In almost every Indian home a lamp is lit daily before the altar of the Lord. In some houses it is lit at dawn, in some, twice a day – at dawn and dusk and in a few it is maintained continuously. All auspicious functions and moments like daily worship, rituals and festivals and even many social occasions like inaugurations are performed with the lighting of the lamp, which is often maintained right through the occasion.

Etymology of lamp

Lamp is known as Deepa in Sanskrit. The basic form of the word is √Deep which means to shine. Etymology of the word Deepa can be given as दीप्यते दीपयति वा स्वं परं चेति, the one which is light and enlightens others is known as Deepa.

Importance of lamp

Lamp is the form of fire and luster. It is the symbol of man’s discovery of fire. Initially fire was maintained in the fire place which helped primitive man in various ways. With the help of fire man could conquer all other animals. The lamp is the smaller version of the fireplace.

As fire helped man in various ways during his development, it obtained importance in his life. Lamp, being a minor version of fire, also has importance because ‘it is a source of light’. Hence it also acquired religious importance. It is considered as the form of fire and sun.

दीप सूर्याग्निरूपस्त्वं तेजसां तेज उत्तमम् । गृहाण मत्कृतां पूजां सर्वकामप्रदो भव ॥

Deepa suryagnirupastvam tejasam teja uttamam gruhana matkrutam pujam sarvakamaprado bhava

O lamp you are the form of Sun and fire. You are the best among luster. You accept my worship and fulfill all my wishes.

In Kalika Purana the importance of lamp is narrated by Shiva to Parvati as,

दीपेन लोकान् जयति दीपस्तेजोमयः स्मृतः । चतुर्वर्गप्रदो दीपस्तस्माद्दीपं यजेत् प्रिये ॥

Deepena lokan jayati dipastejomaya smrutah chaturvargaprado deepastasmaddeepam yajet priye

Due to lamp we can obtain victory over people. Lamp is lustrous. It is the giver of Darma, artha, kama and moksha. Hence O dear, lamp should be lighted.

In Skanda purana, to light a lamp or to donate one at temple or an auspicious place is mentioned as a virtuous act.

Lighting lamp as one of the sixteen steps of worship

Due to religious importance ‘lighting lamp’ is included among the sixteen steps of worship. During worship lamp should be lighted in front of deity. Daily lamp should be lighted in front of house deity and tulasi plant in the courtyard by reciting following verses,

दीपज्योतिः परं ब्रह्म दीपज्योतिर्जनार्दन । दीपो हरतु पापानि सन्ध्यादीप नमोऽस्तु ते ॥

Deepajyotih param brahma deepajyotirjanardana deepo haratu papani sandhyadipa namostu te

O evening lamp, you are the supreme soul and you are the lord Vishnu. Let your light remove our sins.

शुभं करोति कल्याणं आरोग्यं धनसम्पदा । शत्रुबुद्धिर्विनाशाय दीपज्योतिर्नमोस्तु ते ॥

Shubham karoti kalyanam aarogyam dhanasampada shatrubuddhirvinashaya dipajyotirnamostu te

O the flame of lamp, I salute you, for the wellbeing, health, prosperity and also for the removal of evil thoughts.

Types of lighted lamps

During the worship of deities or any auspicious work a lamp is lit. This lamp is called as Sthapitadipa which means the witness lamp for that work.

During some worships, lamps are made of dough of flour is used. The flour which is used for making lamps is either rice, wheat or Bajra. Such lamps are known as Pisthadipa. Pishthadipas are used during some vows Divyachya Amavastya, Magalagouri and in a ritual namely airanidana in marriage in Maharashtra.

In India a lamp is waved around a person known as Aukshana. It is mainly for increasing life span of that person. This act is performed by lighting lamps an auspicious act.

Kalidasa mentions about the lamp called Vajiniranjana in Raghuvansh, one of the poems. It is a lamp used for making aarati or aoukshana of horses before starting for wars. (4.25)

Donation of Lamp

Due to religious importance ‘donation of lamp’ is considered as virtuous act. It is said that in the month of Kartika one who lights the lamp in front of Vishnu obtains punya and his ancestors becomes free from worldly life.

One should donate lamp on Narakachaturdashi to avoid the pain of hell. It is celebrated on the 14th day of the second half of the Ashwin month. This was the day on which the demon Narakasura was killed by Krishna. Before death Narakasura asked for a boon stating that from that day onwards on the day of Naraka chaturdashi those who have a spiritual bath before sunrise will not undergo the suffering of hell. Hence it is advised to take a spiritual bath before sunrise on this day and also donate a lamp on this day.

Donation of lamp also symbolizes bestowing knowledge to others.

Types of lamps used for various deities

There is a custom among Indians to light a lamp in front of the deity and pray for knowledge and prosperity. It is said that daily morning and evening lamp should be lit in the home sanctum. The one who lights lamp in the evening goddess Lakshmi bestows wealth on him.

Continuous lighted lamp in front of deities is known as Akhanda Deepa. Continuous lighted lamp in the Shiva temple is known as Nandadeepa. At all the Vishnu and his incarnations temples Kakadarati is performed. Kakadarati is the aarati performed at early morning. People offer lighted lamp in Drona in the Ganga River.

Ethic related to lamp

Lamp has very high religious importance. Hence one should not misbehave with it. It is said in Mahabharata, the person who steals the lamp which is kept in front of god, becomes blind or a person who put off the lamp gets squint in his eyes. One should not make a lighted lamp fall down.

Lamp should not be placed on the ground. It should be placed on some base, because earth cannot bear the heat of the lamp.

How Flame of lamp should be

Core of the lamp is the flame of the lamp. Hence there are certain criteria for identifying good flame of lamp. The flame of a lamp should be continuous, oily and it should be of red cum orange cum yellow in colour. How a flame of lamp should not be is given in flowing verse,

रुक्षैर्लक्ष्मीविनाशः स्यात् श्वेतैरन्नक्षयो भवेत् । अतिरक्तेषु युद्धानि मृत्युः कृष्णशिखासु च ॥

Rukshairlakshmivinashah syat shvetairnnakshayo bhavet atirakteshu yuddhani mrutyuh krushnashikhasu cha.

The flame of lamp is dry then it is the symbol of poverty; if white then of scarcity of food; if dark red then for war and if black then for death.

Various types of lamps

Initially sacrificial place was the abode of fire. Then the concept of abode of fire took a form of lamp in minor scale. This technical evolution resulted in various types of lamps.

It is said that the lamp should be wooden or of iron, terracotta or coconut shell. Archaeological excavations of various sites in India give evidence for stone and terracotta lamps. Then the lamp of various metals evolved. Earlier metal lamps were the imitation of the terracotta lamps. Metal lamps are more durable than other material. Hence it became so popular. Due to popularity so many carvings and ornamentation were experimented on the metal lamps. There is mention of silver and golden lamps in Mahabharata and Ramayana.

Initial shape of lamp was like Arghyapatra that is circular with pinched corner to place string. Such type of lamp we get in terracotta as well as in metals. Then various shapes of lamps emerged according to need like standing lamp, hanging lamp. These were highly ornamented as per the wish of buyer.

Niranjana is small and short lamp which can be placed on the base and also very easy to handle. Technically wick of the lamp can be placed straight in this lamp. Hence Niranjana produces less soot. The less production of soot is suggested by the name of the lamp as Niranjana. Anjana in the word means soot.

Samai is standing lamp. It can be placed on the base and little difficult to handle. Samai is a lamp in which more than one wick can be lighted. Wicks can be lighted on the periphery of the lamp. Center portion of the Samai is decorated with circular rod or animal or bird or lady. Wick can be placed horizontally in the Samai.

Lamanadeepa is the lamp meant for the hanging. Technically it is similar to Samai.

Pancharati is the also the group of five lamp with handle. It is used for Aarati. It is very easy to handle. Handle of the lamp is highly decorated with so many motifs such as snake, fish, woman, etc. occasionally hundred or thousand wicks at a time can be lighted in the Aarti.

Deepalakshmi is very special lamp. Concept is every lamp has deity of itself. This deity is named as Deepalakshmi. In such lamps deity is depicted either riding on the elephant or bird or lion and by holding lamp in her hand.

Deepamala and Deepavruksha

Deepamala and Deepavruksha are very distinct and beautiful types of lamps. Both are composite lamps in which so many lamps can be lighted at a time.

Deepamala is a stone or wood pillar which is made for keeping lamps. It is a type of sculpture which is commonly seen in Maharashtra and some parts of South India. It normally exists in front of temples. Height of pillar is usually 10 feet and it is circular, hexagonal or octagonal by cross section. It is conical towards top. Small niches from bottom to top around the pillar are meant to place lamps. Constructing Deepamala or lighting it is considered as auspicious and many people follow it as a part of vow.

Deepavruksha literally means the tree of lamps. There will be one branch with sub-branches which will have provision to keep lamps. There are Deepavruksha with hundred and thousand lamps in many temples of South India

Lamp can be lit using any fuel. But lamp which is lit in front of deity should be lit using Oil and ghee. The wicks which are used for lamps are of two types. Fulvata is the straight wick with round bud at bellow. Fulvat should be used with ghee only in Niranjana. Another long straight string type wick is commonly used in other lamps with oil.

Why we light lamp

Light symbolizes knowledge, and darkness, ignorance. The Lord is the ‘Knowledge Principle’ (chaitanya) who is the source, the enlivener and the illuminator of all knowledge. Hence light is worshipped as the Lord Himself. Knowledge removes ignorance just as light removes darkness.

Famous saying from Upanishad- तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya highlights that going towards the lamp or a flame is going towards knowledge. As lamps remove the darkness knowledge removes the darkness of ignorance.