Kanchipuram: Thirunamam, the mark of Lord Vishnu found on the foreheads of Vaishnavites is believed to protect the wearer from evil. And the livelihood of residents of Jaderi, a village near Kanchipuram, revolves around making the ‘namakatti’ for centuries.
Jaderi is a small hamlet consisting of around 120 families in Cheyyar Taluk, Tiruvannamalai district. The villagers here for hundreds of years have been making the finger-length long, white clay pieces commonly called in Tamil as ‘namakatti’. It is used for applying the thirunamam.
You would usually find namakattis in shops around Vishnu temples, being sold for anywhere between Rs 5 and Rs 50 a piece depending on size, purity and place of origin.
But the Jaderi people, the makers of Tamilnadu’s finest namakattis, are being exploited by middlemen and merchants and only getting a pittance of what their products are actually sold in the market.
Surya, a fourth generation namakatti maker who shifted to Chennai for a more stable career, explained to ‘News Today‘ about his village and its unique livelihood. Also, ‘NT‘ visited the village and observed the making process to show it to the world.
Surya said, “The sacred white earth used for making namakatti is available naturally in Tamilnadu, exclusively in a hamlet neighbouring Jaderi called Thenpoondipattu. We bring it from there to Jaderi in bullock carts and lorries.”
Surya says that though the natural ingredients are available in Thenpoondipattu, it is only the people of Jaderi who are involved in making the namakatti, as it involves a tedius and time-consuming process.
“Making Namakatti is our primary occupation and even agriculture is secondary. From start to finish, the process may take 10 to 15 days. Unlike other places that make namakatti, the ones made is Jaderi are completely natural and manufactured by hand without the use of modern technology,” he said.
How is it made?
The rich deposit of hydrous silicate minerals that form fine grain particles of clay used for Namakatti is formed naturally by weathering or alteration of other silicates over time, that gives them their unique white colour.
The making involves finely grinding the dried clay by crushing them under rollers drawn by ‘tow’ bullocks (chekku maadu). A worker then removes the crushed clay, stamps it with his feet to make the crushing even and turns it with a shovel.
The clay then goes through multiple step filtering process in different pits. Over time, it turns milky white. The clay is now gathered and beaten with a stick and dried partially to remove moisture and shaped by hand to the required size. It is once again dried completely, finishing the process.
There are 25 such namakatti manufacturing spots in Jaderi. “The same process has been followed for centuries here and no chemicals or any other ingredients are added at any point,” says Surya.
The Jaderi villagers say that two types of namakattis are used – one for local sales and another for foreign markets and sold in dollars. But what the villagers get is a paltry Rs one or sometimes even less for each piece of namakatti sold.
Jaderi supplies namakatti to all main places where Vishnu is worshipped. Some of it includes the Tirupati devasthanam, Rameswaram, Tiruchy, Madurai, Kerala, Karnataka and even Singapore and Malaysia
In spite of this, even at this day and age, it is very common to see the people of Jaderi, who are making the mark of the Almighty living in doorless huts, without basic education or basic amenities. The villagers say that the middlemen and merchants reap the rewards of their hardship and they are left with just the crumbs of their profit.
Report by A Harsha Vardhan and D Sundar
Photos: D Sundar