Just days before the pilgrimage season at Sabarimala kicks off every year, there is a bustle in the narrow, concrete lanes in the Mattannoorkkara Lakshamveedu Colony at Erumely. Chicken feathers coloured in red, sets of cords dyed in sharp black, and uniquely carved wooden pieces are strewn all along these pathways or kept in bundles in front of houses.
Ever since the emergence of Erumely as a key base station for Sabarimala pilgrims from other States, the colony has become the sole hub of paraphernalia-making for the pilgrimage season. More than 90% of the Sharakkol (arrows), Vaal (swords), Gada (clubs), and Kachha (black cord) that are sold through the seasonal shops here come from the colony, an overwhelmingly Muslim area.
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Koya Thengummoottil, a 78-year-old resident of the colony, is regarded as the senior-most craftsman in this business. “I have been making Sabarimala-related paraphernalia for nearly five decades. The last two years were particularly depressing. However, the business this year has been extraordinary so far. It looks like we will soon run out of stock,” he said.
The business had had grown sharply over the last two decades. “The number of devotees visiting Erumely, especially from the neighbouring States, has recorded a considerable surge during this period,” he added.
The articles made at the houses here are sold to the shops that function only during the two-month long Mandalam-Makaravilakku season. While these materials are procured at nominal rates (₹1.50 per Sharakkol and ₹4 for clubs, for instance), they are sold at a price several times higher to the pilgrims, said Biju, a vendor in Erumely.
V.R. Sashi, a plantation worker who turns into paraphernalia-manufacturing during the pilgrimage season every year, said about 10 lakh Sharakkols, over four lakh wooden arrows, and an equal number of swords are manufactured in the colony during the season. Each of the 32 families engaged in the business here earn an average of ₹50,000 while the actual business in the open market is worth several crores of rupees.
“All families here, irrespective of their religion or age, turn to paraphernalia-making round the clock throughout the season. More than just an occupation, this has been our way of life for generations,’’ he said.