OIL LAMPS – Nilavilakku / Thookkuvilakku

Published by Jacob P Varghese on

 Nilavilakku in St Gregorios Orthodox Church, Sharjah

Light signifies the presence of God, Who is light, Himself. Churches, traditionally has an oil lighted lamp in the center of Nave. The most frequent images of lamps in the Bible relate to worship. The lamps on the seven-branched lamp stand in the tabernacle were to be constantly lit (Exodus 30: 7-8) as a symbol of God’s perfection and constant guidance. Lamps appear in the Torah and other Jewish sources as a symbol of ‘lighting’ the way for the righteous, the wise, and for love and other positive values. While fire was often described as being destructive, a source for purification, light was given a positive spiritual meaning. The menorah is described in the Bible as the seven-lamp (six branches) ancient Hebrew lampstand made of pure gold and used in the tabernacle set up by Moses in the wilderness and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. The flame has a special meaning, in that it represents the Christ Himself giving Light to the world.

In Judaism, the sanctuary lamp is known by its Hebrew name, Ner Tamid (Hebrew: ‘eternal flame’ or ‘eternal light’). Every Jewish Synagogue, in front of the ark, hanging or standing in it is meant to represent the menorah of the Temple in Jerusalem as well as the continuously burning fire on the altar of burnt offerings in front of the Temple. Normally, this lamp has twelve wicks symbolizing all the departed belonging to the twelve tribes. Some lamps have seven wicks, signifying the seven lamps seen blazing before the Throne of God (Rev. 4:2-6). This lamp also symbolizes the golden lamps on the golden lamp stand of the Tabernacle (Lev. 24: 3-4) and shows that our Church is in continuation with the Jerusalem te. mple. Fresh olive oil was burned daily to light its lamps

Nilavilakku / Thookkuvilakku,

Oil Lamps are made of metal alloy, either suspended on a chain or screwed onto a pedestal. Nilavilakku (Nilam means Ground and Vilakku) means Lamp is a special kind of Lamp used mainly Indian Churches. Centuries old lamps are present in many churches in Kerala. Many Churches have Thookkuvilakku, hanging from the ceiling on a chain. It is a special type of lamp, with oil and a piece of cotton wick in it with one or more steps or levels. The oil poured in the lamp signifies the prayers offered by the living for the faithful departed. The light also symbolizes the illumination of the souls of the departed. After the spread of Christianity in Kerala, Syrian Christians or St. Thomas Christians also started using Nilavilakku in their Churches and houses. In the Churches of Kerala, the lamp’s top is sometimes molded in the shape of the cross or in the shape of a dove.

Thookkuvilakku, connected to and hanging from top (heaven), also symbolises Theotokos, Blessed Virgin Mary, who bore the Second Person of the Holy Trinity in her womb. Jesus Christ, Who came down from heaven. Some Church fathers, also compares, Thookkuvilakku, as the Navel of the Church, hence Churches should ideally have a Thookkuvilakku, rather than Nilavilakku, as the later is connected to the ground.

Oil Lamp Niranam Church


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