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Authored by
Of the London Missionary Society



The Kusavars, or potters, are found, as might be expected, scattered generally throughout the country, evidently attracted to each locality by the nature of the soil and the extent of the demand for earthen vessels. They eschew, however, the sandy district of Sherttala and the wild mountainous regions of Meenachel and Todupuley.

There is a very large and steady demand amongst the poorer classes for earthenware, as it is constantly used for household purposes, and readily breaks, the quality being inferior.

If supposed to be ceremonially defiled, earthen vessels are broken; and for religious rites, in which the boiling of rice is almost always included, new pots must be used. The potters manufacture small drinking cups and larger cooking vessels, small oil lamps, and other household utensils, large round water-pots, and great jars for storing rice, tiles for roofing houses, and clay idols and images of various kinds. In the South they are specially busy in making pots for the climbers during the palmyra season.

There are in Travancore two classes of potters — Tamil and Malayalam. The Tamil potters are called Pandi Velans. They wear the sacred cord, and their women the tali and conch on their necks. The marriage ceremony lasts for seven days; remarriage of widows is strictly prohibited; so also is polygamy.

The larger body are called Malayam Velans. Their usages resemble those of the Nairs. The women wear thick cotton cords round the neck, and other ornaments as Sudra women do. “Giving cloth” is customary, both partners separating when they please, and forming other unions. A man’s property, however, goes to his own children among both divisions of potters.

The Kusavars work diligently, men, women, and children from four or five years of age assisting. Fair earnings are made, but the potters do not seem to be provident. The men dig the clay; then all unite to carry it to the place where the wheel is fixed, where it is softened and tempered and put on the wheel by men. The wheel is horizontal, and is generally spun round by a woman, the man dexterously moulding and shaping it with his hands, the simple impetus serving for the formation of the vessel.

A batch of pots is put in the kiln once in a couple of months or so. Fuel being laid in the bottom, the pots are arranged over it, and the kiln is covered with earth to exclude the air and to keep in the vapour. While the pottery is in the furnace, worship is paid to a demon called Chula Madan, who they fear, if not propitiated, will break it. On the third day the ware is taken out ; and if but a minimum of loss has been sustained in the firing, these worldly-wise artificers present thank-offerings to the demon, such as a coin, rice, cakes, fowls, or a goat. They also make offerings of boiled rice to the sun.

The women and girls carry large loads of pottery on their heads, secured with ropes, to the markets for sale.

These people are held in some repute as sorcerers. One saw an aged potter making incantations before a crowd of others on behalf of a sick Shanar child. The man had raw rice laid on a plantain leaf, some betel-nut and tobacco, and a medicinal root to be tied round the child’s waist with a thread. He was complaining, however, that the offerings were inadequate.

Some potters enjoy free grants of lands from the Government for supplying the pagodas with idol gods and images of horses. They sometimes boast of their dignity as manufacturers of the gods that other men worship.

Annually new clay images are conveyed in procession to pagodas, with great reverence and display, from the potter’s house : “This, said one of them, is done for the honour of the god, instead of sacrificing a child.”

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