A legendary Shiva temple of the medieval period gives this town its name, but not its identity. Temples, large and small, with flower sellers outside, dot the bustling markets of this town, but a peek inside any shop, and there is a plethora of kitsch pop culture, with bollywood stars in technicolor adorning the hundreds of cardboard boxes full of firecrackers.
Light as many matches, burst any kind of firecracker, but turn around the box, and one name is always present on it – “Sivakasi”. Almost all of the matchsticks and fireworks in India come from this town of fireworks, which also has the largest offset printing industry in the country.
Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu, is an example of the scale that handicrafts industry can reach; the entire town is dedicated to firework making and its supporting industries of making card board boxes, label printing and even has chemical factories in the surrounding areas. So big is the matchstick industry, that every single day, this town sees the arrival of truckloads of wood to be turned into millions of matches.
The huge tree trunks are first sliced into boards, and further into thin plies, which are then chopped into countless sticks. These sticks are given a coating of wax, to make them burn throughout when lit. They are then sent to homes of locals, where the women stack these sticks on to perforated frames. It is a time consuming process and after a few days, when a number of frames are stacked and ready, they are brought back to the workshop.
Large trays contain the match-head chemicals, a mixture of antimony trisulfide, potassium chlorate, sulfur, powdered glass, fillers and glue. The heads of the sticks are dipped in the trays for application of the chemical. For making sparkler matches, the splinters are dipped in another set of chemicals, which include metal powder and potassium chlorate. After dipping, the sticks are left to dry and then packaged in cardboard boxes, which are also handmade, locally.
Finally, the brand labels with flashy, multicoloured graphics and photographs of popular film actors are stuck on to the boxes and sent off to the respective distributors.
Involved with major controversies regarding employing children, Sivakasi now has almost eradicated child labour. Because of the foreign exchange earned with export earnings, the nearby villages have also gained from the industry, by getting involved in related businesses. Chemicals, which earlier had to be imported from Europe, are now manufactured in nearby towns. Because of the use of manual labour, making firecrackers and packaging card board boxes involves a large number of people, generating employment and empowering women. Thinking of a larger picture, it is truly a case of small scale handicrafts reaching beyond the usual the limits of expansion and supporting entire towns around it.
The most boisterous expression of any celebration, whether a once in a lifetime wedding, or a cricket match victory, for the festivals of Diwali and New Year, the bright firecrackers and bombs, each individually made by hand, add an effervescent spark in joyous festivities. While firecrackers are for celebrations, the simple match stick, which is like a miniature firecracker, is used everyday by all.
From humble matches that light lamps everyday, to tremendous fireworks of celebratory grandeur, Sivakasi is the source of light and festivities for the entire country!