Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Ancient Terracotta Art Finding Its way in Modern India

Ancient Terracotta Art Finding Its way in Modern India

In fine art, the word Terracotta ("baked earth") is most commonly used to describe a type of sculpture, un-glazed ceramic art, or decorative architecture, made from a coarse, porous clay, which is noted for its versatility, cheapness and durability. Terracotta was widely used in ancient art, notably in Chinese Pottery (from 10,000 BCE) and in Greek Pottery (from 7,000 BCE), as well as Mesopotamian sculpture and Egyptian sculpture, plus Minoan art from Crete, and Etruscan art on the Italian mainland. Terracotta statues were prevalent in Greek architecture - notably for temple decoration - while terracotta reliefs were a common feature of Roman architecture. The art of terracotta was revived during the Italian Renaissance, and underwent a further revival during the 19th century.

Old plaque of a tribal deity
Terracotta Art in India has been flourishing since the times of Indus Valley Civilization. Terracotta Art in India is another form of clay art of the country generally brownish orange in color. Various excavations at  Mohenjodaro and Harappa have unearthed several terracotta items in the form of various figures and figurines. Terracotta figures also have a ritualistic aspect associated with it. This becomes evident from the fact that many terracotta figures of deities are used in a number of auspicious occasions. In fact terracotta art in India is considered mystical because it incorporates within the five vital elements like air, fire, earth, water and ether. 

Molela, a village near Udaipur, Rajasthan has given a new meaning to this ancient art, and artisans in this village are keeping the tradition alive. The distinction here lies in the terracotta plaques made here, only here all over India. Made as a flat surface, unlike the usual idols made elsewhere, this craft is unique in design. The Maru potters of Molela near Udaipur in Rajasthan, are famous for their terracotta plaques depicting votive images. Produced mainly for their tribal customers, these are given for the shrines of their tribal gods. The Bhil tribals are the main customers of the potters, travelling hundreds of kilometers from the borders of Madhya Pradesh to purchase these plaques. 

Large TerraCotta  Design outside Udaipur city railway station
Simple hand forming techniques are involved in making these plaques. The clay is dug locally. It is mixed with donkey manure, roughly in a one is to four ratio; this is done to give the clay pliability. A slab is made with the distinctive dome-shaped top; the edges are raised to form the rim of the slab. The figures are formed with the fingers and must be hollow, so they do not burst in the kiln. These figures are completed by adding accessories like jewellery on them, made of tiny balls of clay. The plaques are dried for nine days. The firing is done in a temporary kiln.

Padma Shri Mohan Lal Kumhar With President Pratibha Patil
Recently these potters have also been noticed by architects and decorators and have gained much prominence. Their art and craft is being used to decorate the walls of urban Indian homes, farmhouses and corporate offices. This exposure has also helped them to interact with the Western market and they have demonstrated their production techniques in America, Europe and Japan. The demand has also had an effect on the style of their work. The potters often make larger plaques and instead of the traditional images they often depict local scenes of everyday life. 
This new social prominence has helped the Molela potters to raise their own living standards. More potters are being attracted to go back to their roots due to improved economic conditions. The Government of India has also recognized their talent and awarded Master Craftsmen status to some of the potters. Some of the potters are awarded with prestigious padma awards.

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