Earthen pots, with different colours painted on them, are the essence of Pongal. The festival is said to be incomplete without these colourfully painted pots. Although these pots represent joy and happiness, the makers of the pots do not have much to celebrate this festive season.
As is the tradition in Tamil Nadu, several families work hard during the Pongal season to gain profits.
According to a report by The News Minute, Senbaganathan, a potter from a village in Tamil Nadu, works with his wife for the creation of these pots. Senbaganathan says that the business of pottery can only be carried out as a family. They start at 6 am every morning and work hard till 6 pm to produce the best output. They also make other earthen products like vessels and stoves for sale.
As a daily routine, Senbaganathan brings mud from the nearby pond and then grinds it. This is done in order to make the mud workable and free of any bubbles. Once this is done, he puts a ball of it on his manually-driven potter's wheel. He then keeps spinning it until he gets a pot of a proper shape and desirable size.
Nevertheless, the number of pots that Senbaganathan and his family make depends on the availability and texture of the mud. It also depends on the seasons. After the pots are made, the female head of the family paints them to indicate the essence of Pongal.
When asked about the profit made by selling the pots, Senbaganathan said that at the end of a hard day's labour, they would usually get a few hundred rupees, but the coronavirus and the unseasonal rains have brought down the demand for pots. He also stated, "The government also gave us the assistance of ₹1,000 during the lockdown, but that was not enough to run the family for the past eight months." This had pushed them to incur debt to survive.
However, more than the effects of the pandemic, Senbaganathan is worried about the rise in the sale of plastic pots and the decline in the earthen pots. "People could find plastic and other pots in the market even during the pandemic, but there is no place for earthen pots. However, buyers should understand that earthen pots are healthy for everyone. Buyers should also try their level best to support local businesses."
The situation in Chennai last year was quite similar. A vendor named Pushparaj said, "Last year IT and major companies were functioning, so all of them used to buy pots to celebrate Pongal; but now we do not have similar sales. Many people use thermocol pots to celebrate, which also has adverse efforts on the environment."
Several earthen potters' associations staged protests in various parts of the state, demanding the government for assistance. The President of Manpanai Thozhilar Nala Sangam (Earthen pots workers' association), Somanarayanan, said that for eight months, the potters were leading their lives under distress. According to him, they (potters) suffered losses in their livelihood and their chance for revival is only during the Pongal season. The association has also requested people to buy pots and support the local businesses.