Koonammavu is a small village on the NH 17 a few kilometers to the north of Kochi. This village, however, is on the global business map, thanks to a cottage industry – rosary-making.
People of Koonammavu proudly call their village ‘little Rome’ as it ships the prayer beads all over India and abroad. “Wherever there are Christians, there are rosaries from Koonammavu,” claims Ravi Jose Thannikot, who owns a shop that sells rosaries and other items of religious use.
Mr. Thannikot is one of Koonammavu’s many entrepreneurs who procures beads, thread and wire from parts of North India and supplies them to women in the village. The women return finished rosaries for a pay and these are sold locally or exported by him. Mr. Thannikot says around 2,000 women from Koonammavu and surrounding areas bring him finished rosaries. Twelve women are employed full-time on his staff too.
“If you’re an expert you can finish one rosary of 59 beads in under 10 minutes,” says Swapna, who works at the store and makes rosaries in her spare time too. Young girls here learn how to make rosaries from their friends at school and older siblings at a young age. Even those who don’t make rosaries for a living have learnt the craft from their friends as children. They may start making rosaries to help out at home and soon become experts. Swapna’s mother-in-law has been making rosaries for several decades now. She is an expert on the ‘thudal kettu,’ a complicated chain link usually seen in gold chains that these women complete with nothing but a wire and pliers. She gets Rs.7 for each rosary she makes with the ‘thudal kettu.’ A rosary on wire can fetch the women Rs.3.50 each and the thread rosary Rs.1.60. These sell in the market for Rs.15 or more.
The cottage industry helps women supplement the family’s income. “Those who need the money spend longer hours making rosaries. People do it according to their need,” says Mr. Thannikot. Some in the village also make rosaries as a service. These are usually handed over to the church when complete. “Rosary-making was started off by nuns here almost 150 years ago to empower local women. A lady from Kollam was brought in to teach a few women here how to make rosaries. These women taught others and now everyone here makes rosaries,” says Fr. Cherian Kuniyanthodath of the St. Joseph’s CMI monastery at Koonammavu. What started off as a cottage industry is now a big business at Koonammavu. Women from Koonammavu who married into families in other parts of the city also practice their craft there. “There are many people here who have come out of poverty and prospered in life through the business of making rosaries,” says Fr. Kuniyanthodath. Rosaries in different materials and patterns have now in the market. Those produced in factories in China have also made their way to Koonammavu. But for thousands of women here, the prayer beads are a way to good fortune and a better life.