Sivakasi’s relationship with China started as early as 1920s when the southern districts were dealing with a famine after the end of World War I. When agriculture failed, the first set of businessmen from Sivakasi went to China to learn manufacturing crackers.
“Ayya Nadar, Shanmuga Nadar and Yanagiri Nadar were the pioneers from Sivakasi who went to China. But, they set up matchstick industry in Sivakasi first which was followed by cracker units,” said Elangovan, the general secretary of Federation of Tamil Nadu Fire Workers and Traders.
The first matchstick unit in Sivakasi was set up by Ayya Nadar in 1923, and in the subsequent decade cracker units mushroomed in and around Sivakasi. The popularity of cracker units pushed the matchstick industry to Kovilpatti and its surrounding areas.
Today, Sivakasi and its surrounding villages have around 800 large cracker units and 300 minor units, and approximately 8 lakh people are directly and indirectly dependent on them.
Also, what started with making basic crackers slowly developed into an industry that began to experiment with fancy crackers, but not without the neighbouring country’s help again.
Sasi, the director of Vanitha Fireworks in Sivakasi, said, “Towards the late 1990s, there was a heavy demand for fancy crackers, which are locally called ‘shots’, and the makers had to turn to China for the second time to learn the technique of manufacturing them. With minor changes they were able to implement the techniques here,” Sasi said.
Decades later, now, Sivakasi holds a prominent place in the country with its cracker manufacturing business touching Rs 6,000 crore per year.
But, why were the cracker units limited to only that region and did not spread to other parts of the state? The answer lies in the kind of weather the area experiences, Elangovan said.
“The crackers need scorching sun after the initial pasting works are completed and in Sivakasi, the sun is especially harsh which helped the business to flourish,” he added.