Paper Lanterns

Diwali or Deepawali, which means “rows of lit lamps,” is an Indian festival of light celebrated on “no moon” day. Each of the different regions in India have a slightly different story and way of celebrating Diwali, but light is common in all of them. The festival signifies victory of goodness over evil, hope over despair, knowledge over ignorance, and light over darkness. Different gods are worshiped in different cultures, and different types of art are made in different regions. For example, a geometrical line drawing called Kolam is made in South India. In North India, an art form called Rangoli uses materials such as colorful sand, colored rocks, and flower petals to make patterns on the floor or a tabletop. In this art activity, you’ll be inspired by Mithila or Madhubani, a traditional painting style from North India that is 2,500 years old!

Many people turn Diwali into a five-day festival with celebrations before and after Diwali. Festivities begin with families cleaning their houses, purchasing new clothes, making special food, visiting with friends and family, and worshiping and welcoming Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and Ganesh, the god of removing obstacles. Lamps, candles, paper lanterns, and firecrackers are lit to fill the world with light.

Here is an example of how Diwali might be celebrated over five days:

  • Day 1, Dhan Teras: People buy metals which can be Gold/silver or any steel utensils
  • Day 2, Narak Chaturdashi: Victory over the demon Narkaasur
  • Day 3, Diwali
  • Day 4, Govardhan Puja/ Padva: Husband and wife festival
  • Day 5, Bhai Dooj: Sibling festival; and Dawaat Puja: Worship of books and pens

Artwork and instructions courtesy of Sunanda Sahay.

Hindi English Transliteration English Translation
दिया Diya Lamp
दीपावली Deepawali Rows of lighted lamp
पटाखा Patakha Fire crackers
कंदील Kandeel Paper lantern
गणेश Ganesh Obstacle Remover God
लक्ष्मी Lakshmi Goddess of wealth and prosperity
मिठाई Mithai Sweets


handmade paper lantern with drawing of peacock

You will need:

  • colorful pencils
  • a gold or black gel pen or a permanent marker
  • two glue dots
  • a battery-operated flameless LED tealight candle
  • a small plastic or glass container
  • thick (167 GSM) translucent vellum paper (8.5 x 11 inches)

Lantern Inspiration

Mithila or Madhubani is a 2,500-year-old art form from Bihar, North India that uses bright contrasting colors and line designs. Use one of these as inspiration to sketch on your vellum paper—or create your own design!

drawing of peacock

drawing of elephant

drawing of potted plant

drawing of a shell

drawing of a fish


Step 1

various colored pencils laid out on top of paper
Let’s get ready! If you have an MFA art kit, place the materials on a table. If you don’t have an MFA art kit, use a ruler and scissors to cut your vellum in half so that it is 4.25 x 11 inches. Check to make sure it will fit around your container before you start drawing.

Step 2

drawing a peacock on piece of paper
Choose one of the inspiration examples above, or create your own design, and draw it on the sheet of vellum using a gold or black gel pen or permanent marker. Don’t forget to add lines and details!

Step 3

using colored pencils to color in drawing of peacock
Fill the image with colored pencils.

Step 4

drawing patterns on peacock
Create patterns by alternating colors. You can make your images as simple or complex as you want.

Step 5

drawing other details, like plants, around peacock
When you’re finished coloring, add other images and details to fill the width of your vellum sheet.

Step 6

flipping peacock drawing over and applying glue dot to corner
When you’re done drawing and coloring, flip the vellum over and grab your glue dots. Remove the paper backing from each glue dot. Press and stick them onto the top and bottom right corners of the vellum, then peel off the plastic.

Step 7

wrapping paper around glass container
Wrap the vellum paper around the plastic or glass container, with the drawing facing out, and stick the vellum ends together by overlapping and pressing down the glue dots.

Step 8

completed paper lantern lit up
Put a battery operated LED tealight candle inside the plastic jar and watch your designs glow!

About the Artist

Sunanda Sahay has been painting in the Mithila/Madhubani style, a traditional art form of North India, for more than 25 years. Her paintings always have a central theme such as birds and animals around a larger image, connecting art to nature. Sunanda, a resident of Acton, Massachusetts, has had several exhibitions, interactive workshops, artist-in-residencies, talks, and demos at museums like MFA Boston, Peabody Essex Museum, Danforth Art Museum, and Fitchburg Art Museum, as well as at and community and educational spaces like Lowell Folk Festival and Boston Mayor’s Gallery. She is the recipient of various awards, grants, and accolades from the state, juried shows, and local communities.