Changing colours of the earth
Terracotta has undergone a metamorphosis. From being functional, it is now decorative with craftsmen and artists moulding various objects. In the course of this development, the traditional potter's role too has undergone a change, writes ATIYA AMJAD.
FRAGILE AND formidable, terracotta, in Italian, means baked earth. But, in the Indian context, this ancient and basic form of creation existsnot merely in incredible forms, but is rooted in our myths and legacies. Kabir, the saint-poet, referred to God as the potter in his dohas (verses). And the most appealing and dramatic versions are supplemented by Hindu mythology. According to it, the first earthen pot was a gift from the gods. When the gods and demons were churning the ocean for nectar there was no vessel to collect the ambrosia. That is when Vishwakarma, the heavenly builder, picked up some earth and shaped it into a pot. The Hindi word kumhar (potter) is derived from kumbh, the water-pot. Another side of the story is when Lord Shiva was about to marry Parvathi, he realised he had forgotten the water pot integral for the ceremony. Therefore, he gave a part of his skin for clay to Prajapathi, the god of creativity, to make a pot. And Parvathi gave her blood to decorate the pot. That is when the first kumbh was created and Prajapathi became the first kumhar.
Moulded as functional objects, the decorative option of terracotta is often explored by the applicants. Ordinarily left unglazed, terracotta is made from fairly coarse, porous clay. When fired, it assumes a colour ranging from dull ochre to red and even black. Nearly five millennia later, chronicled by archaeological findings, the country is still rich in its terracotta traditions. Though modernisation has affected lifestyles, there is some semblance of this hand moulded art and craft form in our lives.
In the rural scenario, the potter is an inherent part of the village community. In fact, the entire village depends upon the potter to cater to their functional and ritualistic needs. In south India, the Velar potters of Madurai and Pudukkotai districts of Tamil Nadu, besides making images of deities, also perform priestly functions at one or more temples. Earthen elements are fundamental mediums of the village society: bricks to roof tiles, kitchen utensils to votive figurines are simply indispensable even today. Ravinder Sharma, an artist who runs Kala Ashram (Museum and Cultural Centre for Folk and Tribal art), in Adilabad, points out the acute stage of the potters. Says he: "The potter, like the weaver or the carpenter, has been relying upon the age-old barter system which rested upon interdependence. But the new economy has turned everything topsy-turvy." Citing the Madanapalle potters he points out, "when they were creating pottery for the village they were quite self-sufficient. But when they started catering to an outside market they are literally on roads." While you cruise across the roads of Banjara Hills or the traffic congestions near Erragadda, you can spot a medley of pottery sitting by the tar road soliciting buyers. Ornate urns to figurines and goblets come for a price starting from Rs. 10 to Rs. 1000. This is the plight of the Bankura potters from West Bengal who have temples of terracotta as their heritage. Those who do a bit better, grace the plush craft emporia.
Goan pottery at Kalanjali is tastefully displayed in various forms. Terracotta pedestals to decorative containers and vases come in the range of Rs. 2000 and some more. Miniature forms of Ganeshas and animals starting from Rs. 35 are ideal souvenirs. Then some sculptural forms can also be acquired from here. With artists, designers and architects adopting the medium to some extent, the situation of terracotta may appear somewhat brighter. K.B. Jinan, a terracotta designer and social activist, has trained potters in Aruvacode, Kerala. Jinan seeks a market for their amazing works. Of course, his own designs in the mould of vases and lamp bases are well favoured. Moving from craft and design, the artists of fine art as well realised some scope and found a direction by applying terracotta. As far as Indian artists are concerned, K.G. Subramanyan, is reckoned for his murals in terracotta. his student Laxma Goud explored his rustic imagery via this medium. Srinivas Reddy teaching sculpture at the JNT University, finds the medium extremely tactile and moulder friendly. But, "transporting terracotta from one place to the other, especially outside Hyderabad, defeats my purpose as there are chances of breakage and the collectors also seek durability." Tremendous archaeological findings, amazing votive figures, architectural creations, decorative craft, design ware and artistic perceptions have merely enriched the grain of terracotta. But, in all this where does it leave the potter community today?
Send this article to Friends by