The History Behind Oman’s Ramadan Lanterns

26 May 2019
POSTED BY Alvin Thomas

Ornate and intricate, or simple yet tasteful, lanterns have been lighting up homes during the Holy Month for centuries. Swati Basu Das reports.

Lamps have earned themselves a notable mention in the Holy Quran.

The glowing carved clay lamps and partially-coloured glass lanterns lighting up every home are emblems of enlightenment and faith during the holy month. 

If you think Ramadan is just about intermittent fasting, then step out and look around. You will see lanterns everywhere during these 30 days of self-restraint.

A visit to the mall or a stroll through the souk at night or an iftar get-together at your friends’ place all offer an impression of their omnipresence.

Beyond fasting, it is truly a festive season that is bright and welcoming. This time of the year is meant to create an atmosphere that’s not only spiritually beautiful but exquisitely radiant as well.

And all that makes this holy month bright are the lamps or the lanterns, (‘fanous’ in Arabic). A typical tradition representing the month of Ramadan and a symbol of hope, the sparkling lights cast a subtle glow.

A decorative piece enhancing Ramadan tents, interiors or the courtyards of premises, the lanterns have their origin in ancient Egypt.

As diverse and intriguing as their designs, Ramadan lanterns celebrate rich literary collections attesting to their luminous presence since time immemorial.

A familiar fable tells of the dark streets of Cairo being lit up by children singing and carrying lanterns to light up the road for the Caliph while he strolled around the city.

Another gripping tale tells the story of the reunion of a lost prince and his father. The little prince who ran away from home was captured and imprisoned by an ogre. He was finally released when the Caliph (his father) came in search of him. They returned to their palace on the first day of Ramadan and fasted together. Commemorating the holy month and rejoicing at the return of his son, the Caliph offered gold lanterns to his subjects and ordered to hang them at the entrance of each premise, streets and mosques.

From the streets of Egypt to every home here and across the globe, these fables still impress every listener.

More cultural and mythical than religious, these tinted glass lanterns finds their way home during Ramadan. While some are correctly placed on the iftar table or at the entrance of a house, others are hung magnificently in gardens and balconies.

Busy buying a few rainbow-coloured fanous, Samsa Saif Al Jabri, a Ramadan shopper, gives me an insight: “This fasting month has more to it. It’s a festive season well celebrated with bright and colourful lights around us. The light grants us a ray of hope and harmony the year shall bring to us. Lighting bright fanous during Ramadan bring in joy and memories to last forever. They also make great gifts during the holy month.”

Gaining popularity in Oman in the recent past, lanterns have evolved from clay lamps, which in the past were lit by burning the oil-fed cotton wick; to electric multicoloured glass and carved clay-urn lanterns.

These now come in various shapes, colours and materials. Be they paper lanterns (an easy DIY job), clay lamps or tinted glass lanterns, they all display innovative patterns. While some are swathed in arabesque designs and Islamic calligraphy, others bear elaborate geometrical shapes and brilliant coloured glass. 

As the perfect time to admire these fancy, innovative shapes and designs brightening every corner, Ramadan is a time when business booms for lanterns.

Uttam Kumar Shah, a shopkeeper at Muttrah Souq, says: “Customers are fascinated with modern designs and colour effects. In recent years, the demand has increased and the lantern business has escalated.”

With its growing demand and evolving designs, the clay-urn lamps are an equally attractive purchase. Designed by local potters, clay lamps tend to come in three sizes – small, medium and large – all intricately carved. There is no shortage of colours and designs available in local shops and souks. These equally decorative clay-urn lamps undoubtedly radiate a rustic appeal.

Spreading an everlasting message of hope and harmony, Ramadan lanterns help to glorify the holy month.

Where to buy?

There’s a good range of glass and clay lanterns available at Nizwa and Muttrah Souq, which can be very good value. The cost of lamps ranges from RO8 to RO60 per piece depending on the size and the design.

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