Sivakasi town's (TN) famous match box industries and their iconography are on the decline for sometime

 Decades ago, it was rare to find ordinary workers across India who didn't smoke either cigarettes or local beedis. Their prized possession was a matchbox. Striking up a conversation often began with borrowing a match to light a beedi or cigarette. Thousands of small, petty shops lined the streets of many towns, always stocked with matchboxes from famous brands to meet the needs of tobacco smokers, temple priests, and others who needed matches to light lamps in temples. Similarly, bundles of matchboxes could be found in the puja (prayer) rooms of households across India; Christian churches and homes were no exception. During the Deepavali festival, Sivakasi becomes synonymous with all kinds of innovative firecrackers.

Famous Cheetah fight match box, India, 

Match box, India

Sivakasi, a town in Tamil Nadu, India, has long been renowned for its thriving industrial economy, which centers on three primary sectors: firecrackers, matchbox and label manufacturing, and printing. This town's contributions to these industries are vast and significant, influencing the lives of millions across India and beyond. Here’s an in-depth look at the meticulous process of matchbox production in Sivakasi and the cultural significance of its labels.

Matchbox production in Sivakasi is a labor-intensive process primarily undertaken by skilled workers, most of whom are women. These workers dedicate their time to attaching printed labels to matchboxes, a task that requires precision and care due to the inflammable nature of the materials involved. Here's a breakdown of the process

Materials Used: The labels are affixed using tapioca paste, a traditional adhesive.Daily Output: Each worker typically attaches labels to around 9,000 matchboxes per shift.Despite the volume of work, the earnings are modest, around Rs112 or slightly more per 

The production process involves handling chemicals that are both dangerous and highly flammable, necessitating extra precautions to prevent fire mishaps   The labels on Sivakasi matchboxes are more than mere branding tools; they are pieces of art and culture. The designs are vibrant and diverse, often depicting historical and cultural themes. The Ayya Nadar Group, founded in 1921, is one of the oldest companies producing these matchboxes, with labels featuring iconic designs like a pink camel against a desert backdrop.

Sivakasi matchbox labels have garnered interest from collectors and cataloguers around the world, highlighting their cultural and artistic value. Notable collectors include: Matt Lee: A British artist whose collection includes eclectic designs such as James Bond with a German Shepherd, Bollywood actress Juhi Chawla, and the Microsoft Windows logo. Gautam Hemmady: A New Delhi-based collector with over 15,000 labels, including historic pieces featuring Subhas Chandra Bose and those inspired by Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings.

One significant concern among collectors is the proliferation of fake labels. Authentic old labels have become rare, and the market for these collectibles is wary of counterfeits, which can diminish the value of genuine pieces.

Sivakasi's matchbox labels not only have a local impact by providing employment but also enjoy global acclaim. The intricate designs and the history they encapsulate make them valuable to collectors worldwide. The industry’s local labor-intensive process and international recognition underscore Sivakasi's vital role in both the economy and cultural heritage.


matchbox labels,

Sivakasi, TN match boxes

Dedicated to Indian art Match boxes

  Here’s a detailed breakdown of each industry and associated issues:

Economic Contribution


Number of Companies: Approximately 1,070 registered firecracker manufacturing companies.

Employment: Direct and indirect employment for about 800,000 people.

Turnover: Some private enterprises achieve an annual turnover of ₹5 billion (US$60 million).

National Significance: Around 70% of India's firecrackers are produced in Sivakasi.

Raw Material Sources: Kerala and Andaman.

02.Matchbox Manufacturing:

Number of Factories: 53 registered match factories.

Production Share: Sivakasi produces approximately 70% of India’s matches.


Number of Industries: 520 registered printing industries.

Specialization: Significant production of diaries, contributing to 30% of India’s total diary production.

Evolution: Originally focused on firecracker labels, the industry now employs modern machinerChallenges

04.Power Shortage and Labor Costs:  all industries faced a 15–20% production loss in 2012 due to power shortages and rising labor costs.

05. Child Labour:

Peak Period: 1970s and 1980s, particularly in matchbox factories. Child labour in the industries, especially in matchbox making factories, was at its peak during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1981, the child workforce in the age group 4–16 was 30% of the total workforce, 90% of whom were girls. In 1986, the National Child Labor project estimated child labor in Sivakasi matchbox making industries to be  a huge number 

The Supreme Court of India, in a judgement, ruled in December 1996 indicating provisions for preventing child labour like compensation for the child employed, employment to the adult members of the family and contribution to the corpus fund by the state government.[73] From the establishment of child labour Act in 1986 till 2011, 150,000 inspections on child labour have been conducted in the factories, 1,500 cases have been registered and few prosecutions have been made

    • In the past two  decades or more many matchbox industries in  Sivakasi face decline due to  lack of demand  with the arrival of a variety of  electric cooking ranges, gas and cigarette lighters on the market and labor shortage apart. Many owners downsize their operations and gotten into other business ventures like cardboard box making, superior printing and textile industries, using latest  machinery. Some companies have moved over to near by Kovilpatti and Sattur and focus on export to African and south American countries