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Deyas the lights of divali

By ODETTE LONEY Thursday, October 15 2009

click on pic to zoom in
Chaguanas potter Deonarine Ramsaran fashions one of his deyas....
Chaguanas potter Deonarine Ramsaran fashions one of his deyas....

FOR THE festival of Divali almost every Hindu household in this country is lit with deyas, the small earthen lamps used to hail the arrival of Lakshmi, Goddess of riches and opulence.

Deyas are lit in commemoration of Lord Rama’s homecoming after his 14-year exile. Lord Rama, who was a distinguished warrior King, was banished from the kingdom by his father Dashratha, the King of Ayodhya after being provoked by his wife to do so. Rama’s wife Sita, along with his younger brother Lakshman, accompanied him in his exile.

After vanquishing the demon Ravana, Lord Rama returned to his kingdom in Ayodhya at the end of his 14 years of exile. The victory of Lord Rama over Ravana signified the triumph of good over evil and people welcomed him back home by lighting rows of clay lamps and since then Divali is celebrated to mark the triumph of good over evil.

As Hindus prepare to celebrate Divali on Saturday, deyas are in great demand. While the use of decorative Christmas lights is fast replacing the deya in some households, many Hindus are sticking to the tradition. Among those helping to keep this tradition alive is Andy Benny, 35, of

Radhika’s Pottery Shop, Main Road, Chaguanas.

“Wholesale we sell deyas by the thousands and for the most part deyas go for $5 a dozen,” said Benny, who said the price of deyas has not changed from last year and the current economic downturn is not affecting sales

He said 40 used deyas sell for $100 and hand-made deyas cost more than the smaller and more popular machine-made deyas. Benny explained that the purest clay, known as sapatay, is used to make deyas because it has less stones and the smoother consistency conforms easily on the potter’s wheel. The clay arrives by truckloads, and one load can make thousands of deyas.

“When the clay arrives at the shop we store it in a bin at first, then soak it in water,” said Benny, who added that the soaked clay is chipped, or broken apart into larger pieces which are run through a Pugmill machine to improve its consistency. This process also separates the clay into longer, thinner and more rectangular pieces.

At this point, potter Deonarine “Catches” Ramsaran, 45, becomes essential in the process of making hand-made deyas because his expert fingers mould the clay to make it ready for the potter’s wheel.

“You have to knead the balls of sapatay on a side table, as if you are kneading bread before it is put on the potter’s wheel,” Ramsaran explained.

After ensuring that the clay is uniform and smooth, Ramsaran places it on the wheel, which spins while his hands cleverly work the clay in an up and down motion.

“I wet the clay with water as I work it into deya shapes because when the clay is wet it is most manageable,” he said.

Ramsaran presses his fingers into the spinning clay until a shallow earthen pot is formed. With the slightest pressure from his fingers, he makes a small indentation at the upper right side of the deya which helps to hold the wick upright in the pot.

He said, “The deyas are put to air dry for a while on shelves, then they are baked in a fire oven or kiln. Baking is the most crucial process because it removes the excess water from the deya and the clay hardens and changes colour as a result.”

As he showed off thousands of finished deyas which are ready to be filled with oil and wicks for the Divali celebrations, Ramsaran reminisced that he left school at age 15 to become a potter at Radhika’s Pottery Shop.

His co-worker, Benny, proudly declared that Ramsaran is one of the best potters in Chaguanas where there are several pottery shops.

“People love to buy hand-made deyas because they give a personal touch to each Divali celebration, hand- made deyas will always be popular at Divali time,” said Ramsaran.

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