Sivakasi was established in the 15th century during the reign of the Pandya king Harikesari Parakkirama Pandian. The town was a part of Madurai empire and has been ruled at various times by the Later Pandyas, Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Chanda Sahib, Carnatic kingdom and the British. A major riot during the British Raj took place in 1899.
Sivakasi has a dry weather, making it suitable for dry crops like cotton, chillies and millets. Badhrkali Amman temple is one of the most prominent landmarks of the town. Sivakasi is a part of Sivakasi constituency and elects its member of legislative assembly every five years, and a part of the Virudhunagar constituency that elects its member of parliament. Sivakasi is locally administered by a special-grade municipality which covers an area of 6.8 km2 (2.6 sq mi). Roadways is the major mode of transport to the town, while there is also railroad connectivity. In 2011, Sivakasi had a population of 71,040.
Sivakasi was established during the early 15th century CE. Between 1428 and 1460, a Pandya king Harikesari Parakkirama Pandian ruled the southern part of Madurai region (comprising modern day Sivakasi and it surroundings). As per Hindu legend, he wanted to construct a temple for Hindu god Shiva at Tenkasi and went to Kasi to bring a lingam (an iconic representation of Shiva). While returning to his palace with the prized lingam, he rested under the grove of a vilva tree, the favourite tree of Shiva. When a cow carrying the lingam refused to move from the point, the king realised that the wishes of Shiva were different from his own, and he placed the lingam in the place where the cow halted. The place where the "shivalingam brought from Kasi" was installed came to be known as Sivakasi. Sivakasi was a part of Madurai region during the 16th century. Madurai became independent from Vijayanagar Empire in 1559 under the Nayaks. Nayak rule ended in 1736 and Madurai was repeatedly captured several times by Chanda Sahib (1740 – 1754), Arcot Nawab and Muhammed Yusuf Khan (1725 – 1764) in the middle of 18th century. In 1801, Madurai came under the direct control of the British East India Company and was annexed to the Madras Presidency.
During the 1800s, Nadars, then aspiring business community, established their commercial base in the town. By the end of the 19th century, the Nadars’ rapid rise as a business community and pursuit for higher social status caused resentment in higher castes. The mutual confrontation between the Maravars and Nadars reached its peak in 1899, leading to a series of riots which became to be known as the Sivakasi riots. A total of 22 people were killed, as many as 800 houses and Big chariot in center of the city(used by temple during festival) were burnt during the riots. Eventually the riots came to an end after the intervention of the military in mid-July 1899.
The Sivakasi municipality was established in 1920. After India's independence from the British in 1947, Sivakasi continued to be a municipality under the Madras state and later a part of Tamil Nadu, when the state was split on linguistic lines during 1953, 1956 and 1960 and renamed in 1968. It was promoted to a second-grade municipality in 1978, first-grade in 1978, selection-grade in 1998 and special-grade in 2013. a Over the decades after independence, Sivakasi grew as an industrial town specialising in firecracker, match and printing industries. Several incidents of fire and blasts have occurred in the firework factories.
Sivakasi is located at 9.45°N 77.8167°E / 9.45; 77.8167 and has an average elevation of 101 metres (331 feet). The town is located in Virudhunagar district of the South Indian state, Tamil Nadu, at a distance of 74 km (46 mi) from Madurai. Sivakasi is located to the east of Western Ghats and to the west of Sattur. The topography is almost plain, with no major geological formation. There are no notable mineral resources available in and around the town. The soil types are black and red that are conducive for cotton, chillies and millets. These crops are predominant because of poor ground water supply and soil type. Sivakasi experiences hot and dry weather throughout the year. The temperature ranges from a maximum of 39 °C (102 °F) to a minimum of 23 °C (73 °F). Like the rest of the state, April to June are the hottest months and December to January are the coldest. Sivakasi receives scanty rainfall with an average of 812 mm (32.0 in) annually, which is lesser than the state average of 1,008 mm (39.7 in). The South west monsoon, with an onset in June and lasting up to August, brings scanty rainfall. Bulk of the rainfall is received during the North East monsoon in the months of October, November and December. The average humidity of the town is 76.2% and varies between 65.6% to 79.2%. The municipality covers an area of 6.8 km2 (6,800,000 m2)
According to 2011 census, Sivakasi had a population of 71,040 with a sex-ratio of 1,009 females for every 1,000 males, much above the national average of 929. A total of 6,963 were under the age of six, constituting 3,474 males and 3,489 females. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes accounted for 8.35% and .25% of the population respectively. The average literacy of the town was 79.62%, compared to the national average of 72.99%. The town had a total of 18952 households. There were a total of 29,342 workers, comprising 22 cultivators, 135 main agricultural labourers, 955 in house hold industries, 27,662 other workers, 568 marginal workers, 6 marginal cultivators, 3 marginal agricultural labourers, 79 marginal workers in household industries and 480 other marginal workers.
As per the religious census of 2011, Sivakasi had 85.42% Hindus, 9.21% Muslims, 5.2% Christians, 0.01% Sikhs, 0.06% Jains, 0.08% following other religions and 0.01% following no religion or did not indicate any religious preference.
In 2001, 16 slums were identified in the town and a total of 34,029 people resided in the slums. The slum population increased from 42% to 47% during the period of 1991–2001. The high decadal growth of population during the 1961–71 period is attributed to the high level of industrialisation during the period. The density of population increased from 9,646 persons per km2 in 1991 to 10,613 persons per km2 in 2001. The wards along the Virudhunagar, Sattur, Srivilliputhur and Vembakottai corridors have registered increased commercial and residential activity.
Majority of the residents are engaged in secondary sector involving match works, fireworks and printing industry. During the 2001 census, the occupational pattern indicated increasing presence of the tertiary sector. The agricultural output of the town is limited, due to the lack of favourable geographical and climatic conditions.
The Sivakasi municipality has 33 wards and there is an elected councillor for each of those wards. The functions of the municipality are devolved into six departments: general administration/personnel, Engineering, Revenue, Public Health, city planning and Information Technology (IT). All these departments are under the control of a Municipal Commissioner who is the executive head. The legislative powers are vested in a body of 33 members, one each from the 33 wards. The legislative body is headed by an elected Chairperson assisted by a Deputy Chairperson.
Sivakasi comes under the Sivakasi assembly constituency and it elects a member to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly once every five years. From the 1977 elections, All India Anna Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) won the assembly seat four times (in 1980, 1984,1991, and 2011 elections); Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) twice (1996, 2001). The seat was won once by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK, 1989), Janata Party (1977), and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK, 2006). The current MLA of the constituency is K.T. Rajenthra Bhalaji from AIADMK.
During the 1957 elections, Sivakasi was a part of Srivilliputhur constituency and was held by the Indian National Congress and an independent after the by-elections. During the 1962 elections, the town was a part of Aruppukkottai constituency and was held by the Forward Block party. Since 1967, the town has been a part of Virudhunagar Lok sabha constituency; the constituency was won by AIADMK five times (1980, 1984, 1989, 1991 and 2014), MDMK three times (1998, 1999 and 2004), and once each by Swathanthara Party (1967), DMK (1971), INC (1977), and Communist Party of India (CPI, 1996). The current Member of Parliament from the constituency is T. Radhakrishnan from the AIADMK.
Law and order in the town in maintained by the Sivakasi sub division of the Tamil Nadu Police headed by a Deputy Superintendent. There are three police stations in the town, one of them being an all-women police station. There are special units like prohibition enforcement, district crime, social justice and human rights, district crime records and special branch that operate at the district level police division headed by a Superintendent of Police.
In 2011, there were five government schools: two primary schools, one middle school, one high school and one higher secondary school. There were ten other private schools within the town. There were two engineering colleges in the town, with the Mepco Schlenk Engineering College being the prominent among them. There were three arts and science colleges and three polytechnic colleges in the town.
Electricity supply to Sivakasi is regulated and distributed by the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB). The town along with its suburbs forms the Sivakasi Electricity Distribution Circle. A Chief Distribution engineer is stationed at the regional headquarters. Water supply is provided by the Sivakasi Municipality from the Vaippar river through eight reservoirs and six feeders located in various parts of the town. In the period 2000–2001, a total of 6.5 million litres of water was supplied everyday for households in the town.
As per the municipal data for 2011, about 45 metric tonnes of solid waste were collected from Sivakasi every day by door-to-door collection and subsequently the source segregation and dumping was carried out by the sanitary department of the Sivakasi municipality. The coverage of solid waste management in the town by the municipality had an efficiency of 100% in 2001. There is no underground drainage system in the town and the sewerage system for disposal of sullage is through septic tanks, open drains and public conveniences. The municipality maintained a total of 85.87 km (53.36 mi) of storm water drains in 2011. In 2011, there was one government hospital, three municipal health centres, one municipal maternity home and 25 private hospitals and clinics that take care of the health care needs of the citizens. In 2011, the municipality maintained a total of 2,584 street lamps: 322 sodium lamps, 125 mercury vapour lamps, 2,136 tube lights and one high mast beam lamp. The municipality operates two markets, namely the Anna Daily Market and Viswanatham Municipal Meat Market that cater to the needs of the town and the rural areas around it.
The economy of Sivakasi is dependent on three major industries: fire crackers, match manufacturing and printing. The town has 520 registered printing industries, 53 match factories, 32 chemical factories, seven soda factories, four flour mills and two rice and oil mills. The town is the nodal center for firecracker manufacturing at the national level. In 2011, the industry employed over 25,000 people and some of the private enterprises had an annual turnover of ₹5 billion (US$78 million). In 2011, the combined estimated turnover of the firecracker, match making and printing industry in the town was around ₹20 billion (US$310 million). Approximately 70% of the firecrackers and matches produced in India are from Sivakasi. The hot and dry climate of the town is conducive for the firecracker and match making industries. The raw materials for these industries were procured from Sattur earlier, but was discontinued due to the high power and production cost. The source of raw materials is Kerala and Andaman. The paper for the printing industry is procured from various states. The town is a major producer of diaries, contributing to 30% of the total diaries produced in India. Printing industry in the town was initially utilized for printing labels for the firecrackers and later evolved with modern machinery to grow as a printing hub. In 2012, all the industries suffered 15–20% production loss due to power shortage and escalating labor cost.
The major issues in the fireworks industry in Sivakasi is child labour and frequent accidents. In a blast in 1991 in a factory, 39 people were killed and 65 others were injured. In July 2009, more than 40 people were killed in a fire accident in a firecracker unit. The police traced out unregistered units and irregularities that led to the accident. In a fire accident in August 2011, seven people were killed and five were seriously injured. A similar fire accident and blast in a private unit in September 2012 killed 40 people and injured 38 others. The common reasons cited for the accidents are inadequate training of workers and supervisors involved in different stages of production and marketing of firecracker items. Other reasons are found to be overstocking of explosives, raw material and finished goods, and employment of workers in excess of the permitted strength.
Child labour in the industries, especially in match making factories, was at its peak during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1981, the child work force in the age group 4–16 was 30% of the total work force, 90% of whom were girls. In 1986, the National Child Labour project estimated child labour in Sivaksi match making industries to be 14,121 children. The estimates indicated 80% of the child labour belonging to Scheduled Castes (SC), who were margianlised for centuries for cheap labour. Poverty and lack of farm produce were stated as the main reason for child labour. The employers also preferred children because of ease in management, discipline and lack of labour unions. The children in these industries suffered from back ache, neck ache, tuberclosis, malnutrition, gastointestinal disorders, dermatitis, respiratory disorders, over-exhaustion, burn injuries and water borne diseases due to exposure to harmful chemicals in the work environment. The situation of the child labour came to light during an accident of a bus transporting the children in 1976. The central government appointed a one-man committee under Harbans Singh in 1978, who reported abolishing child labour would seriously impact the economy of the region. The National Policy on child labour was formulated by the central government in August 1987, aiming at the rehabilitation of children withdrawn from these factories. In 1988, the union labour ministry initiated a programme for providing informal education, free health care and free lunch for children working in the factories. The Supreme Court of India, in a judgement ruled on 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. 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. The results indicated small amount of child labour in cottage and house hold industries.
The Sivakasi municipality maintains 65.151 km (40.483 mi) of road. The town has 13.035 km (8.100 mi) concrete road and 52.116 km (32.383 mi) bituminous road. A total of 2.5 km (1.6 mi) of state highways is maintained by the State Highways Department. Four major roads connect the town with Sattur, Virudhunagar, Srivilliputhur and Vembakottai; there are no bypass roads around the town. There are eight major intersections located across different parts in these major roads.
Sivakasi is served by town bus service, which provides connectivity within the town and the suburbs. Minibus service operated by private companies cater to the local transport needs. The town bus routes to surrounding villages are to Puliparaipatti, Thayilpatti, Madathupatti Vilampatti, Alangulam, Vilampatti, Alangulam, M.Pudupatti, Alamarathupatti,Sengamalapatti, Muthalipatti and Meenampatti. The main bus stand covers an area of 1.39 acres (5,600 m2) and is located in the heart of the town. The Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation operates daily services connecting various cities to Sivakasi. The State Express Transport Corporation operates long distance buses connecting the town to important cities like Chennai, Tiruppur and Thoothukudi. The major inter city bus routes from the town are to cities like Madurai, Chennai, Erode, Karur, Coimbatore, Karaikudi, Dindigul, Trichy, Ramanathapuram, Thanjavur, Sankarankovil, Sengottai, Rajapalayam, Tenkasi, Kovilpatti, Thoothukudi, Tiruchendur, Nagercoil and Tirunelveli. Being an industrial town, there is significant truck transport with around 400–450 trucks entering the town for loading and unloading activities daily. Three wheelers, called autos are also a common public transport system.
Sivakasi railway station is located in the rail head from Madurai to Sengottai. It connects Tamil Nadu with Kerala through Rajapalayam and Sengottai. The Podhigai Express connects Sivakasi to Sengottai and Chennai Egmore in either directions. All other express trains ply from Virudunagar station. There are also passenger trains running either side from Madurai to Shencottah.
Badhrakali Amman temple is the most prominent landmark of Sivakasi. The tower or Rajagopuram of this temple has a breadth of 66 ft (20 m), width of 44 ft (13 m) and a height of 110 ft (34 m). "Panguni Pongal" and "Chithirai Pongal" are the annual festivals celebrated for the deities Mariamman and Badrakali Amman in April and May respectively, both of which are celebrated for ten days.
Thiruthangal, located in the Virudhunagar-Sivakasi road has the Nindra Narayana Perumal Temple, a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu on the hillock, attracting lot of pilgrims. Ayyanar Falls located on the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats is a popular picnic spot for the residents of Sivakasi. The Venkatachalapathy temple located 25 km (16 mi) away from the town attracts pilgrims from southern Tamil Nadu. Periya Palli Vasal mosque and Chinna Palli Vasal mosque are two of the most prominent mosques in the town. The CSI Regland Memorial Church is the most prominent church in the town.
AJ Indoor Stadium on Velayutham Road, a coaching center for badminton, table tennis and basketball. This is a major sporting venue in Sivakasi. Many district, state and national level badminton championship matches are held in this stadium.