Where rocks get a pasting

It looks like any other mass of rock. But the pieces extracted at Thenpoondipatti in Tiruvannamalai district of Tamil Nadu are put to a specific use. Taken to the neighbouring village of Jaderi, they are crushed and soaked in water to obtain a fine paste which goes on to adorn the foreheads of idols, men and temple elephants. The work earns a living for 100 families in the village.The transformation of ordinary rock to Thirumann , or holy clay, takes weeks. “We supply the nama kattis (clay sticks) to various temples in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, including those at Tirupati and Rameswaram,” says Janakiraman of the village.Surya, another village man, says, “Once in six months, 10 tractors are pushed into service to ferry the rock. One tractor load costs Rs. 4,000.”The rocks are placed in a circular pit and crushed by a roller drawn by bulls. “The process takes over three hours till the rocks are flattened and crushed. The powder is then gathered and left to soak in water in a pit for five days. After this, it is taken into the village and left to dry,” Surya says.
Three bags of the clay so produced are sufficient to make 3,000 sticks, he says. The pieces are dried, rolled into clay sticks and packed. “It is then sent to the temples. Each dealer spends Rs. 10,000 as lorry rent for a consignment. We send them as a 3,000-packet consignment, which costs Rs. 400. Each packet contains 100 pieces. A 50-kg bag with bigger pieces is sold at Rs. 800,” Surya says.Each family earns around Rs. 25,000 once in three months. “The District Collector gives us an annual licence,” Surya says. Faced with an unsteady income, the families rely on agriculture or work as daily labourers

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