R. Sujatha talks to a family that has made dolls of gods and goddesses for generations
Making dolls is no child's play and the artisan family living on 3, Mukkuchetti Street, in Kosapet will tell you why. As their expert hands give life to colourful papier mache forms, an array of gods and goddesses fill the room.
Clad in a lungi and vest, 61-year-old M. Jayapal works steadily at an idol, sweat flowing down his temples. He has made dolls all his life, he says. “It is a family business that was begun by my grandfather. He belonged to a village bordering Tindivanam and Puducherry. My father made Ayyanar horses and idols and clay dolls. My brothers and I followed in their footsteps,” says Jayapal.
The house is a repository for exquisitely crafted idols of Hindu gods and goddesses and the ambience is divine. Each room of the nondescript structure is adorned with a traditional kolam. In the open courtyard, a three-legged centrepiece bears a brass basin filled with water and yellow marigold flowers. The shelves in the verandah surrounding the house are stacked with unpainted idols. “My father designed the house as a studio for creating idols. And we have benefitted from the profession. Our dolls have been exported to Singapore, Malaysia and the United States,” he says.
After his elder brother died in an accident, Jayapal took on the responsibility of the household and the family trade. The brothers' creations find pride of place at the annual doll exhibition at Khadi Bhavan on Anna Salai. Customers are spellbound by the breathtaking divinity of the idols they make, Jayapal says. “Every year, the first set of sales at the exhibition includes dolls made by us,” he says.
None of their children or those of his brothers are involved in the trade, however. Although an artisan can manage a living, the prospects of the trade are not rosy, he says. “In the past seven years, the cost of raw material has gone up 10 times and exports have fallen drastically. Now, we depend on local sales,” Jayapal says. Though it is a highly skilled profession, anyone can learn to make an idol, he says. “But not everyone is bestowed with goddess Saraswathi's blessings. I am happy our children are educated and well-settled. When they come home for festivals like Vinayaka Chathurthi, all of us sit together and make idols,” Jayapal says.