Molela Terracotta is located within the state of Rajasthan, Molela is legendary for a singular sort of ceramics. Molela ”peasant potters” descend from a practice handed down, within families for over 5000 years and are today still satisfying a requirement for functional (water pots, cooking vessels etc.), decorative as well as religious ceramics.
A potter belongs to the many varieties of the Caste of Kumhar( potter) which in some cases have a close relationship with religious ceremonies. These products bring extremely charming visual narratives of their customs and lifestyle.
What is Terracotta?
Terracotta, a ceramic material that has been used for building construction and ornamental arts since past in cultures around the world; where Molela Terracotta is known mainly for its production of brightly painted molela terracotta plaques and figurines of the local deities and gods. Literally translating to ‘baked earth’, terracotta tiles is made from natural clay, which gives it a characteristic reddish-brown colour.
Clay Craft of Molela Terracotta
The Clay Craft of Molela Terracotta which has evolved over centuries has inherent charm in it on account of its individuality and to this day it attracts the tribal clients from far off places. ‘Pottery has been called lyric of handicraft…. But it’s the association of faith with this very humble object that has given it a deeper significance and wider dimension’ – asserts Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay.
Those who have seen the clay craft icons and plaques of deities and folk heroes produced by the kumhar potters of Molela Terracotta will readily accept as true with her statement. Moreover, these clay craft plaques, icons and animal images are mostly used as votive offerings/installation in local shrines. The origin of clay craft of molela terracotta itself is steeped in myth and divinity as the Kumar’s of this village believe that their clay craft is ‘’God-given’’. To substantiate that claim a story very often narrated by many of them is that of a blind potter of the bygone age.
The Spiritual Story
One day Dharma raj also called Dev Narayan (Vishnu) appeared in the blind potter’s dream and asked him to model his image on his ‘vahan’ – a horse, out of clay. When the blind potter woke up he was happy to know that he had regained his vision. Immediately he squatted on the floor and started making the ‘Murti’ of Dharmraj out of lump of clay, on the surface of a sheet of clay.
Thus two dimensional hollow clay relief plaque was born. These are variously called as terracotta tiles, panel or clay tablets. As a token of gratitude (for having regained his eye sight) the blind potter continued to produce the Dharmraj plaque, witch in due course evolved into his profession. That may perhaps be the reason as to why generation after generation the practice of producing wall plaques of Dharmaraj and other deities continues to thrive in Molela.
Even today kumhar potters young and old can be seen busying themselves, working with clay in the centre courtyard inside their houses. During ‘Maag’ month (January to February) every year, various tribal groups led by Bhopas (head priests) come as far as from Gujarat, for purchasing plaques of their favourite deities. Dharmraj plaques occupy centre stage in the most of the potters’ stock of terracotta tiles. The other figurines which enjoy a pride of place are the Ganesh and Devi.
Molela being a part of Mewar region which is well known for bravery and chivalry, there is little wonder that ‘Devi’ the symbol of valour, is worshipped in this region with great devotion and zeal. As Devi is manifested into many different forms, her image has been a popular subject to the craftsmen of Molela Terracotta. They call her as Mata. Plaques of Various Devis shown seated on their respective vahans, are lovely creation of superior craftsmanship. The most sought after Mata plaques by the tribal clients are Chamunda on the elephant, Kalika astride buffalo, Durga with the lion, etc.
There two sorts of clay – Nada, and Alu. Both the clays are mixed with each other along with 20% dried and sifted donkey dung. The clay is then wedged and kneaded by the feet and the hands respectively. This clay is then laid flat on the ground and evened out using water and wooden tools that work as a base to different sculptures.
The clay is beaten with a large wooden log and then the impurities and stones are removed. In order to make the clay suitable for modeling, donkey’s dung is mixed with sieved power clay in the ratio of 1:4. Water is added to this mixture and kneaded until the right consistency is obtained. The lump of wet clay is rolled out on a slab and evened out by pressing the sheet of clay using craftsman’s palm and a flat piece of wood. This wet sheet of clay is cut into a rectangle shape of the plaque to be made.
Corrugated board is employed as a stencil, to urge the specified shape and size of the plaque. This is the backdrop surface on which the image of the subject is built-up entirely by hands. Incarnations of Durga, Dashavataras, Shrinathji, scenes from Ramayana and everyday village life are some popular depictions in Molela Terracotta craft.
Various sections of the subject like face, limbs, etc., in crude form, are attached one after another with wet – soft clay. are created using a combination of basic clay craft work techniques – squeezing, pinching and coiling. These are then attached one after the opposite on the wet, soft base of clay. This prevents them from collapsing under their own weight. The process has to be halted at intervals to allow the clay to keep drying. When the figure gets a firm shape, ornaments, eyes and other details are added.
The finished clay plaque is allowed to dry for seven to nine days in shade / inside the house and for another two days in the open sun. The dried plaques are stacked up one by one carefully, in a kiln for firing. ‘Awara’, a circular open kiln, constructed from brick is one of the most convenient ways to fire the products in-house.
The work is loaded into the Bhatti on top of cow dung cakes and sealed with few layers of pottery shards. Fire is lit from openings at the bottom of the kiln. The firing temperature achieved is between 600 to 700 degrees centigrade. Firing lasts for 4 to 6 hours. Most people prefer to buy the molela terracotta plaques in their original and stunning red-brown and also the fired plaques are taken out of the kiln and painted in bright colors.
One of the pioneers of this Clay craft form, Mohanlal Chaturbuj Kumhar has been practicing and teaching ‘Murtikala’ to his family and other people in the village for decades. Both his sons, Dinesh and Rajendra, are actively involved in this craft. Mohanlal Ji has been awarded several prizes and national/ international recognition for his contribution to ceramic tiles of Rajasthan.
He also won the prestigious Padmashree award in 2012 says, “the hard work needed in the undergoing process and making of the Molela Terracotta Art is not up to the mark with regard to the current generation.” He also adds up mentioning, “this beautiful art is a legacy which was transferred to him by his elder generations. He engrossed himself into this very young. Living and seeing all the struggles and as Molela Terracotta being recognized in many foreign countries too, he requests the Government of India to help the Molela Terracotta Artists financially.
There is a scarcity of resources needed to carry the art to the future. This is a thought full of hardship. ” He says sorrowfully, “I definitely got an elevated recognition after I got Padmashri but unfortunately, I didn’t get any increased form of employment which I deserved. As artists, we pour our blood and sweat into what we do for the sake of culture through generations & it’s sad to watch it dying slowly.”