Hidden Histories History & Culture

Jewels in the town

Hundred years ago, Big Bazaar in Coimbatore was the shopping hub for this entire region. The business of jewellery was confined to a few goldsmiths and jewellers who supplied ornaments made to order. The Kulur family of bankers were among the popular jewellers of those days.



It was a time when Coimbatore was experiencing an industrial revolution and a number of enterprising youngsters migrated here in search of new prospects.



One of them was P.A. Raju Chettiar (1895 - 1984 ) who came here from Palani. He arrived with nothing more than a bangle from his mother Subbulakshmi. He offered his prayers at the Shanmuga Subramania shrine at the Kottai Easwarar temple and got down to work.



Those were the days before electricity and people relied on oil supplied by merchants to light up their homes. These merchants needed small change for their transactions that was always in short supply. Seventeen-year-old Raju began his career as a money changer and supplied change to the merchants regularly. In his spare time he would also string pearls and corals for jewellers. Raju sensed a big opportunity and quickly learnt the jewellery trade by visiting smiths, jewellers and also by selling gold Sovereigns.



He soon hired a small place in the market area and sold readymade jewellery. Soon, he decided to go to Bombay and come back with something new and innovative. He visited Zaveri Bazaar, saw the well-dressed jewellers displaying their wares in fine brightly lit showcases . Raju returned to Coimbatore with some handsome jewellery display cupboards, hired a shop right opposite the main market entrance and called it M/S. P. A. Raju Chettiar & Brother along with his younger brother Ramaswamy. This was in the year 1917. Raju began his well-stocked jewellery business by offering guaranteed ornaments to his clients. He also offered to buy back ornaments sold by him at a 10 per cent discount on the selling price and offered to exchange at a six per cent percent discount. He put up big displays, distributed pamphlets and placed advertisements in local publications.



Raju constantly updated his jewellery collection that was light and of reliable quality. He worked with the smiths in his own workshop to come up with innovative techniques to speed up production. His brightly lit revolving jewellery displays became a novelty. The onset of public transport furthered his business and customers came from places such as Thrissur, Chamrajnagar, Ooty, Karur, Bhavani and Palani. Raju introduced the latest packaging materials and also gave his customers gifts made of leather and wood.



Raju came to be known as P.A.Raju Chettiar (PAR ). A significant event in his life was meeting Mahatma Gandhi in Coimbatore in 1934 after which he wore khadi for the rest of his life.



PAR spent lakhs of Rupees on advertisements. He advertised in several publications and also on Radio Ceylon and Radio Burma. He came to be known for his famous tagline: AZHAGUKKU AZHAGU SEYYUM ABARANANGALLKU! PAR also was one of the first to come up with the idea of having movie actors modelling jewellery. A number of movie stars modelled for him including Rajam Sulochana, Anjali Devi, Savithri and S. Varalakshmi.



By the 40s PAR had several clients in Bombay and became wholesale supply of jewellery to a number of leading outlets across the country. His shop worked from 6.30 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. and was shut only on Amavasya. PAR founded The Tamilnadu Jewellers Federation and The Coimbatore Jewellers Association.



On Navarathri PAR decorated the Utsava Vigraham of Vasavi Kannikaparameswari with diamonds. On Maaattu Pongal he bedecked his best looking milch cow ornaments weighing hundreds of Sovereigns and take in a procession to the temple!

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 5:57:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/Jewels-in-the-town/article11074156.ece

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