Oil lamps - an essential part of Hinduism

Traditional oil lamp in a Hindu home on a festive day,Alamy com

Oil Lamp or deepam  as it is called across India, plays no less crucial role in Hinduism, in the Hindu rituals and  Hindu temples. The daily lighting oil lamps either at home or temple is an imprtant religious duty of followers of Hinduism. It is symbolic of wisdom/knowlede and elemination of ignorance. It clenses the mind and gets rid of darkness  around us. eleminating  negativity permeating in the vicinity and in our mind. Personification of energy is quite inherent in all walks of life, without light there will be darkness and negative elements will hold us and our mind hostage. In Hinduism,  one of the trinity Gods - God Shiva represents Pancha Boothas (fire, earth, water, air and sky) - five essetial elements without which the universe would face annihalation, It means no life will survive on this earth if any one of five elements  is missing. The interesting fact is among the Pancha Booths, Fire or Agni can never be polluted permanently,  ever giving us  heat and sustenence. We need lamps  at early dawn and dusk, but not during the day. Light imparts positive elements and  in its glow we move forward with confidence through the  vessitudes of  our lives - ups and downs, etc on our journey. 
 Lamp is an object used to produce light continuously for a period of time using oil as a source for fuel. It has been around in India since the Vedic time. Though its use is less common  in modern times, it is being   mainly used in the places of worship and in the Hindu households.  In the western world in 1780 Argand lamp replaced the oil lamps.  There were two sources of oil - vegetable based prepared from  nuts such as walnuts, almonds and seeds such as sesame, olive, castor, or flax. The other being animal fat made from fish oil, shark liver, whale blubber, or seal. The  last one is widely used in the sparsely populated north Artic region where there is no wood;  here it  keeps the people warm. Kerosene became a source for  lamps in the US in the mid 1800 and elsewhere. It was the main source to keep the lamps buring in public places and home across the globe in the olden days. In India  vegetable oil was the primary source. With the advent of electricity, oil lamps are lit only in the sanctum of the temples and in the other shrines. Different oils are used for different purposes. Til oil lamp, it is said, will keep the snakes etc., away. The positive radiance from the oil lamps will differ depending on the oil being used. It is believed ghee will generate better positive radiance from the lamp. Deepavali is a famous fetival often referred to as the festival of light. Likewise Karthikai Deepam is an important annual festival and Arunachaleswarar tmple at Thiruvannamalai town is closely associated with this festival, a ten day event celebrated  with pomp and devotion. On the final festival day, all Hindu homes across Tamil nadu will light the oil lamps in particular eartthen lamps soon after the Mahadeepam has been lit on the nearby Arunachala hill in the evening. 

 No doubt,  oil lamp is  closely associated with the Hinduism, so are the other religions like Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism on a less scale.   In the Jewish culture and religion, the  lighting symblises righteousness. It is mentioned in the Torah and  the seven-branched oil lamp Temple Menorah, is part of Jewish prayer. In Christianity,  Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches use oil lamps. The sanctuary lamp in an Orthodox church is an oil lamp  used traditionally. 

Being  an integral part, there is no Hindu home,be  it poor or rich, an oil lampl will be burning in the Puja place, particularly in the evening after 5.30 pm.  As for temples, they  coninuously burn in the sanctum and each shrine has an oil lamp and the main shrine may have more than one. The number of wicks on the lamp depends on the temples. Normally, they are circular with places for five wicks.  Made of metal brass, either they are suspended  on a chain or fixed to a pedestal. When the learned Pundits conduct  Homams or Yagna on the temple premises, they prepare Agni kundam - fire pits for fire to propitiate the gods. It is a must to use only vegetable oil especially oil made from sesame seeds.  As part of puja/prayer hand-held oil lamp is used both in the temples and  homes. In the temples, the large hand-held oil lamps come in different shapes with provision for several wicks. In the case of Aarti at home and temple,  light weight hand-held  metal oil lamp is used. Though commonly called metal or brass lamps, they are  actually made of an alloy of five metals - both machine made and hand-crafted.  In the North India, a five-wick lamp is used with ghee. On special occasions, various other lamps may be used for puja, the most elaborate one has several tiers of wicks.

Nachiyar Kovil lamps, TN,asiainch.org

There are different types of oil lamps called Deepalakshmi (made of brass with a depiction of goddess Lakshmi), Paavai vilakku (made of brass, a woman carries the lamp), Thooku vilakku (hanging brass lamp)  and Nachiarkoil lamp (a hand crafted brass lamp with a series of diya made in a  small town  called Nachiyar Kovil near Kumbakonam, TN). In the temples of Kerala, there is a tall tower brass lamp stand called Villakku kambam  in front of the shrine. It tapers toward the top and carries numenous spaces for wicks for lighting purpose. Likewise, the Kerala temples have Villakku Maadam (made of brass)  fixed on the outer wall of the shrine all around and the series of oil lamps in hundred and are lit on festive days. 

16th C Mahadeva temple, Ettumanoor, Kerala organikos.net

Villakumadam in a kerala temple,preethivenugopala.com/ 

Natchiyar Kovil lamps, Tamil Nadu, youtube.com

Deepalakshmi lamp, en wikipedia.org

Pavai Villakku. divyamantra.com

Pavaivillaku, Tamil Nadu. en.wikipedia.org