Chennai: At just 9 am today, the Tambaram market was already bustling with activity. Reason? Akshaya Tritiya. All roads led to the jewellery tycoons who have not spared even the suburb. Away from the rush, in a nondescript Srinivasa Naicker Complex, goldsmiths are clanking a gold ring on suyamvaram, a tool used to bring rings back in shape.
“The festival brings us good business,” says a beaming T N Raja, and adds, “We get a lot of customers who would want to polish their gold ornaments or fix the broken ones.”
“But we do get one or two people who place orders for making jewellery,” chips in M Murali, another goldsmith, belonging to the Viswakarma community.
Once respected for their handcraft in making tailored-ornaments for any occasion, these traditional goldsmiths have now taken to fixing broken ones.
“Until 30 years ago, we were a respected lot. People came to us to place orders for weddings. We were even entrusted with the work of making the thali, but not any more,” says Murali as he works on the pattarai to melt metals.
Murali and Raja are not alone. With them are the thousands of Viswakarma community members who have lost their livelihood. Raja says that fellow goldsmiths are no more seen in Sowcarpet, indicating the shift in the trade.
Murali recalls, “We have been in this profession for over three generations. Soon after school hours, I would rush to my father’s shop to see what he was working on and that made me follow in his footsteps after completing class two. My grandfather and father earned a name and also wealth. But our generation is the one that bears the brunt of industrialisation.”
Murali (41) goes on to narrate how technologically minute the craft is. “You place a bar, it comes out as an ornament on the other side. Such is the trade now. Back then, it was all manual work.”
The metal is melted first, designed on a plate, brazed and the ornament is done manually. Every piece used to be unique unlike today’s collections where the machine produces the same design multiple times, adds Murali.
So, what makes these goldsmiths unique? “We can do one-of-a-kind jewel piece and what adds value is the knowledge of using the metal where it is required. For instance, the modern-day traders do not know where we should add more metal because of which the post in earrings breaks easily. When a goldsmith does the same earpiece, he knows where he should add more gold that gives longevity to the ornament,” says Raja.
SHINE IS GONE
When asked if they would pass on the craft to their future generation, two goldsmiths, shook their head. “We did not get educated and we wanted to lead a respectable life, so we came into the profession. But we are educating our children so that they do not suffer like us,” they said in unison.