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In the mould of light

KATHMANDU, NOV 13 -

Having grown accustomed to the pallor of nights, with dim CFL trying their utmost to help maintain a primitive kind of vision, come Tihar, Kathmandu dwellers are in for a vastly different experience. For Tihar, a major Hindu festival, is also dubbed as the festival of lights, and compels people to colour the city in the brightest amalgamation of a variety of lights. Every lamp in and around the house is turned on during this occasion. Special lights are hung from the roof to decorate the house during the entire duration of the five-day festival. Many streetside buildings have already begun to glitter with these lights long before the festival has begun.

For a few days in Tihar, Kathmandu breathes an air of relief, forgets the chronic and debilitating loadshedding that has become its defining feature, and celebrates the usually distant idea of being well-lit. Many youngsters find themselves in charge of lighting traditional paalas; first they place the wick against the wedge on the clay lamps, then pour oil over it. These paalas—lit and placed along stairs and corridors, atop window sills, and at the sides of doorways—emanate with a calm radiance, a delicate beauty. But where do these paalas come from, to add to the aesthetics, the ambience, the overall tenor of our festivities?

Long before we begin celebrating Tihar, the Prajapati community of Bhaktapur has been busy shaping clay on their wheels, creating lamps that carry a lot of cultural and religious significance during this festival. People who have visited the scenic destination of the Bhaktapur pottery square in the past month or so will have seen the whole square covered with clay lamps in the making.  

The paalas receive their perfect shape, but not before the potters have toiled over them, applying a lengthy process. First, the clay is soaked for softening. Then

it is hammered by a wooden hammer and refined further to sort out the pebbles. The final clay is transformed into a cylindrical lump which is then placed on the wheel. Applying water to the spinning wheel, the potter's fingers lend themselves to the moulding of the clay. The pots are dried in the sun and dipped in liquefied clay and baked in kilns before they are ready to be sent out to the market. Many potters begin making their lamps from the beginning of October to make sure their products hit the market in time for Tihar.

"This year, dealers are selling the clay lamps at Rs 70 for 100 pieces," informs Shiva Prasad Prajapati, one of the dealers, adding that rates begin increasing as the festival draws closer. Sanjaya Prajapati, another producer, is hoping to make a profit of Rs 50,000-70,000 from the sales of clay lamps alone.

Krishna Maya Prajapati has been engaged in making paalas along with her entire family. The popularity of lamps shoots up during Tihar, she claims. "People like to keep their rooms, corridors and yards need and clean, and they align paalas in rows to welcome Laxmi on the third day of Tihar," she adds.

"The Newars of Bhaktapur believe that lighting 108 paalas is the ideal way of welcoming Laxmi," explains Manjari Kapali, a resident of Bhaktapur.

Even as candles have proliferated the market in the past few decades, traditional paalas are still the preferred choice of 'lights' used inside the house as well as on the roofs and balconies. Denizens of the entire Valley are thus able to celebrate one of the most important Hindu festivals with full vigour.

Posted on: 2012-11-14 10:00


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