The Craft of making fire crackers

 Preeti Goel Sanghi
 Available Translations: Français

Most of the inhabitants in Arunthangavilai are carpenters, rice field workers or rope makers (from coconut fibre) and they try hard to make ends meet, inspite of often facing difficulties owing to their caste (as most of them are Dalits). One of these families however has an unusual profession; making of firecrackers, which are popularly used during religious festivals. The know-how and technique of manufacturing these fire crackers has been passed down from father to son and today, it is Chelliah, the head of the family who guards the trade secrets.

There are two kinds of fire crackers and some fire devices:
The simplest fire crackers are made with gun powder and a wick wrapped around in a cocoon of coconut tree leaves and they come in triangular forms.
The more popular firecrackers, since they allow a succession of very impressive detonations, come in the form of a small bullet of different colours. The gunpowder cannon is dispersed in several places along a twine of a coconut leaf, which is wrapped around like a ball to which is added a wick before being encircled with coloured paper.

The triangular simple firecrackers will be sold to the wholesaler for the sum of 2 rupees, who in turn will sell retail to the public for about 5 rupees.
The biggest and most expensive will be sold mostly to temples and churches which will light them on the occasion of big religious festivals.They are sold for about 40 rupees each(about 0,70€)

The bulk of their products will be sold on the occasion of the festival of Deepawali in October and of the new Gregorian year in December.

Chellaiah has not kept an account of the quantity made nor sold and was not therefore able to give me a figure.
On the other hand it is estimated that during the busy season, they sell them for about 13 000 rupees a month which gives them a net profit about 2500 rupees monthly (that is 44€) for the home.
On the occasion of big festivals (Deepawali and New Year) it succeeds in drawing about 25 000 rupees (440€), but then the entire family is mobilised into making these firecrackers. The rest of the year however, they often end up borrowing money, which can be returned only when the busy season starts again.

The tsunami of December, 2004 affected their sale because festivals were not celebrated.

(1) Deepawali or Deewali is undoubtedly the most important of Hindu festivals which celebrates the return of Lord Ram from exile after having conquered the demons. It represents the victory of light over darkness.