Everyyear craftsmen from Panruti come to Puducherry to sell their wares during Maasi Magam.
A line of little boys fashioned out of clay with bright yellow shirts and red caps stand in the front row of a collection of ceramic and clay toys opposite the Chetty Koil on Mission Street here. A tiny slit on top indicates it is not another toy but a favourite childhood object- the Hundial.
In Puducherry, every February, a stretch opposite the Mission Street, and on Beach Road is filled with handcrafted clay wares including the traditional coin boxes.
Every year, during Maasi Magam, a group of craftsmen from Panruti near Cuddalore, travel to Puducherry to sell their wares.
“As we do not belong to the Puducherry craft association, we do not get permission to sell inside any temple,” says Murugan. So we sell on the streets.
The vendors stay overnight on the pavements for nearly a fortnight, calling out to passers-by to look at the wares. Grandparents and parents often gift the hundial to encourage children to take the first step in savings.
'But the simple childhood metaphor for thrift may no longer be popular in this region, feel the vendors. The ban on quarrying sand from the banks of local lakes has been an impediment to the trade.
“I have made these hundials for 30 years now. I know no other trade,” says Sivagami from Vaiyapuripatanam, who has camped opposite the Chetty Koil in Puducherry with her two young grand daughters.
We have presented several petitions to the District Collector to ensure some steps to guarantee us for a better livelihood,” says Ravi, who has been making clay toys from childhood.
“Nothing has come of it.” So the craftspersons continue to buy the clay from those who carry out the sand quarrying.
Today, the hundials cost anywhere between Rs. 10 and Rs. 50. They come in different shapes- fruits, vegetables, human figures and animals.
“We have to pay a sum of Rs. 2,500 for a tipper load of sand,”says Perumal, a clay craftsman.
“So the prices are higher than the iron coin boxes sometimes.” Others who cannot afford a tipper, pay for transportation of clay by bullock carts, which costs Rs. 400 for a trip.
But Sivagami swears by the clay hundials. “Coins saved in iron boxes tarnish in time. Once the clay undials are filled to the brim with coins, they have to be broken to get the money out.
The absence of a lock and key, as an iron box may have, is to keep away the temptation of spending what is saved,” she says.