Diwali is synonymous with lights and diyas. The little earthen lamps are not just sources of light, they represent hope, positivity and are symbolic of the victory of good over evil. The epic Ramayana mentions about residents of Ayodhya, Lord Rama's birth place, lighting up the city with diyas when he returned home after 14 years in exile. Since then, it is customary to light earthen lamps on Diwali.
But with time, convenience and technology have taken over, reducing the importance of diyas. People opt for colourful electric lighting both indoors and outdoors in place of these small earthen beauties. Many have switched to metal lamps, which do away with the need for annual purchase of diyas on the festival of lights.
As a result, thousands of potters across India are suffering from lack of income and are finding it difficult to make ends meet.
Be they the potters of Kumbharwada in Mumbai’s Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, or in the Kumhar Gram (Potters’ Village) in Delhi, their plight is the same.
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The making of diyas is a laborious exercise. Clay from rivers and ponds is collected during summers when they are dry; this indirectly helps in cleaning up the river so that it can store more water during monsoons.
Most potters cannot afford machines and do it manually. The clay is then put on a potter’s wheel and shaped into diyas. Once started, the wheel can continue for hours with the potter constantly shaping and removing diyas and keeping them all around him for drying.
Dried diyas are put in kilns, which are fully covered with soil to maintain the desired temperature. The kilns cool down after 10 to 12 hours and then the pottery is removed. The diyas can be sold as they are or painted in bright colours and decorated with mirrors etc. They are then ready to brighten up our lives during the five-day Diwali festival, which starts with Dhan Teras and ends with Bhai Dooj. Here is our ode to potters this Diwali through pictures and a video on diya-making: