(Last Updated on : 01/03/2014)
Chiraghdan was brought to India by way of marriage of the Mughal culture with the Indian way of life. Three distinct kinds of chiraghdan that evolved in the Sultanate and Mughal India were the tall oil lamp on a stand, the short drum- or bell-shaped candle stand, and the pillar candle stand of intermediate stature.
Sometimes during the Mughal Era chiragdaan was confused with the candle stand. But in reality they were different from each other. It has been said that oil stands were generally the gifts donated by pious sultans to the shrine tombs of important Sufi shaykhs. Such pieces usually consist of an oil reservoir at the top, which could accommodate a number of wicks; this was supported by a long narrow shaft, sometimes as much as a metre or more in length; the shaft in turn rested on a drum-like base. The whole was usually made of sheet brass and capable of being easily taken apart.
The second kind, the shamdan which was also present in Turkey and Iran besides India was the much shorter drum-shaped candle stand, designed to hold a very thick candle. In shape it was very similar to the base of the chiraghdan, and it is depicted in Mughal paintings relatively often. The third type was the tall, cylindrical pillar candle stand.
The earliest and most remarkable Indian chiraghdan is the huge lamp kept under a specially constructed domed pavilion at the shrine tomb in Ajmer
of Shaykh Muin ud din Chishti, the most famous and venerated saint of the subcontinent. A 150 cm tall possibly the tallest extant chiraghdan from anywhere in the Islamic world is a proof that the Middle Eastern custom of Muslim rulers donating oil lamps to Sufi shrines extended as far as India. This grand tradition includes a Timurid or Turkman piece; such important objects as the six massive lamps commissioned by Timur in 1397 for the shrine of Shaykh Ahmad Yasavi in Turkestan, surviving fragments of which are now divided between the Louvre and the Hermitage and numerous Ottoman examples including a lamp made for the mosque in Istanbul in about 1564.
Besides these four other Indian chiraghdans are known. One has strong Indian traits: these include the succession of ridged disks on the central shaft, miniature versions of an Indian architectural element known as a kumbha, which are found frequently on Sultanate and Mughal ewers; and the rows of engraved lotus petals on the mouldings and the drip pan. The distinctive bulge above the drum-shaped base is reminiscent of early oil lamps such as the one made for Timur in 1397, and suggests a fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century date.
The Ajmer lamp is distinguished by two oil containers instead of the more customary one, each with elegant projections for wicks in the Indian manner - two features not seen in the Middle East. According to firm oral tradition going back several centuries, it was donated to the shrine as a trophy of victory in 1576 by the Mughal emperor Akbar
on his triumphant return from the conquest of Bengal. The engraved cartouches and trefoils on the drum derive from the Sultanate world and suggest a date of the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century. At that time, Bihar
and Bengal were in the hands of Afghan Sultans, and it may have been commissioned by one of those kings for a Muslim shrine in eastern India. It is significant that its drum-shaped base is similar to the typical Iranian shamdan known from innumerable Timurid and earlier medieval pieces, but of which only one Indian-style item has so far come to light.
Surprisingly, even though the pi-suz or mashal which is thought to be the most typical kind of Iranian lighting fixture is actually from India. Three other candle stands can be ascribed to India but not in terms of inscriptions but in terms of style.
Smaller candle stands, more suitable for lighting a house than a shrine and lacking the attachment for use as an oil lamp, are even rarer. The only one that can be assigned to pre-eighteenth-century north India is a small bronze example .Mysteriously, it fails to correspond to any of the candle stands depicted in Mughal paintings - which are usually of the pillar or drum type - but candle stand it must be, for it has the appropriate socket at the top. And Mughal it must also be, for its alternation of roses and irises beneath ogival arches is typical of ornament during the reigns of the seventeenth- century emperors. Its curious form, which incorporates the bulging shape characteristic of many Indian metal objects, may derive from a lost Hindu prototype.
A very small bidri candlestand is typical of pleasantly modest, although still very elegant, late pieces. A baluster column sits on a wide pan supported by curved legs of pronounced Deccani design, the whole soberly enlivened by a continuous pattern of serrated chevrons. Of the same general type, material and date, is covered with iris designs and has a scalloped drip pan which makes for a pretty, though minor, object.
Today majority of these oil lamps-cum-candle stands have lost their bowls, they have been erroneously considered to be simple candle stands, or torches carrying thick candles.