrit occurring therefore as the lantern of the sky. And the essence of such identity goes back to times of the past when early Hindus used to set afloat such lanterns high up there for also a specific ritual of its own. The belief being that this gesture in lighting up the skies made for an invitation for the spirit of their ancestors to visit them during this festival time and not adhering to this simultaneous display in beauty would bring upon earthlings a curse by their very forefathers to dwell in darkness all their lives. Over time the intensity of such belief might have eroded but kandeels continue to find plentiful space for their hanging and dangling in all flair, courtesy at least their immensely delightful dance in all dazzling delicateness.
This tradition of lighting akash deeps finds expression in many different ranges of the Indian existence imbibing thus numerous cultural connotations within this singular display in devotion to one’s dead ancestors. But while most of these interpretations tend to be a ritual intricately tied with the festival of lights, there exists also another area of its non-exclusivity through which the lantern of the skies attains that same objective with also a different premise to it.
Pertaining to the state of Assam is this exact ritual in lighting diyas in a different manner of its display though. For as a traditional practice indulged in throughout the entirety of the state every single day of the Kartik month in which Diwali too finds its expression, the akash banti, as it is known here is lighted by placing the earthen lamp upon a bamboo stick that is placed either in the courtyard of houses or somewhere in the paddy fields. The reference of the paddy field is itself much relevant to the entire cultural context of the state, that which marks the beginning of the month in its essential observance of Kati Bihu.
And thus prevails through such ambits of similarity in which different cultures find their own indigenous essence a continuity connecting the many dots that make up the amalgamated spectrum of the vast Indian identity. Of course people in Assam too celebrate Diwali with as much fervor as the other parts of the country and rejoice it as much in diyas and lanterns and food and firecrackers and fun and festivities. But even within this greater symphony, they hold on still to such customs that define also their uniqueness, representing so much the unity in diversity ‘tradition’ that India entertains as a nation of myriad influences.
As for the Akash kandeel lantern that harbours in it also such essences of ornamentation, the more traditional origins of it would render it in quite a different shape than how we see it today. As a round pot made of clay that was used to hold a ghee lamp and hung on the right side of the main door to a house, the illuminated kandeel or even the kalash then would be a means in activating positive energy so closely associated with Diwali. Of course also inherently following would be the aspect of its beauty, with the warm light emanating from within summing up so perfectly the vibes that the joy and fervor and very enthusiasm of the festival of lights generates. Also therefore called the jyotikalash- jyoti meaning light and kalash meaning pot, this symbol of wealth and prosperity and positivity continues to be one much prominent harbinger of the Diwali vibes in every single element of it.
Like every traditional component of what defines festivals and observances in their definiteness, kandeels too tend to be much nuanced an assertion in their make. These vibrant specimens of such prettiness make for indeed yet another celebration even within the Diwali scene. For the creativity very evidently playing out through these makes today explored in numerous shapes and sizes and forms are but reflecting of the varied richness that out country possesses also in terms of its many an exotic crafts.
As an assertion of handicraft therefore, kandeels are all the more special a Diwali ‘native’ that stuns with their eye catching avatars. And underlying such brilliance of them- both in terms of crafting and in the aura they conjure up- is the dexterity of the craftsmen who carry on with this tradition of posterity as something they bear proud responsibility in upholding. Wooden sticks precisely cut to perfect measure are glued together to form the three dimensional structure, traditionally as a crystal but today assuming pretty much every form in utter simplicity as well as immense complexity.
Decking up these wooden builts of seeming simplicity are colorful, sometimes patterned cloth or even decorative paper, upon which patterns are drawn and designs are embellished even as the frilly play of tassels add further drama to these pieces of prominence. And beyond this ‘basicness’ as well, there still exist numerous options in which kandeels are even more beautified and stylised and decked up, with any and every element of the aesthetic seeking to only amp up the existing allure of them.
All such residings in the alleys of the intriguing, whether it be by virtue of its origin in belief or otherwise in the delightfully designed dimensions of what it is, is what makes each kandeel that shines bright through the Diwali days and right through the festive season which really does not see an end in this country of ours characterised elements galore in curiosity and idiosyncracies and uniqueity, a display in grandeur of essence as well as of perception. And this imbibing within its own such definitive identity means also that there has to be something more physical and fascinating and ‘practical’ that stands up to this whole domain of representation of the kandeel.
And of course there is, with much certainty the famous Kandil Galli of Mumbai where the brilliance of the kandeels make for quite a sight to savour even without the lit up glamour of their Diwali defining. For every Diwali season does indeed witness this particular chawl locality in the city otherwise known as Kadri Wadi come to be in a phenomenon across the entire riot of colors that sum up life, as a proud home business with not exactly traditional tales and weighted heritage to paint a distinctive picture of but perhaps all the more popular in being instead a mix of the ritualistic and the cosmopolitan. With hundreds and thousands of kandeel lanterns, both small and big and tiny and humongous and simple and intricate, but colorful always making for a presentation in remarkable resplendence, these humble lands of the Kandil Galli once again invokes the truest spirit of what Diwali as the ultimate Festival of Lights promises for one and all. Let there be lights, love and lanterns this Diwali in every soul anywhere on earth. Happy Diwali!