Diwali and firecrackers are synonymous with each other. Every year, children go with their parents and buy a bag full of them to celebrate the day with. It feels incomplete without it for many, despite its harmful effects on us and the animals.
More than 90 per cent of the country's fireworks come from Sivakasi. A small town in Tamil Nadu's Virudhunagar district, it is known for manufacturing firecrackers and matchboxes that boost the town's economy and provide a livelihood to many. Today, it boasts of around 640 such factories around the town.
Ahead of the festival of lights, let us look into the interesting history of Sivakasi and how it emerged as the country's fireworks hub.
Tale Of Two Men
It all started when two men from the town, P Ayya Nadar and Shanmuga Nadar, went to West Bengal in 1923 to learn to matchmake. The Nadar brothers worked in a match factory there in order to make ends meet. Eight months later, they returned home and set up two factories in order to provide a livelihood to the town dwellers, called Anil and Ayyan brands respectively.
The duo also learnt how to make firecrackers. The first item they made was sparklers, popularly known as 'phooljhadi' in Hindi. At that point of time, they were imported from Europe like other fireworks in the country. Until 1939, several factories came up in Sivakasi. Many families migrated from nearby districts such as Madurai, Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) to work there to make ends meet.
The firecracker import stopped at the onset of World War II. While this may have been a disadvantage, these factories saw it as an opportunity. In 1940, the Indian Explosives Rules was passed by the government by which the manufacture, sales and firework storage will be licensed. There was no going back after this. Each year, the number of factories grew in the town. There were 450 factories by 2001 and now there are a total of 640.
Source Of Prosperity
According to The Times of India, the town became a budding fireworks hub in no time. A retired match worker named R Shanmugam said, "Sivakasi was a godforsaken place because there we have black loamy soil, agriculture was never successful due to dry weather and scanty rainfall and people didn't want to give their girls in marriage here. But when the fireworks and match industries became a big business, everyone wanted to work here." Not just men, even women came forward and worked in these factories. Many even left their previous industries to work here as it was more lucrative comparatively.
However, the recent years have proven to be bleak for the town. Many states have placed a ban on firecrackers to reduce air pollution around Diwali. This has had a detrimental impact on the factory workers' livelihood as they do not have other alternatives.