Thursday, May 21, 2009

Serial Lighted Gods - Meet the artist at Kumbakonam

I am so fond of people, as I am of places. I can be a professional people watcher, but am sure no one would bother to pay a penny for it so I limit my musings to people who I come across.Guess, it is a skill passed on by generations, that I end up having a mini interview with every single person - more so if I find them interesting and doing the not-so ordinary things. On my recent trip to the land of temples - Kumbakonam and Trichy, I managed to meet so many lovely people. It is always a pleasure to know about the kind of life we do not lead, and we probably will never lead.

Meet Mari - The Man Who Brightens Siva and Jayalalitha

Mari is from Nagapattinam. He is 70 years old and has never been to school. His family art and business has been making these giant illuminated God's and Goddesses. He gives the deepam that glows amdist crowded roads.He makes the Mariamman who stands tall in the neighbourhood koil. Ironically, he is also behind the Jayalalaitha who drives the chariot. For those who have not seen these huge illuminated displays, this is how it looks like.
Now to the analytics of this business - it costs him INR 12,000 to do a display along with lighting for one figure. This is bound to increase when he does like the one in picture. To be honest, I never really thought this would involve so much money! Anyways, pardon my ignorance!. It is done using bamboo sticks that are soaked in water for 24 hours and then wound together using wires, vazhai naaru ( banana fibre) and then wired with small bulbs. He mostly does it on contracts for the local sound suppliers. Now, thats the word for the guys who rent out audio facilities, shamiana and other such jil jaal for local events. The rent ranges between INR 5000 - INR 15000 for a night. Now, that's a lot of business!

Mari is the last surviving member in the family who knows this art. His children are employed in service sector and one is working with TCS. Impressive to know! Mari has come all the way from Nagapattinam to Kumbakonam for doing this Mariamman, because there is no one else in the vicinity who can do it. You never know, he may possibly be the only one in the state who does it. I met him at Ramaswamy Temple ( the place is taken on rent to do it, because it requires a huge spread of space) during my recent trip to Kumbakonam

It is wonderful, impressive and at the same time surprising when I come across a person like him who is not willing to let go of his tradition and art even at the ripe old age of 60. Kudos to people like this!


  1. nice interview KC... Mari does certainly adds meaning to the old tamil proverb "Thaan kaye thaannkkuthavi"...

  2. Absolutely Karthi! Thanks for stopping by! I have a couple of other interviews lined up too. Do watch this space!

  3. i had lots of interviews like this when i am on travel in buses with my co-passengers.. they dont find any future for the profession they are carrying out.. that really make me think for a while "are we living in a socialistic country?"

  4. @prathap - thanks!

    @ Nizhal - Sorry, I cant type tamil here. It is not for the socio economic reasons we should think. It is more of kmowing it. Seriously, the learning curve grows! Do continue ur interviews!


I love your comments. Say it out, don't be shy!