Wood sculptors of Kallakurichi manufacturing idols with divine touch

As soon as you enter Anna Nagar in Kallakurichi, you will hear a divine rhythm of workers in unison.

Published: 21st August 2022 05:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st August 2022 05:39 AM   |  A+A-

Over 700 families carefully craft wooden idols at Anna Nagar in Kallakurichi | Express

Express News Service

KALLAKURICHI: As soon as you enter Anna Nagar in Kallakurichi, you will hear a divine rhythm of workers in unison. The sounds of chisel and hammer clanging against each other is a prelude to the life that they will create out of nothing but a piece of wood. The idols that are created are no showpiece, it’s a testimony to a culture drenched in persistence.

Creating magic out of wood has long been the small town’s lifeline. Nearly 700 families partake in the manufacture of wooden idols at Anna Nagar now. Earlier, their forefathers used to make temple cars for festivals.

“Initially, the carving technique was said to be sprouted by making farm equipment like plough. It later evolved to make depictions of gods on temple cars. We have been involved in this for over a century,” recalls K Mayavan, an idol maker in Anna Nagar.

The efforts were recognised by the Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation (THHDC or its brand, Poompuhar) in 2013, when they applied for the Geographical Indication (GI) tag, which was awarded seven years later. The recognition added a zeal to the handiwork and attracted more customers on digital platforms.

“Some government agencies suggested making the idols with machines for more output in a short span, which ensures bigger profit. We denied it as the uniqueness can only be achieved with the help of hands,” says Thirumalai Dhamodaran, who followed his father’s footsteps after quitting his job in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. “I used to help my father since my childhood. Despite a good job abroad, I found my true calling in Kallakurichi,” he adds.

What makes the idols more special the Vagai (Albizia) tree wood, which is so easily available that its capabilities remain unnoticed. They also make idols with teak and mahakali, if the customer wishes. The size of the idols range from one foot to seven feet, with many palms adding to the beauty. “Usually, men will carve and make the structure of the idol. Then, women in that family make its surface soft using salt paper and then polish it. Sometimes, even the paintings are done by women,” says V Eswari, kin of Dhamodaran, who helps in painting and polishing idols.

It is not just in Anna Nagar. As many 300 families flock to Chinnasalem and nearby villages, with the magic to turn heads with their craft. “It is not easy to make idols with wood. Only unblemished planks are selected. A single mistake means starting from scratch. We ourselves sketch the plan of the structure, according to measurements prescribed by our forefathers. The details are available in the format of a book with us,” says K Vadivel, another artisan.

The Indian Railways offered a shot in the arm for the craftspersons by setting up a wooden idol stall at Chinnasalem railway station for two weeks under the ‘One Station One Product’ scheme to encourage indigenous and regional products. These artists are fearless of the future as they have already set their sights on it, by passing on the baton of the rich tradition to the generations to come.


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