Traditional South Indian Votive oil lamp depicting a lady holiding a lamp with both hands is known by various names such as Paavai Vilakku / Kai Vilakku yendiya Kaarigai / Deepa Lakshmi / Vilakku lakshmi meaning “lamps held by woman in her hands” or “Damsel with the lamp”..It signifies an unique craft made by the Yavanas (The Greeks) from a mix of metals including gold mainly for the use at the Palace of Pandya kings.
The original Yavana (Greek) designed lamps can still be seen in very old temples both in metals and in stone carvings incorporated in to the main temple structure and still being lit regularly.
Paavai vilakku concept and making spread across cultures through out the country due to their immense beauty & appeal as a result we can now see many styles in this lamp with slight variations, alterations and improvisations done to the original concept but without changing the basic design. So now every state of India had its own style of Paavai Vilakku
It was said that most of these original paavai lamps were designed based on the queen and royal ladies as the model and that the reason most of the antique paavai has elaborate detailing in attire, make over and draped with jewelry and has the crown on its head this can be evidently seen on close observation..There are a few temples where one can see the king and queen both modeled for the paavai lamps as a couple holding lamps.
Later the people who could afford made Paavai lamps designed them like the prominent female members of their family and passed the lamps across generations making them immortals and also symbolising them as family guiding angels.
Apart from it there are Paavai lamps designed for Shaivaites as Godess Meenakshi with parrot on her right shoulder and for Vaishnavites as Godess Aandal depicted with a parrot on her left shoulder.. also there is a common to both sect variant shown with parrot on both shoulders and also another variant without any parrot.
Reference of Paavai Vilakku in ancient tamil classical work:
யவனர் இயற்றிய வினை மாண்பாவை;
Greek designed intricate lamp;
கை ஏந்து ஐ அகல் நிறைய நெய்சொரிந்து,
Hand held compartment filled with Ghee,
பரூஉத் திரி கொளீஇய குரூஉத் தலைநிமிர் எரி,
Cotton slevers wick lit glows up straight like a proud head held high,
அறு அறு காலைதோறு, அமைவரப்பண்ணி,
Glows and burns all the night till the day,
பல் வேறு பள்ளிதொறும் பாய் இருள்நீங்க…
Lightens all the bedrooms dispelling the darkness…
(Reference: Classical tamil literary work
Nedu-Nal-Vaadai by Poet Nakkirar – Verses 101- 105)