The Madurai Corporation has proposed to relocate Pudhu Mandapam's tailors to to a complex in the central market, which is currently under construction.

Tailors at Pudhu Mandapam are struggling to compete with shops selling readymade clothes.

Walk into Pudhu Mandapam and it is hard to miss the unmistakable drone of around a dozen sewing machines clustered near the entrance. While one tailor is stitching lace to the edges of a flag, another is attaching velcro to the sides of a mosquito net. The continuous snip of scissors cutting cloth fills the air.

“I’ve been a tailor here for the past 60 years” says S. Karthikeyan. “Before me, my father and my grandfather, both tailors, sat right here where I’m sitting today,” he recalls.

The 50 odd tailors, who presently have their shops in Pudhu Mandapam, have followed in their families’ footsteps and taken to the profession. Many recount how Pudhu Mandapam used to house only tailors till half a decade ago.

“There used to be around 300 tailors here. Some of them chose to move out to set up shops or stopped practising the profession,” said Karthikeyan and explained why the number of tailors here has steadily dwindled over the years.

Pudhu Mandapam now also houses shops that sell imitation jewellery, bags, shawls, fabric and assorted trinkets.

These tailors enjoy maximum demand during the Chithirai festival. “When the flags are hoisted for Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Kallazhagar, which marks the beginning of the festival, that is when we get the most business,” says Kumaresan, a tailor at Pudhu Mandapam.

“We stitch clothes and keep them ready for sale. People come and buy them from us,” he says.

The garments to sport during the festival are brightly coloured shorts and caps, says Ibrahim, a shop owner.

He said that his family had been making these clothes for the devotees for the past 150 years. The tailors here make around Rs.500 per day during the season. “During off-season, we make around Rs.200 a day at the most,” Kumaresan says.

But the mushrooming of retail outlets selling readymade clothes in the city over the last couple of decades has resulted in a dip in their incomes.

“When people get pre-stitched and ready to wear clothes for as low as Rs.150, why would they want to buy cloth and spend extra money on stitching?” asks Karthikeyan.

“Earlier, most of our customers were people from the surrounding villages who came to the temple. We would stitch dresses in a couple of hours so that they could take them back,” he says and adds that while the demand has fallen, they constantly get alteration work to be done which, he says, does not pay much.

“Since a number of people who come to this place are tourists, I’ve started making and selling bags,” says Anand, a tailor pointing to the row of hand-stitched bags he has hung at the entrance of his shop.

“We used to get orders for school uniforms before, but now even that has stopped since schools lease stitching to tailors and readymade uniforms are now available,” he rues.

The tailors referred to a complex under construction in the central market where the Corporation plans to move them.

“That will probably bring us better business. They shifted the flower market to a proper complex and the flower traders are now doing good business,” Karthikeyan hopes.

However, not everyone agrees. Most of the other tailors feel that the Pudhu Mandapam is the best place to be in. “We have been here for years. How can they ask us to move out?,” asks Ganesh, a tailor who has been here for the last 40 years.

“We are paying Rs.500 as rent to the temple authorities and I’m sure we will be expected to pay more outside. With the falling demand, we cannot afford it.” he points out.

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