Traditional Handicraft of Tamil Nadu

Dolls and toys are always special for us. It has been a part of our childhood. Conventionally dolls were made out of clay & wood, in which, clay dolls called “Man Bommai” has an extra attention for its aesthetic beauty. Though clay dolls were attractive they weren’t considered much for playing rather it was used more for decorative purposes and for the festive season. We have noticed sidewalk, shops and temples filled with clay dolls during festive celebrations especially during or before Navratri month. So how these clay dolls are made? Let’s take a look at this traditional handicraft in detail. 

Required Materials:

  1. POP and Cement
  2. Mould
  3. Wet Clay
  4. Oil Paint

Preparing Process:

Mould Preparation:

Mould or die known as Achu in Tamil is a template for making clay dolls.The modeler who does the mould/die for making dolls is also colloquially called as Mould. To make the mould cement and POP are used. The modeler first creates the Master doll (First doll of that kind, out of which mould is created to duplicate many dolls of the same type) on the clay according to the design of the doll .If the doll is a regular one then the modeler can make it very quick. If suppose any new doll to be created the modeler would refer a picture of it and might take a minimum of one week to a maximum of 1 month based on the intricacy and type of the doll. Now on the Master doll, layers of cement and POP are applied. Front and back part of the doll is done separately keeping in mind the joints which are very important to complete the doll in shape. The POP and Cement are let as such until it solidifies and becomes a mould. 

Pillayar Mould for making clay dollMould of a Clay Doll

Clay Doll Making:

Clay is procured from the local village. The wet clay is spread and pressed over the mould-front and the back separately. After few minutes the moulded wet clay is removed from the Die/Mould. Now the front and back is joined with wet clay on the sides. Similarly in each mould maximum of 100 dolls can be made. The capacity of the mould deteriorates when it exceeds more than 100 dolls. The intricate details might get lost and would become shapeless. The required dolls are moulded and dried at room temperature. The dolls are then taken for firing. For firing the clay, temporary kiln is made. The process of making kiln and firing dolls are explained in a separate blog. To know more click the link. The fired dolls are then coated with gondhu (Gum), chalk powder and water mixture. This is let to dry for a day. Dolls are then painted by hand and spray gun with white as base colour. The paint colours are based on the reference image for new dolls or by default the painters would know which doll goes with which colour or sometimes the kovil gurukkal (Temple Priest) suggest them with colours. The colour variations are obtained by mixing basic colours by the painters. Colour mixing is done using varnish along with the oil paint. When spray gun is used to colour it might spread to other parts of the dolls which is then corrected by hand paint. Finally, gold painting of ornaments, flower painting and eye painting is done using separate pigments by hand. 

Room dried Clay dollAbove image is an example of room dried clay dolls

fired clay dollsAbove image shows clay dolls which turns brick red after firing

Clay dolls ready for paintingChalk, water and gum mixture coated dolls

Dry Clay dolls coated with chalk powderChalk, water and gum mixture coated dolls

End Product:

White Paint Applied DollsWhite oil paint base applied on clay doll

Traditional Clay doll of Tamil NaduFinal Painted Traditional Clay dollHandicrafts of Tamil NaduThree steps involved after firing of dolls