‘The Potter’s Trail’ launched by Storytrails India takes one through the rustic realms of rural Madurai

“Can you all see the crown taking shape?” asks Akila Raman, the day’s storyteller. She points to a small blob of wet clay getting sculpted in the hands of a potter. “This is Vilacheri, a village where mud is God. The Kolu dolls made here are famous all over South India,” she announces, entering the small residence of Harikrishnan, a potter for two decades. A room filled with colourful dolls in all sizes greets us.

“Long ago, there was a demon called Mahisasura…,” Akila starts her story on the festival of Kolu. The tale of Durga slaying Mahisasura is known across the country but that the Kolu steps were stadiums for the Gods to sit and watch the nine-day battle between the demon and the Goddess was a new info that bemused visitors on the ‘The Potter’s Trail’.

It is packed with information apart from the interesting stories it beholds. The process of doll-making, the beliefs, religious sentiments and the techniques used in the craft are explained vividly. “A handful of mud is taken from the village tank, dissolved in water and strained. The more you stomp the clay the more it becomes malleable,” elucidates the storyteller.

Story of papier-mache

While we stop by potter Ramalingam’s home-cum-workshop that has been making papier-mâché dolls, Akila in her own inimitable style jumps off to the time of King Timur Ali. “Do you know how papier-mâché came to India?” she questions. It seems though Timur Ali was a tyrant ruler, he had a heart for art and architecture. And he often sent people from here to Samarkhand, a place known for different art forms. Indians picked up various arts from there including papier-mâché. We walk through few more lanes of Vilacheri and stories on cows, the thinnai, the mandhai and a tale on the ‘drishti bommai’ follow. “The thinnai is the hotspot for latest gossip in villages. The mandhai is where people congregate during festivals and rituals.”

“The annual village festival is a fete for all communities. Everyone gets a role to play in the event. And there is an age-old tradition attached to this,” says Akila and stops there to build the suspense until we reach the next village.

After half-an-hour of driving through picturesque Nagamalai and paddy fields, we step into Keelakuyilkudi, a place known for its Jain antiquity. A rocky hillock, a lotus pond and a village temple make the scene serene. “This temple belongs to a faith much older than Hinduism,” Akila unveils another story rich in history. She describes the religion that was followed in the South of India before the influence of the Vedic religion brought by Aryans and how both mingled to become what is known as Hinduism today.

A tale of martyrdom

Pointing to a small structure with an inscribed plaque, she says, “Keelakuyilkudi has a strong historical connection to the time of Malik Kafur’s invasion on Madurai.” The story goes that when Malik Kafur marched towards Madurai, the villagers of Keelakuyilkudi stopped him on the way and committed mass suicide in front of him in protest. In remembrance of the brave act, a temple stands in their honour. “The natives of this region practiced nature and ancestor worship. Those martyrs are regarded as the guardian spirits of the village and people believe that they go around on horses in the night,” says Akila.

Historic link

Inside the temple, one can see a number of colourfully painted mud horses in various sizes. “They are donated by potters during the annual village festival. Every year, new horses replace the older ones which get dissolved in the pond,” the storyteller completes the link between Vilacheri and Keelakuyilkudi. “During our research, we spoke to the priest of the temple and came to know about the connection between the two villages. The stories and the folk tales were highly engaging,” says Akila, who is also the Senior Research Associate of Storytrails.

The founder, Vijay Prabhat Kamalakara, says, “We happened to discover this village and dig out stories connected with it. A lot of research was done before launching this trail which is our second in Madurai.”

The company also plans to launch jewellery, bazaar, spice and dancer’s trail’ in Madurai soon. “Our trails are theme-oriented and not place-specific. Even a local person who wants to explore his neighbourhood can take our trails,” says Vijay.

Swarna, the franchisee in Madurai, says, “We find more locals taking part in the trails apart from foreigners and guests. Everyone is on the lookout for something new and sublime.”

Gaby Borja from US, found the trail informative and educative, “I came to know much about Indian culture and history. I could visualize the legends and myths.” Niente, another participant, says, “After spending four months here, I thought I knew everything. But, the stories taught me much more. It’s a worthy experience.”

The trails are conducted depending on request from visitors. For booking a trail, contact 7373675756