Former crane operator S.Ramasamy is a craftsman who uses rice to create works of art

One look at a heap of grains and S.Ramasamy starts thinking. What kind of structure could he create? A temple chariot? A church ratham? Or a mosque?

For the past 30 years, the former BHEL crane operator has been making such structures, entirely out of grains. He recently got associated with Poompuhar, which helps him get a decent price for his works.

A native of Thirumayam, Ramasamy joined BHEL in 1971 and moved to Tiruchi. His father-in law was an artisan who used to make different objects out of grains. His creations were purchased and displayed at the museum in Pudukkottai and the BHEL office.

Observing his father-in law at work, Ramasamy began to get interested. Soon, he learned the skill and began making objects in his leisure time after work.

It became a cherished hobby for him. Moreover, the additional income that it brought gave him a sense of accomplishment. He creates objects which people buy as wedding gifts and for display in pooja rooms.

In 2001, retirement from his full-time job meant that he could now devote all of his time and energy to his hobby that also generated some income.

Making an object such as the chariot is a time-consuming task and involves intricate workmanship. An important aspect is that only TK 9 grains are used to make the items. The TK9 grain is similar to matta arisi available in Kerala, according to Ramasamy.

A medium-sized chariot is made out of 3600 grains and takes approximately 22 days to create, right from the selection of grains to the completion of the final structure. Ramasamy claims that the structure will remain undamaged for up to 200 years.

The process begins when TK9 grains purchased from farms in Thiruvarur are soaked in water and sprinkled with turmeric. They are dried in shade for four days.

The thickest grains are carefully chosen, pasted on a cardboard and dried. Then they are tied together in a braid using a thread and double-fastened with a decorative thread.

Several such braids are pasted on an outline which is created out of binding cardboard. This structure is pasted on a readymade toy-sized wooden wheel. Bits of thermacol, ribbon, velvet cloth, decorative glass and stone are also used to decorate the object.

The process is quite long and can be completed in 22 days, only because his wife and daughter help Ramasamy by making all the braids, he says.

His grandson shows a keen interest in learning the art, but Ramasamy ensures that the boy first concentrates on his studies. The rest will come later, he says.