Madurai’s cultural richness owes much to the village of Vilachery. Here, around 200 artisans, all hailing from pottery communities, have played a pivotal role in keeping the region’s heritage alive.
They create a remarkable number of around 100 clay dolls daily, and these creations are then fired to perfection in kilns.
It was the visionary efforts of the Velar community, particularly the First Three Men of the Velar community—Sadasiva Velar, Suran Velar, and Thangaraman Velar — who laid the foundation for this legacy in 1965.
Interestingly, they specialised in crafting terracotta horses as offerings for Ayyanar temples.This village once served as a destination for kids seeking traditional toys, Golu bommai (clay dolls), and undiyal (piggy banks), all handcrafted with care and skill by the local artisans.
Following a multi-stage process throughout the year, the dolls created in Vilachery hold true to tradition. Crafted primarily from clay, these dolls are further strengthened with fibres from elephant dung, showcasing the unique techniques that have been passed down through generations. The artisans meticulously.
The casting of dolls predominantly takes place from January to March, harnessing the warmth of the summer sun. The addition of basic paint layers extends until July, with the final artistic touches culminating in August and September, just in time for the shopping season.
Most dolls measure up to 1.5 feet in height. For larger dolls that stand beyond two feet, paper mesh is employed as a lighter alternative. These larger creations, despite their size, retain the delicate detailing that makes them exceptional.
The integration of machines into the production process is gaining increased popularity, with a vision to enhance efficiency. Some artisans are even exploring the potential of computer-assisted design, aiming to establish exclusive showrooms in major cities.