Tamil Nadu

Washermen’s colony turns potters’ paradise

Festival prep: An artist giving final touches to dolls of Lord Krishna in Vellore on Thursday. C. Venkatachalapathy  

During British rule, Salavanpettai was the most frequented hamlet near the fort in Old Town, Vellore, by the native servants of English officers and Indian sepoys.

It was the washermen’s colony, with a row of small water tanks made of brick mortar in front of thatched houses. Despite many British officers moving to the coastal city of Madras with their army of servants, including washermen, Salavanpettai retained its prominence for new settlers — artisans and potters.

The neighbourhood has still not lost its old charm of doll making, pottery and terracotta craft. Despite the pandemic, artisans here have been busy with pottery and doll-making for the festival season. “The pandemic affected all of us. We are not alone. We have less orders for dolls this festival, but we cannot abandon our craft that was passed on through generations,” says 47-year-old artisan T. Senthil Kumar, who started to learn the craft when he was 11.

Salavanpettai, now part of Vellore Corporation, has around 60 families, a majority of them being potters and doll makers.

Most artisans moved to the hamlet from neighbouring districts such as Cuddalore, Villupuram, Tiruvannamalai and Tirupattur in the 19th century, mainly in search of jobs.

Pottery remains the key occupation in the hamlet — while 10 families were involved in doll-making before the pandemic, their number has now come down to just three. “Doll-making is a round-the-year job, with various activities to be carried out during different months, depending on the weather. Before the pandemic, we used to sell around 3,000 dolls during the festival season, especially navaratri,” says T.S. Mukesh, a young engineering graduate and artisan.

Areas like Salem, Erode, Madurai, Tiruchi, Chennai, Arcot and Wallajah are key business hubs from where traders flock to Salavanpettai with bulk orders for dolls, which are made based on 47 themes like Krishna, Ashtalakshmi, dasavatharam, Srinivasa and Meenakshi kalyanam, Vinayaka Chaturthi and navaratri every year.

Dolls for Christmas too are made, mainly for buyers from Bengaluru and Chennai. With the easing of lockdown norms, artisans hope this festival season will not only sustain their livelihood, but also their dying art.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 3:05:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/washermens-colony-turns-potters-paradise/article35756062.ece

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