Auro Dhanam was started by S. Balamurugan (fondly called Bala) in 2001 in Pondicherry, a former French colony in South India. Auro Dhanam specializes in making incense sticks and candles by hand. Four women artisans are involved in the incense making process and another group of 5 men and women make candles.
Bala is a first generation producer of incense sticks and candles. In 1996, he got a job at Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, an institution involved with charity work including providing free medical facilities. One of their income generating ventures was selling handmade incense sticks and candles and it is here that Bala was introduced to the craft. By 2001, Bala had not only learned and mastered incense and candle making but he had also picked up accounting and packaging skills and thought himself ready to branch out on his own.
At the time of starting his own business, Bala was only earning Rs 750 (approximately $14) a month working at the ashram. Although he had saved up Rs 10,000 (approximately $185) to get started, he couldn't obtain a bank loan for more funds. His sister, Dhanam stepped in to help. Her steady job in the field of medicine allowed her to borrow from the bank and help her brother set up his business. To show his gratitude to Dhanam as well as to Aurobindo Ashram for getting him started, Bala named his business ‘Auro Dhanam’.
At Auro Dhanam, both the candles and the incense sticks are made by hand. In the case of the incense sticks, charcoal and sandalwood powde are made into a paste and hand rolled onto bamboo sticks. The sticks are dried for a day and then dipped in essential oils to give them a fragrance like rose, jasmine, sandal, vanilla or lavender. Candles are made of paraffin wax which is melted and mixed with essential oils and poured into candle molds to give them different shapes. Once dry, the molds are removed the candles are transferred into terracota bases of different sizes. Finally, natural dried leaves and flowers are pasted on to the candles to give them an aesthetic appeal.
Today, Bala is encouraged by the growth of his business. He has been able to successfully organize his own exhibitions with the help of government grants. He is now married and has 2 daughters, aged 5 and 3. His wife helps him run the business and is an active participant in the candle and incense making process as well. Although he faces competition from other candle makers in the Pondicherry area, Bala’s entrepreneurial spirit has earned him clients all over India and in Thailand as well. His initiative and hard work promise to bring him continued success in the future.