Shedding a little light their way

With the demand for Vesak kudu (lanterns) increasing over the recent years, lantern-makers pop up during this season, selling their wares in different colours, shapes and sizes. These are their stories
By Dhananjani Silva, Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

The sight of the dainty lanterns swaying in the breeze is one we all associate with Vesak and childhood memories of making Vesak kudus are fresh in our minds. Yet, how many of us find time these days to do so? In a roadside stall put up to sell Vesak lanterns in Havelock Town, we meet 25-year-old Roshan Anthony. During the Vesak season, he temporarily halts his usual business of selling stocks of CDs in Pettah market and hits the streets in Havelock Town with his colleagues to sell lanterns instead.

Ashan: Little boy who buys new clothes from the profit he makes.

Like Roshan, many are the youth who engage in this business of making Vesak kudus to earn an extra buck along with their families and friends during this period. They make structures of varied sizes in the shape of atapattam or lotus and decorate them with coloured paper of unusual designs to make them attractive.

“We have a group of about 10 relatives who get together every year to make Vesak lanterns in this location. There is no proper place to sell these lanterns along the pavement in Pettah, so we come to the streets in and around Kirulapone to sell them. Since we are from the area, transporting the lanterns back and forth is also easier.

There is a huge demand for the readymade lanterns now- especially the office crowds who go past this area after work stop to buy lanterns from us,” Roshan says adding that every year they manage to sell about 500 lanterns.

But it’s a delicate and time-consuming task. They start making the lanterns three months ahead of the season. To meet the target, they have to keep up till late night after they return home from their daily tasks. This is done with the support of their family members- both young and old do their bit by making the structures, pasting and decorating the lanterns. The lanterns are sold at various prices.

Although Roshan hails from a Catholic background, the devotion with which he makes the lanterns is no less than that of a Buddhist. Asked how he learnt the art of making them despite being a non-Buddhist, Roshan says even during his childhood he used to watch and help his grandfather make Vesak kudu.
Among the sellers was 18-year-old Chandra Kumara from Kirulapone who says he got into this business during the season as he took to doing odd jobs to earn a living after he lost his previous job at a supermarket. Explaining that he is making both coloured and white lanterns as people show a great liking for both, he says they are on the streets from about 8 a.m till midnight every day until Vesak is over. While they handle the challenge of attracting customers to their stalls, back home their sisters, brothers, mothers and grandparents make more and more lanterns to be put on sale.

A group of teenagers are seated inside a temporary shed full of Vesak kudu structures. They are just the structures with no paper pasted on them. Asked why they sell the plain lanterns, 14-year-old Ashan Pradeep who is with his neighbours from Kumbikele, in Kirulapone says they do not have the money to buy sau kola (tissue paper). “So we only make the structures and sell them for about Rs. 50 each. I make about 20-30 lanterns a day,” says this young veteran at the art, informing us that he has been doing it every Vesak for the past five years. Are sales good? Each of them is able to earn a profit of about Rs. 1500 at the end of the season, Ashan says. From the money he earns, he buys new clothes.

Lamenting that rain and the wind hamper their business to a great extent these sellers say that at the slightest indication of bad weather, they take precautionary measures to cover the kudus with polythene etc “But there have been many instances where we had to re-paste the lanterns when they get damaged due to rain.” Yet at the end of the season, they are able to cover their cost, make a small profit and have the satisfaction of knowing their creative handiwork adorns many a home and brightens the hearts of so many in this blessed season.

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