The Christmas fable of this Madurai village is a “toy story” – The New Indian Express

Express news service

MADURAI: On the outskirts of Madurai town is a nativity scene where the “elves” are currently at work making figures of Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, shepherds, angels and cattle to be delivered before Christmas. The 300 families of Vilachery each have a production hall at home where they mold and paint these figurines. But what sets these artisans apart from others? These are their unique molds.

“Each family has its own mold, inspired by ancient paintings and statues. Designers also continue to improvise and adopt new technologies, ”said M Ramalingam, advisor to the Kullalar Handicraft Artisan Welfare Association. In recognition of their exclusivity, the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises recently sanctioned Rs. 6 crore in Vilachery to set up a community production unit.

The Kullalar Handicraft Artisan Welfare Association has also requested a Geographical Indication (GI) label for its clay toys. Ramalingam urged the government to create an artisan village where production and sales units can operate under one roof. It would also help promote tourism, he said.

Although the families also make dolls for Navaratri and Vinayakar Chaturthi, the Christmas crib dolls are their main source of income. Rural households once produced earthenware. In the early 1960s, when Chithira Kala Studio, Madurai’s first studio, was established, artisans were needed to make movie sets. “The villagers, who are mostly from the Kullalar community, were taken to work at the studio,” Ramalingam said.

“The studio was then moved to Chennai. In 1965, Sadhasivam Velar and Sooran Velar, who settled in Vilachery, started a clay doll manufacturing unit. The villagers, who previously worked in the studio, joined the unit and learned the trade. Over time, they created their own units, ”he added.

Mr. Senthil Kumar (40), who has been with the company for 20 years, said: “The clay is extracted from nearby reservoirs. However, in recent times materials such as plaster of paris and papier mache have been used to make dolls. Although the production cost increased, we were unable to increase the price. We have to compromise on profit to keep the business going, ”he said.

The wholesale doll market is entirely dependent on traders in Kerala. Then came the cyclone and the floods that devastated Kerala. As we slowly recovered, we have been affected by the pandemic. After a long battle, the company started to ramp up for this Christmas as lockdown restrictions were relaxed, ”said S Kavitha (38).

The restriction on the importation of Chinese dolls, which created stiff competition, has become a blessing. “We have reduced production this year and capped the price range of 150 to 3,000 rupees. The demand was high enough to sell most of the manufactured goods, ”the villagers said.

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