Are grinding stones forgotten today?
Unlike in the past, housewives of the present day hardly use grinding
stones or mortars and pestles to grind and pound spices. They now use
electric blenders to crush or grind spice such as pepper, cardamoms,
chillies, garlic or fennel seed. Some however use grinding stones during
As we know in Sri Lanka spices should be added to curries to get the
real flavour. Spices should be crushed and ground before they are added
to a curry, to get the real flavour.
Before the advent of electric blenders in the market from foreign
countries, Sri Lankans used mortars, pestles and grinding stones to
crush spice. These utensils were manufactured from large granite
Granite boulders are in plenty in some areas such as Bulathsinhala,
Uggalboda, Gallassa, Baddegama, Elpitiya, Mathugama, Mahiyangana and
Badulla. People in the country have been using grinding stones and
mortars from the time of the Veddahs 2000 years ago.
Woman at work
The Veddahs depended on granite. They used granite stones not only to
construct houses, but also to make weapons. They also made crude mortars
and grinding stones to crush spice.
One can say that only a handful of people in the country are now
engaged in the grinding stone manufacturing industry, but there is no
truth to this.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Small Industries, over
300 families are still engaged in the grinding stones and mortars
manufacturing industry. They are mostly living down South.
Although mortars and grinding stones are hardly used by people
nowadays. These two utensils could still be found in kitchens of even
modern houses. Some household preserve their aged-old grinding stones as
The Sunday Observer last week visited Meemaduma rural village in
Baddegama to meet several families whose livelihood is manufacturing
grinding stones and mortars.
According to an elderly villager N.B. Ratnasena of Meemaduma over 30
families are presently engaged in the grinding stones and mortars
He said unlike many other industries, this is a difficult and
painstaking industry and people are injured often because of moulding
"Manufacturing grinding stones is not a dying industry. I have been
manufacturing grinding stones and mortars for the past 25 years and I
learned the art from my father and also from my grandfather. I remember
my grandfather saying that he learned the art of manufacturing grinding
stones from his great grand father 200 years ago,".
He said in addition to mortars and grinding stones, manufacturers are
producing Pinthalis (water cans), Tose gal mortars, beetle crushers,
herbal medicine grinding stones and floor tiles.
He said there is a demand for mortars and grinding stones from
tourist hotels from Colombo and outstations as these aged-old kitchen
utensils are kept inside hotels to add glamour and beauty.
A grindstone manufacturer, Opatha Kankanamge Dharshana said he use
his own tools to cut granite boulders and make mortars.
"The weather is important to cut and polish granite boulders and
people who are engaged in the industry could manufacture about 20
mortars a month if bright weather permits.
He said using of blenders has affected the development of the
industry to an extent.
"Before the arrival of electric blenders to the market about 30 years
ago, we had brisk business and there was a demand for mortars and
A father of two sons, 45- year old, D.W. Nimal of Gallessa said he
manufactures about 15 to 20 grinding stones and mortars every month and
earns about Rs. 45,000.
He said in addition, he manufactures pinthalis, beetle crushing
mortars and also garden tiles.
He said there are varieties of granite and only the black variety is
used to manufacture mortars and grinding stones.
"The price of mortars and grinding stones range from Rs. 1000 to Rs.
Nimal said if the Government helps manufacturers financially through
a bank, the industry could be developed, unless industrialists have to
give up this traditional industry.
He also said a scheme should be implemented to register manufacturers
with area Divisional Secretariats, so that they could obtain Bank loans
to develop the industry.
"In addition, there is a safety for persons involved in the
A long standing women grinding stone manufacturer B.A Haramanis said
an insurance scheme should be implemented by the authorities for the
benefit of over 1000 people who depend on this industry.
He said that the majority of manufacturers do not have a sound
financial background even to buy tools, used to break granite boulders.
He proposed the Government to appoint a team of officials to look the
grievances of persons involved in this industry as the Government does
in the case of other industrialists.
He also said he has been in the industry for the last 20 years and
not a single politician has ever visited them and inquired after their
He proposed Government officials, including parliamentarians to visit
their factories and discuss their problems. A long-standing woman
monument manufacturer, 65-year old S.P. Gunawathi of Uggalboda said her
late husband was a famous monument manufacturer in the area and the
burden fell on her after his death.
" I cannot make monuments, but I could manufacture only grinding
stones. I produce about 12 grinding stones a month and earn a monthly of
She said over 20 families in her area Meemaduma are engaged in the
industry for the past 80 years, but all these families are oor and no
one gets a steady income.
"As there is no steady income, these families lead pathetic lives.
The authorities should register all industrialists in the village, that
manufacture mortars, grinding stones and monuments to enable us to
obtain bank loans to develop our industries,".
She also said she and three other people in her village received
certificates and cash awards from President Mahinda Rajapaksa at a
ceremony, conducted by the Southern Province Handicraft Association in
She requested officials to invite President Mahinda Rajapaksa to her
village Meemeduma to see the situation of grindstones and mortar
A grind stone manufacturer, 43- year old, Saman Kumara of Neboda
calledupon hoteliers to buy grindstones, mortars, Sandakada pahana,
floor and garden tiles direct from manufacturers without buying them
from middlemen, so that they could get good money and earn a sufficient