When a Tamil Iyer girl gets married, she is given brass and silver lamps, or vilakku as they are known in Tamil, to aid her in the many rituals and ceremonies associated with her being an Iyer wife, an Iyer daughter-in-law, etc. It is a tradition that is followed even today by many Iyer families, the community that I belong to.
When my paternal grandmother Meenakshi N (1910–1989) got married in 1922, she too was given her own brass and silver vilakku. Among the 6–7 vilakku given to her, is the one featured here in this blog post. Nearly 3 feet tall, this bronze vilakku was not bought off the racks in a store, but was specially commissioned and made at her house. That is, the lamp-maker came to Meenakshi N’s father’s house with his implements and made it as per the specifications given to him.
My mind still boggles at how this must have been done and the preparation that would have gone into making the vilakku. To begin with, an auspicious day and time would have been set after consulting the panchangam or the almanac. A coconut would have been broken before the start of the lamp-making process, prayers offered… As for the lamp-making process itself, I wouldn’t even know where to start imagining!
Since Meenakshi N moved cities at regular intervals after her marriage, it was cumbersome to transport this vilakku from one city to another. It was left at her sister’s house in Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram) for safekeeping.
I first saw this lamp when it arrived at our house after Meenakshi N’s death. The lamp had not been in use for many years and had dulled with age. But this did not diminish its appeal or hide its clean and simple design. On the contrary, the antique look that the vilakku had developed over the years had its own charm, and once my mother had cleaned it with some tamarind and lime, the full extent of the vilakku’s beauty was revealed.
The vilakku gleamed like gold. In fact, I even remember asking my mother in an awed whisper if it was made of gold ! The cleaning also revealed an inscription at the base of the vilakku in Tamil, which reads “Meenakshi”.
Today, the vilakku occupies pride of place in my apartment and is lit on special occasions like Diwali or Karthigai. My mother still cleans the vilakku herself not trusting anyone else, particularly me, to do a good job ! The photographs posted here were taken after one such round of cleaning.
As per tradition, such vilakku are inherited by the daughter(s)-in-law of the house, just as my mother inherited this vilakku from Meenakshi N, her mother-in-law. I am wondering if I should persuade my mother to break tradition and let her daughter inherit this 88-year old vilakku. 😉