Yavanar Lamps – Anna Villaku , Paavai Vilakku

Every time I tell any of my friends that Kuthu villaku is probably imported from Greece or Rome, they give me a surprising look.  Lighting Swan lamp, Anna villaku has become an Indian tradition.  Be it starting a new store or hosting an international dignitary, it starts with lighting the swan lamp. But these Swan lamps were very popular imports from Greece and Rome. Sangam Literature has reference to these imports…

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யவனர் ஓதிம விளக்கின் உயர்மிசைக் கொண்ட

Yavana – swan – lamp – high – upper part (mast of ship) – have

‘Swan lamps of the Yavanas on the tops of ship masts’


யவனர் இயற்றிவினை மாண் பாவை
கை ஏந்தும் அகல் நிறைய நெய் சொரிந்து
பரூஉத்திரி கொளீஇய குரூஉத்தலை நிமிர் எரி
அறு அறு காலை தோறு அமைவரப் பண்ணிப்
பல் வேறு பள்ளி தொறும் பாய் இருள் நீங்க
பீடு கெழு சிறப்பின் பெருந்தகை அல்லது
ஆடவர் குறுகா அருங்கடி வரைப்பின் (101 – 107)

Beautiful Paavai lamps, created by excellent craftsmanship of Yavanas,

with their hands holding the hallow area filled with plenty of oil/ghee,

fat wicks with head lit up, standing tall and burning.

When ever the lights across different places in the palace

get extinguished they were set right all through the morning

to dispel the spreading darkness.

No male other than the greatness filled splendorous noble man (king)

could approach this place (Queen’s quarters) with strict protection.

Poet: Nakkirar

Translated by Palaniappan Vairam Sarathy

As seen in the above lines, it is very clear that Paavai lamps and Swan lamps were products of Yavanas. These products were imported during times of Sangam age and slowly the Yavanas (Greeks/Romans) settled in Tamil Nadu (as they did across India). They had their own quarters and shops (Silapathikaram has reference for their quarters). So they could have setup shops and did a ‘make in India’ transition. This skill would have eventually passed on to Indian blacksmiths.

More about Yanvas would come up in my upcoming blogs.


Learn Sangam Tamil

Patum Thogaiyum – Tamilvu.org

யவனர் இயற்றிவினை மாண் பாவை
yavana – created – action – excellent – girl/doll
கை ஏந்தும் அகல் நிறைய நெய் சொரிந்து
hand – bare – beautiful – hollow part of lamp – filled – ghee – abundant
பரூஉத்திரி கொளீஇய குரூஉத்தலை நிமிர் எரி
fat – wick – to be lit up – hot – head – stand – burn
அறு அறு காலை தோறு அமைவரப் பண்ணிப்
extinguish – extinguish – morning – all through – set – do
பல் வேறு பள்ளி தொறும் பாய் இருள் நீங்க
many – different – place – occur – spread- darkness – remove
பீடு கெழு சிறப்பின் பெருந்தகை அல்லது
greatness – filled – splendour – noble man – anyone
ஆடவர் குறுகா அருங்கடி வரைப்பின்
man – not approachable – great – protection – place



  1. Are there any such lamps or similar ones in use in Europe today? If we can find similar artifacts in today’s Europe in and around Greece then we can say with confidence that they came to us from there.

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