Clay Oil Lamp (Mati Paahana; මැටි පහන)
Since time immemorial, lighting of lamps has been integral to the lives of Sri Lankans. From the humble clay lamp to ornate brass oil lamps adorned with intricate carvings, the oil lamp is interwoven with the fabric of island life. Known as Pahana in Sinhalese and Vilakku in Tamil, the flickering flame is not only a source of light but also a source of life.
The flickering brightness that emanates from an oil lamp symbolises wisdom, hope and new beginnings. Thus, the traditional oil lamp that dispels the surrounding gloom is an integral element of Sri Lankan culture. Even today, the oil lamp is inextricably linked to the key moments of our lives; both happy occasions and otherwise.
Whatever type of lamp is lit, its purpose is to illuminate the place. But depending on where the lamp is lit, its meaning varies. They go to a temple and light lamps to get merit, to heal the sick, to get rid of the evils of suffering and so on. They also go to the temple and light lamps to seek the protection of the gods. Also, when it is dark, lamps are used to illuminate the house or place. Also, lamps are lit near a corpse and after the corpse is taken to the tomb to exterminate the germs coming out of the corpse. In addition, coconut oil lamps can be seen in the 8th corner of the house to protect the houses, to guard the tombs and to commemorate the dead. Lamps are also lit during Ashta Karma as well as Shanti Karma.Lighting also plays an important role in religious festivals such as Vesak, Poson, Christmas and Thaipongal.
Devotees light clay oil lamps to pay homage to the Buddha. Aloka Pooja are performed with rows of oil lamps lit around the hallowed grounds as an offering of reverence to the Buddha. Deepavali, the festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, signifies the lighting of oil lamps to eliminate physical and spiritual darkness. In Catholic churches, a Sanctuary Lamp enclosed in a red glass container is kept lit day and night in front of the altar, signifying the living Christ.