Ravi Jose is one of the leading dealers of rosaries in Koonammavu, the nursery of rosary-making in Kerala, as well as India
Photo by Mithun Vinod
Fr. Sanal Lawrence D'Souza is like a kid in a toy shop. At the La Coruna Del Rosario shop at Koonammavu, 17 kms from Kochi, he picks up numerous rosaries, Bibles, sepulchers, candles, key chains, statues of Jesus Christ, as well as Crucifixes. The jean-clad priest has come from the St. Theresa's Church at Mahe, 240 kms away. “We have a feast coming up in October for our saint,” says Fr. D'Souza. “Lakhs of people are expected to attend. So I am buying all this stuff to be sold there.”
Ravi's life journey has had an unusual trajectory. He was born as a Hindu in Mayiladuthurai in Tamil Nadu. When he was eight years old, he became a boarder at St. Xavier's school hostel. While there, his friend, Mohan, to earn some pocket money, was stringing rosaries during the summer vacation at the pilgrimage town of Vellankani, 70 kms away. So Ravi went with Mohan and learnt the trade.
When Ravi was 18 years old, he met Johny Joseph of the Thanikkot family from Koonammavu. Johny told him that he had a large enterprise which dealt in rosaries, and invited Ravi to come over. “But when I went, I saw that it was a small-scale business,” he says. For the first two years, Ravi made rosaries. Thereafter, he became a salesman, who travelled all over India, selling rosaries. It was during this time that Ravi converted to Christianity, and changed his surname from Chandran to Jose.
A few years later, Ravi set up his own business. And it has grown steadily. On an average, Ravi sells about 2000 rosaries every day. It is a cottage industry. In the sense, several families make it in their home and sell it to Ravi and other entrepreneurs.
“Rosary-making was begun by nuns at Koonammavu 150 years ago,” says Fr. Cherian Kuniyanthodath, who belongs to the St. Joseph ’s CMI monastery. “From the beginning local families were involved.” Today, through agents, rosaries are sold all over India, as well as neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka.
“People of all faiths make the rosaries,” says Ravi . “They see the work being done by neighbours. Then they express interest and that is how they also start making rosaries.”
One of them is Meena Krishnan, the wife of a government official. Another is 70-year-old Lilly Thengapurakkal who is threading a rosary, with squinted eyes, at a nearby house. “I have been doing this since I was ten years old,” she says. “Since I can do it at home, it is an easy way to earn a living.”
There are all types of rosaries: plastic, wood, stone and fibre. “To make a rosary takes about 10 minutes if you are inserting a wire through it,” says Ravi. “But if you use a thread, you can make three in ten minutes.” The prices range from Rs 3 to Rs 50.
The major customers are nuns and priests. “They give rosaries as gifts,” he says. “For example, if there is a newly-wedded couple, they will give a rosary to make them come closer to God.” However, Ravi says that people of all faiths buy rosaries. “I have seen Hindus and Muslims wear it around their necks,” he says. “These are people who believe that God is One.”
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)