In the hum of daily life, we often overlook ancestral treasures hiding in plain sight. A couple of years ago, Ravisankar VM stumbled upon utensils (paathirams in Tamil) that proved to be family heirlooms and since then his mission has been to introduce such vessels to the younger generation, making them aware of their heritage. PaathiraKadai, is more than a marketplace. “The pandemic has truly been an eye-opener, helping me realise the true value of the heritage passed down by both my paternal and maternal grandmothers. Consider this my heartfelt tribute to them,” expresses the founder of this Chennai-based homegrown brand with a beaming smile.
A growing fan base
As an Instagram brand, PaathiraKadai has organically amassed over 20,000 followers and each time Ravi shares a glimpse of his treasure trove, enquiries flood in. “I’d place an order with artisans based on the demand for a specific product. If need be, I’d make minor modifications to the product to cater to modern requirements. And for vessels that are no longer in use, I’d share models from my collection with the artisans to recreate them,” notes Ravi.
His vast array of offerings include an interesting handmade brass sieve, a brass storage vessel, an idli maker, and a tin (eeya) sombu. The debut of the brass filter coffee davarah set seemed to capture the imagination of the audience resulting in a sharp rise in sales.
According to Ravisankar, the younger audience demonstrates a keen eye for detail and a genuine appreciation for the artifacts he showcases.”There’s significant engagement from individuals aged 25 – 40, who diligently research, inquire, and educate themselves about these vessels. Meanwhile, those in their 50s and 60s are emerging as frequent purchasers, recognising and appreciating the craftsmanship and the authentic value these vessels hold,” observes this solopreneur.
Among PaathiraKadai’s recent best-sellers are kolam rollers. Kolams are traditional ceremonial designs created using rice flour. Popular in South India, they grace the entrances of homes. “As the number of kolam enthusiasts in our city is growing, I reintroduced the product to meet the rising demand. The powder used in the past differs from what we use now, so the holes need to be of the appropriate size to achieve the desired results. Every detail counts,” he explains, underscoring the meticulous attention given to each aspect.
Art and artisans of Tamil Nadu
For Ravi, the most fulfilling aspect of his work lies in discovering and engaging with artisans scattered across different regions of Tamil Nadu. The gratification of directly collaborating with them, devoid of any intermediaries, holds immense value for him. “My brother, who travels extensively, consistently unearths something distinctive from each location,” he adds.
Tamil Nadu stands out for its rich array of natural cookware, each region boasting its specialty. From the copper and brass cookware of Kumbakonam and the artistic brass lamps in Nachiarkoil of Tanjore to traditional clay pot vessels of Karaikurichi, and the soapstone vessels from Namakkal — the diversity is remarkable.”Collaborating with artisans demands patience. The process is both laborious and time-consuming. I abstain from bargaining, recognising the true cost when observing their efforts up close. While the profit margins are fair, I prioritise integrity over greed,” he asserts.
While PaathiraKadai’s made-to-order, limited collection line has positioned itself uniquely in the competitive market space, Ravisankar acknowledges the influence of other brands too, which have been instrumental in reviving traditional vessels through collaborations with artisans nationwide. “I’m not pursuing numbers,” he confesses. “I find contentment in the steady progress of the brand, and comparisons are not on my agenda.”
Keeping it affordable and accessible
PaathiraKadai’s appeal lies in the affordability of the products on
offer. While antique vessels are often deemed expensive, Ravi makes a conscious effort to keep them accessible to all without compromising on quality. “The shipping and packing charges are also kept reasonable,” notes Ravi, emphasising his commitment to providing value.
His international clientele acquires these treasures directly during their visits to the country. “People from the US, Australia, Dubai, Singapore, and Malaysia cherish their roots and have a deep fondness for their heritage,” he shares.
In the spirit of tradition, Ravi, a devoted enthusiast of all things traditional, curated an extensive Golu during Navratri. The display featured an array of showpieces, including thooku, lunchboxes, coffee filters, sombu, choppu, chembadam, vaali, idli paathiram, and more—many of which have faded into obscurity in contemporary usage.
“This served as an invitation, a means to share our personal collection and ignite people’s interest. In an industry like this, the tactile experience holds immense significance. Children were thrilled to witness miniature versions of kitchen sets crafted from natural cookware,” shares Ravi, who gifted tiny brass lamps to his visitors (maada vilakku) as tokens of gratitude.
Connecting with customers
Consistent updates on his business page have captured the curiosity of many. Ravi takes it upon himself to enlighten his followers about the health advantages associated with cooking and consuming traditional cookware.
“While cooking and maintenance do pose challenges, we believe that if our ancestors managed it, so can we too. Corporates are now opting for meaningful gifts such as brass tiffin boxes during festive seasons,” he emphasises.
Ravi doesn’t shy away from accommodating customer requests for minor modifications to traditional vessels to align with modern needs. “I purchase the vessel, conduct experiments to assess its user-friendliness, all before it reaches the customer’s hands,” he assures, ensuring a thoughtful and personalised experience. Tension rises when delivery faces delays due to various circumstances at the artisans’ end. “Fortunately, people are understanding; the final output holds greater significance for them,” he adds.
In his unwavering pursuit, Ravi envisions establishing a website and expanding the horizons of his business. Undeterred, his overarching goal persists — to create meaningful employment opportunities for artisans and to breathe new life into crafts, teetering on the brink of obscurity.
For details, visit paathira_kadai on Instagram