The Doll's House: Making Thanjavur Dolls


Remember the Chettiar Bommai, a rickety head doll used to golu during Navaratri in the houses? It is a Thanjavur doll, a world famous artifact that has gained international fame.

Malayandi, 34, who is one of the few artisans in Thanjavur to practice this profession, began learning the craft from his mother at the age of 10. In this temple city, doll making goes from generation to generation. Although Malayandi has finished his studies, he likes to follow this tradition. At present, no more than 10 families own art living in the city, compared to 20 five years ago.

Malayandi has fought to succeed, but today, he is able to make a living thanks to the help of Nandhini, his wife for five years. Work begins at 7 am with the heating of a mixture of tapioca flour and copper sulphate powder until obtaining a semi-solid consistency.

What it applies in cement-based molds with chalk powder.

It takes about 10 days to finish a doll, but the time required by the sun to cook the dolls determines the duration.

Dolls' production lights up Malayandi's life despite the demanding work of 15 hours to deliver 250 dolls a week to the Thanjavur stores. His three-year-old son, Santhosh, grew up like him in this traditional art. The raw materials cost Malayandi nearly 10,000 pounds a month, and he earns 15,000 pounds selling the dolls.

(Text and images of Usha Ramesh)

(Usha Ramesh is a freelancer based in Delhi)