Asthagiri Street, nestled on the quaint by-lanes of Varadharaja Perumal temple in Kancheepuram(70km from Chennai), is one of the places, one can see entire families engrossed in creating moulds, applying lime, drying them in bright sunshine and carefully applying colours to bring them alive. One can quite easily to spot these homes along the lane, clearly evidenced from a broken miniatures lying along the compound wall.
On one Thinnai sits multi-coloured Dolls, paper strips, crumpled newspapers and cardboard cartons. “We are shipping them to US” says Parthiban. He runs ‘Parthiban Arts’ from the ground Floor of his home. Paint fumes waft from the Entrance Hall where Selvi and Ram Anna sit cross-legged amidst several pale white tiny Hanuman’s, daubing bright paint — blue, green and orange — on the statues, both listening to songs on their phones. The windows are closed to keep the figurines away from dust till they are properly dried and large pedestal fans stand directed at them to help dry faster. Moving past these, into a another hall sit shelves of brown clay dancing dolls waiting to be painted.
Parthiban picks one of the dolls and its mould and starts explaining us the process.
“The doll is first carved out of clay with complete details. The clay piece is fired and then used to make a two part mould in plaster of paris. This POP block is then used to replicate the figurine along with its details. Each POP mould can be used to make upto 120 figurines. During crucial timelines, this mould making is outsourced to the artisans in Kosapet, Chennai(We swiftly note down our next stop). These are then fired in the kiln to retain form. They are given primary coating in white as a base to absorb the other colors, followed by a majority color, which is usually skin, Other color patches are then added and finished with minor details. These are left to dry overnight and then packed n shipped ”
Golu dolls particularly thematic revolving around popular folklores like Ramayan or Mahabarath, even current affairs or can represent recent developments in the family. Aside from Clay, paper ache is used as the primary material due to its light weight, mainly for export. They are appropriate for large figurines and last upto 5 years.
Walking by the other homes, one can tell the season is close with all the dolls in their painting phase. Further inside, in a cramped little house sit four people, each person occupying a corner with an army of dolls around. While Manohar anna gives a Skin color, Lalitha paints the clothes for a previous batch of dolls, Dhairiyaraj, the owner, gives the finishing touches detailing eyes and expressions while Balamma patches up a few broken dolls.
I sit next to Dhairiyaraj and start questioning about the market and timeline. “So, post Navratri is when you can relax?” I ask. “After Navratri is Christmas” he says. “We mould and paint statues throughout the year; first Krishna, then Ganesha and Golu dolls and later, scenes for Christmas. After New year, we plan and try some new collection. Three years ago we made a IPL match set, its still our most popular” he adds. He leaves his one eyed women and rushes in to fetch his 16 piece miniature CSK vs MI set complete with Batsman, Bowler, Wicket keeper, Umpire and Fielders. Even Wickets!