Candle making is an art. Trends in candle making industry have opened many new avenues for the candle making industry. Every year a new type of candle is being introduced in the market during festivals in India. There is need for candles on specific occasions all through the year and it is befitting for homes, restaurants, hotels, parties, rooms etc. They are also in high demand for candle light dinner. In the developed world today, candles are used mainly for their aesthetic value and scent, particularly to set a soft, warm or romantic ambience for emergency lighting during electrical power failures and for religious or ritual purposes.
In Manipur during the COVID-19 pandemic, candle making has become a trend in every locality to meet the demand caused by the shortage of candle supply from Myanmar. Candles from Myanmar have been dominating the local markets for quite a long time as there is less production of local made candles in the state. The pandemic has provided the right time for turning hobbies into passion and career and finally a livelihood for many people. As candle making business requires small investment within a small space, it is easy to start the business. In our state, many candlers have been mushrooming in every locality over the last six-seven months at home and work for self as full-time or part-time job.
Memma Ningthoujam, 55 years, from Keibul Lamjao Makha Leikai, Bishnupur district is one of the members of a Self-help group of Keibul Women Association who is engaged in making candles for the last three months. During the lockdown period Memma could not continue her previous job of selling vegetables and fish. She had to remain at home only. With a vision of finding an alternative means of livelihood she joined a training programme of candle making conducted at her locality for 15 days.
Raw materials and machines being provided by The Women Handloom and Cooperative Society, Thanga, the Self-help group started producing candles of different colours, sizes and designs. She works for two hours a day earning an amount of Rs. 450-500 a week without any investment. The group could produce 7-8 kgs of candles per day.
Before the pandemic, Memma could earn money the whole day but now she is engaged only for few hours a day. So her earning is low as compared to earlier earning. But at the same time she feels happy working together with her friends at her own locality without going to far off places without any investment.
Memma also expressed that she will continue making candles after the pandemic. On asking about the quality of the products, she said that their product is good, it lasts longer and the price is reasonable. She also appealed to the concerned authorities to supply more raw materials and machines. She wants the government to encourage and support local women entrepreneurs, particularly the small-scale manufacturing units of candle making.
Not only women are engaged in making candles, men too are involved in making candles in the state. Laishram Jayantakumar Singh from Kongba Kshetri Leikai, Imphal East, a teacher by profession, started making candles during the lockdown period. As all the academic institutions remained closed from the last week of March 2020, he remained at home without any earnings. Many ideas had come to his mind, but finally he decided to make candles as an alternative means of livelihood during the lockdown. Jayantakumar learned the skills of making candles from one of his brothers-in-law who is from Keishampat, through video calls. His whole family is involved in producing candles. He works for 7-8 hours a day and is able to produce 12 dozen candles a day.
He used social media for marketing his products and home delivery on demand. He sold his products at his home. Mainly his neighbors, relatives, friends and others came to buy the candles. During the months May to July the price of the candles was somewhat high due to the price hike and shortage of stock of raw materials in the market. But from the month of August, the price is lesser than before as many candle makers have come up in every locality. Consequently the selling capacity too fell, he added.
Now Jayantakumar is able to manage his family by making candles as he does not need other means during the pandemic. He also expressed that the local product is much better in quality than the Myanmar one with heavy wax and good quality composition. The local candles are in a good position to compete in the national market.
Candle business is emerging as a viable cottage industry
Another candle maker, Konthoujam Ongbi Anandabi Leima from Konthoujam Makha Leikai, expressed that for this coming diwali she is unable to supply as the demand is huge. She is working till midnight to meet the demands. She also said that the recent collapse of bridge and landslide along the National highways resulted in shortage in the supply of raw materials that come from neighboring states. And because of the limited number of local machines, she told she could not supply the demand. She has sold out more than one thousand dozens of candles for this diwali. She could earn a good profit for this festival of light.
Besides making candles Anandabi has been providing training to many women self-help groups in different localities of the state. Under the ‘Thawai Enterprise’ she had officially registered her manufacturing unit in the month of April 2020. With a motto to challenge the competition of candle products coming from Myanmar, she joined the training for one month of candle making organized by the National Small Industries Corporation Ltd, Imphal at Uripok Polem Leikai. She represented the training as one of the member of Nongchup Imphal Palem Ema Apunba Lup. Thawai Entreprise produces five varieties of candles in different sizes and designs of couple, rose, sunflower, X-mas tree etc. The products are available at Moirang bazaar, Thoubal and other local markets along with the home delivery service.
Anandabi appealed to the government to frame a comprehensive market policy to make uniformity in the price of any commodities including candles. She also wants the concerned authorities to look into the matter of high GST on wax imported from Guwahati. She further said that she wants to expand her enterprise so that she could contribute to the economy of the state to some extent, and at the same time empower some deprived women by providing jobs to them. “Let’s work hard and sincerely to promote our local products and compete in the market, beating the foreign products,” she added. She also requested all the sellers to promote local products by selling more local candles.
To make vocal for local and self-reliant Manipur, we need to encourage local products to become truly global by doing our part in buying and by vocally promoting the products. The pertinent question is how long they will continue their jobs of producing local candles, and whether they will carry on their jobs after the pandemic and post lockdown. But still there is doubt from the customers’ side on the quality of the products. It needs to satisfy the customers’ want for sustainability in the market. At the same time it is the right time to promote the small-scale manufacturing units and to make them alive. Providing proper skill development training on candle-making can boost up the local economy by providing self-employment by just working at home full-time or part-time within a small place with small investments. To make the small room business into a well-managed production, we need to light the minds of the people for promoting local products as a candle can defy the darkness.