Do you know the story behind a cracker?
Temple festivals or Diwali – celebrations without crackers look unpleasant and incomplete. Everyone loves to cheer the occasion with a cracker or flowerpot in his hand. Have you ever thought how a simple cracker is made? It may cost just 50 paise or 1 rupee to buy a cracker made of palm leaf. But do you know, it passes through at least 10 hands before reaching you? So, today let us hear the story behind a simple Diwali cracker.
A small note on the history of fireworks and crackers
Fireworks, born in China has traveled world-wide and reached over nation. All temple festivals end with fireworks marking the end of a long celebration of 5 or 10 days. It’s seen as an entertainment media, adding some crackers to shouts and fun of people. How many of you know, using fireworks at the end of celebrations is not only for fun, but also for making atmosphere clean. When crackers are exploded, it kills all germs of atmosphere after a long celebration of 10 days or more. That’s the reason why fireworks are mostly conducted at end of celebrations. Let us now leave all those factors and just concentrate on a simple ‘cracker’s’ story.
What are the main ingredients used for making a simple cracker?
Palm leaves to coat, a black thread to light and explosive powder inside. Though rare, it may be covered with colourful papers too. That’s why I told a simple cracker pass through at least 10 people – people who cut palm leaves to desired sizes, people who make that black thread and of course, the main item, preparation of powder. Let me say, it’s not normal gun powder that’s used as main ingredient. Instead it’s used in that black thread, that’s the reason why it’s black in colour. Now let me give a small narration in an interesting way.
Now palm leaves is most commonly used to coat the explosive medicine. It’s preferred most as it gives extra sound. Earlier pan palm (known as kudapana in Tamil and Malayalam) was used for this purpose. Coconut leaves were also used during early days. If so, they needed to be dried well before use. Though pan palm leaves are good, it takes extra time to cut them into desired sizes and shapes consuming a lot of time. So, nowadays everyone is using normal palm leaves.
According to the size of crackers, dried palm leaves are cut and made into different bundles and stored. For big crackers a leaf may be taken as whole without removing the middle stick. For making palm leaves soft, they may expose them to dew drops at night before making crackers. Palm leaves for crackers resemble a flat tail, with a head and pointed end.
Explosive powder is glittering and bright metallic colour as it contains Aluminum powder as an ingredient. Chemical to fill inside the palm leaf is a mixture of Aluminum powder 999, sulphur (yellow coloured) and potassium nitrate. All these ingredients are grinded together, mixed and filtered to get the powder used for crackers. They have correct measurements also.
Though explosive powder is the heart of a cracker, it needs a little gun powder to light it with safety. For every item of explosives, this black thread will be present so that a buyer can use it conveniently and in safe manner. For big explosives that thread will be slightly longer to provide more safety and time to keep away from that lighted cracker. Now let me tell you the secret behind this thread. It’s a lengthy and tedious process.
The thread is normal white cotton thread. 10th number thread is used for explosives, which is brought as huge bundles for use. Taking each bundle, a cut is made to make it a lengthy thread (they are available as chains in market). From those huge bundles small threads are made (that’s needed for crackers). Also, size of each thread differs according to the use. i.e. it differs in fireworks and normal Diwali cracker. Then it is mixed well with a paste of gun powder and rice starch. Gun powder is made of sulphur, char coal and potassium nitrate.
Earlier, wood of cashew tree was used in such firms for making char coal. Now, everything is got in instant packets. So, instead of wasting time behind cashew firewood and its powdering later, charcoal powder is bought from big firms.
So, a mixture of gun powder and rice starch is made and cotton threads are mixed in it. Gun powder should be uniquely applied in each and every thread bundles and later need to take one by one and hang somewhere to dry, which is really a tedious and time consuming process. It’s almost black in colour. Usually, such moist threads are hung on coir ropes in sunlight allowing them to dry well. When it’s almost done, one person need to work on each and every thread to remove its tangles. That’s why I have told it’s a tedious process. Then they are tied into bundles of 50 or 100 as desired. Again, it needed to be dried in sunlight for the next few days to make it ready for use.
Before use, each bundle of 50 or 100 threads are taken and cut into about 15 cm lengths. Next process is covering the black threads using coloured paper. It’s mainly done to categorize different crackers and easy differentiate them. So, each type of cracker will be assigned a unique colour or design paper. But the smallest cracker doesn’t have any such coloured threads.
Again those threads are bind, taking number and are cut according to desired lengths. For big crackers they are cut lengthy. For small crackers, short threads are sufficient. As threads are counted and bind together before use, crackers need not count later making it an easy process.
Now it’s the final process – making of a cracker
The worker keeps palm leaves on his left side, powder in his friend and short thread bundles on his right hand side. Usually he sits in ground while making a cracker.
At first he/she places a thread inside the flat edge of a palm leaf, makes a cone shape with his hand so that thread is fixed well and then fills it with a small leaf spoon according to desired measurement. For big crackers, it needs more medicine and sound of the cracker is directly proportional to the explosive used for filling.
Then he folds the palm leaf in triangular shape repeatedly so that the explosive is fully enclosed within. The explosive should not leak through its edges. If so, it reduces the quality of the cracker. At last he ties to make a knot. Later, he needs to cut the remaining tail to make it beautiful.
Then they are kept in sacks taking the number. Earlier, coloured papers were used to cover them to distinguish easily. But nowadays that process is rare. It gives a traditional look with a coloured thread tail.
What’s the secret behind chain crackers?
Crackers are available in two varieties – simple and as chains. Above process described is for a simple cracker. Now let me tell you how a chain cracker is made.
Whole process is same except that crackers are made a chain. Here, the excess tails of crackers are not cut and they are used for making chain on coir rope. For chain crackers also, particular number coir is needed. If it’s for fireworks, more medicine will be used inside the crackers and if it’s for homely and Diwali/Vishu purposes, medicine used will be negligibly small. If it’s for an inauguration or political meeting, it may be made powerful. So, amount of medicine added to it depends on its use and user desire.
For chain cracker also, the black thread (that I have mentioned above) is needed. But it’s used in lengthy form. One tip is covered but using newspaper and that end is used as the starting point of the chain, where it’s lightened later. One cracker’s head is place on that end, leaving a little thread and make a knot. Then its tail is wrapped covering the rope and thread two or three times and then next cracker is placed. Thus, the head is fixed and tail is used for wrapping the rope and thread together. The process continues to bind 100, 500 or 5000 crackers, according to person’s need.
So, it’s sure, thread will end somewhere in between. New thread will be joined at the ending point and the process is continued to make chain of crackers. In between small explosive rounded crackers are tied. Usually it’s done at the end after the completion of chain. Then they are made to bundles.
Now, let me tell you how those decorations, to enhance the beauty of crackers are made. The explosive used inside is same medicine used for cracker preparation, but in large quantity. Here also, measurement varies according to need. It’s known as atoms and atoms of fireworks make extreme noise while mild quantity is used for Diwali cracker chains. The explosive powder is placed inside some papers and wrapped well. Then it’s tied well using jute threads. Again, jute threads used to enclose this item also owns a special number. Before enclosing, a black thread folded into 4 is also placed inside. That black thread is also wrapped using a newspaper. For atom making, newspapers are normally used for wrapping. Depending on the paper we choose and the medicine added and also the amount of jute thread used, the characteristics of an atom differs. If more jute is used it gives good sound. Also, it’s to be tied tight to get good quality products, also sphere shapes.
So, it’s to be noted that paper bits act as catalysts in action, helping easy lighting of crackers. It’s applicable to each and very firework product. Then these atoms are tied at equal distance with the help of that newspaper wrapped thread. If more atoms are used it gives more sound effect and it solely depends on user requirements, how many atoms are to be added.
So, we have come to an end of this cracker story. Hoping you enjoyed it well. Many people often think that crackers are dangers and that they cause noise and air pollution. Yet, many people are there who see it with an artistic mind and lovely creativity. Many do like to play with colours, sound and crackers.
After all, what’s a celebration or moment of cheer without fun and sound! So, cracker is not just a piece of entertainment, it includes a lot of art and people’s effort as well. So, when you light a cracker for your next Diwali, do think about those workers who do all these work manually accepting all risks of this field, yet want to see cheers on your faces. Thanking you in advance.
N.B: Though I know the exact combination and composition of products used for cracker making, I purposefully excluded those matters for security reasons. Just I want to give you a brief story of cracker production, nothing else.
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