Thadam takes you on an exciting Village tour to meet the palm jaggery makers of Bodipalayam, to witness an ancient craft that is nearing extinction in many regions around the State! Here, you would not only would we be watching the entire process from start to finish but could also see the fresh nectar being procured from the Palmyra Palm trees around the village.
A drive to Bodipalayam, a small village settlement that’s about a 20 minute drive from Pollachi, has narrow roads dotted with palmyra and coconut palms that has lead to the development of the jaggery making craft in the vicinity.
At the jaggery making unit, you will be welcomed into the sparsely furnished but extremely tidy work space owned by Amarnath and his relative Murugesh. It’s one of a few privately owned palm jaggery making units in the area. Here, you will be standing in the midst of an age old practices that first offers obeisance to the land by offering prayers and giving thanks. A practice that is not just ritualistic but stems from a deep rooted respect for the environment.
The craftsman, whose job is to turn the thin white liquid into molten jaggery, begins the process by pouring into a huge pan, the early morning’s procurement brought in by the climbers. The pan, referred to as the ‘drum’ vessel, because of its shape is later set on an open fire. Soon after, the contents of the pan start to simmer, you can see bubbles bursting to the top.
Once you had witnessed the separating of the clear liquid from the sludge, it is time to make haste and catch the climbers as they collect the palm nectar. Across the road, from the unit, lays a stretch of farms belonging to several inhabitants from the area. All of the palmyra trees on that stretch are tapped by the climbers belonging to this particular unit. Here you will meet the climber who is ready to tap the palm nectar with his quaint old ladder propped up against the tree.
You will witness the climber climb up a male Palmyra and tap its tree nodes for the liquid. The female tree nodes are left undisturbed for the formation of the summery nongu fruit. The Nadar community that these climbers belong to live in a camaraderie of mutual understanding with the ruling Zamindar families of the region.
Having feasted your senses on the theluvu collection you will head back to check on the craftsman’s progress at the unit. Though it is just a few minutes away by walk, the rural setting will offer plenty of distractions in the form of cute country goats, munching cows, tiled roofed houses, aesthetically formed bough of dried palm fruits etc.,
Back at the unit you will witness the liquid turn to a glossy honey but it still had a long way to go before reaching the final stage. Various wooden tools required to stir and ladle the mixture are then assembled. When the palm nectar in the vat has darkened to a rich golden liquid, the air around gets increasingly perfumed – one of the reasons why the work space was open on all sides. Else, the aroma would been too fragrant to handle in a closed room!
As the caramelization continues and the contents of the pan get thicker you will see the craftsmen begin to work really fast. The craftsman with his long stirrer made of wood resembling an oar moves the viscous mixture around, to prevent it from adhering to the pan. This final part is perhaps the most crucial. They don’t rely on sugar thermometers here, it all goes by the senses. A bit of the liquid is poured into a mug of water to test if it has reached the string consistency. Once the craftsman is satisfied, the fire is knocked back a little, just long enough to take a few litres out to be sold as palm molasses or the thaen paagu. This is set aside to cool in a big bowl before being poured into plastic bottles for sale.
From here on the motions are quick, the pan is taken off the heat. An extra pair of hands comes in and together they set the huge vessel at an angle propped against the wall to get the caramel cooling down. Almost immediately the mixture begins to move away from the sides of the pan. The craftsman employs a swift folding and turning movement that not only brings down the temperature of the molten jaggery but offers a brilliant ‘cascading waterfall’ like visual.
Once are satisfied with the temperature, the different molds are quickly placed in front of the pan as the mixture is poured into each rectangle with a coconut shell ladle. With each mold the change in the texture is visible right before our very eyes. It goes from smooth and flowy to matt and slightly grainy in minutes.
The jaggery made will be sold the next day. To be able to do this work tirelessly twice a day with little respite for 9 months of the year requires utmost dedication to this age old craft. The hard working folk at Bodipalayam deserve every bit of your support. By helping them you are in actuality giving yourself a better shot at healthy living!