Terracotta Craft

With the beginning of the universe, the soil or earth, in its different forms, has been a constant companion of human beings and the association has given rise to several creative experimentations. As human beings graduated towards settled way of life, they invented indigenous wheels as aid to their creative endeavor. With the assistance of such wheels, a variety of earthen shapes began to be formed by placing clay loops on wheel. Thus developed the clay art.

The beginning of the art of making figurines in clay in the Indian sub-continent in proto-historic period was mainly confined to the western parts. The clay-tradition was prevalent even before Vedic era in Bihar. But, we can weave out an authentic story of the Terracotta tradition in Bihar since Mauryas. The animal figurines, especially horses, preliminarily hand-modeled, were the recurrent theme of Terracotta tradition in Bihar. The British scholar J. Stephenson noticed the ruined site of Vaishali in 1834 for the first time and the terracotta figurines unearthed from the site validates the history of terracotta craft since early prehistoric age in Bihar. It continued in the reign of Mauryan Empire, Gupta dynasty and even in Pal and Shung age. However, our archaeological sourcing of terracotta in Bihar goes to Vaishali and locations around Magadh region majorly. The findings from Vaishali include earthen coins, toys and broken pots like dripping pan.

The excavated relics demarcate the culture of republic of Vaishali time and the terracotta figurines unearthed from the site validates the history of terracotta craft since early prehistoric age in Bihar. It continued in the reign of Mauryan Empire, Gupta dynasty and even in Pal and Shung age. However, our archaeological sourcing of terracotta in Bihar goes to Vaishali and locations around Magadh region majorly. The findings from Vaishali include earthen coins, toys and broken pots like dripping pan.

The excavated relics demarcate the culture of republic of Vaishali Sonepur and Kumharar. Heavy dresses and statutes adorned with ornaments match the stone crafts of Bodhgaya. With the passage of time, two moulds began to be used in terracotta to provide three-dimensional effect. Gradually, a mixture of mica began to be used to resist any crack while making the idols.

With the dawn of golden Gupta age, a new pattern of baking the earthen idols on definite temperature emerged. Later, the idols began to be given different colours by varying the degree of temperature changing process. At times, the idols were painted too to add different colours. A large number of earthen idols of Gupta regime have been discovered from 'Chirand' of Saran District. All idols bear the hallmark characteristics of this age – big head with hollow body.

Type wise, four distinct terracotta traditions emerged in Bihar: Sacred idols for prayers and worship, ornamented idols, toys-type idols and pottery. Sacred idols -for the purpose of Pooja (worshipping)- were made mostly by hands, in which the countenance was shaped with wet soil. Such idols are made on the occasion of religious festivals like Durga Puja, Kali Pooja and Saraswati Puja till date. After the rituals, these idols are immersed in the pond and rivers.

The traditions of making ornamented idols include tradition of adorning public places like temples. In this category, the scenes of Ramayana, Mahabharata Puranas etc. are engraved from rectangular and circular molds and are placed on the walls. Toys-type idols fall in the third category of terracotta tradition in Bihar to include animals like elephant, horse, humans, birds, gods and goddesses. The most important and useful of terracotta tradition is pottery or ceramic craft. With multiples of varieties in its shape, large pots for storing grains, plates, bowls, pitchers, lamps, kulhars etc. constitute this category. These potteries have beautiful carvings for decoration.
Art of making terracotta idol is an arduous job. The procedure commences with collecting a specific type of soft and dry soil, and then it is mingled with cotton, paddy's husk and jute besides water. The process is called "Pindya Lond". Finally, idol shapes are created with a creative use of hand and wheel. Then after, the idols are dried under the sun for a few days. After it acquires a little dryness, the sculptor molds it into a desired shape. Sculptors use all their imagination and creativity at this stage for they know that any shuffling may not be possible once this stage has passed. Usually, blue, red, yellow, black, green and orange colors are used.

During the Mughal period, when the technology gradually began to be developed, many experiments were carried out in terracotta-making tradition. The use of wheel was undertaken for the first time in this period. Later, during the reign of Taimur Lang, the skilled craftsmen of terracotta crafts, brought as slave from countries like Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and Afghanistan were made to settle in Khurja, Uttar Pradesh now. These people used to make utensils on the wheel with the red clay of local ponds in the Persians Mughal style. The demands of such pottery made by their hands were very high abroad also.

However, the terracotta tradition of Bihar continued to retain its popularity because of its originality in that period also. Niccolao Manucci of Italy wrote, in his book, Mughal India (1653-1708) that, "the earthen cups made in Patna were better than the cup made of glass. These cups are lighter than even paper." The industrial development brought in during British rule in India dramatically changed the lifestyle, art and culture of the country diametrically. The bricks and cement replaced the age-old mud-built home and its peaceful ambience. Naturally, it affected the clay craft tradition of Bihar too. Even the day-to-day uses of these potteries disappeared from our living tradition.
Presently two types of terracotta craftsmen- one who is in profession by inheritance and the other who has acquired skills by passion –as elsewhere are in Bihar. Padma Shree Brahmdeo Ram Pandit from Navada, Ram Gopal Pandit of Madhubani, Lala Pandit of Darbhanga and Jagdish Pandit fall in the first category - traditional pottery-makers who make sacred idols on auspicious festive occasions along with other materials of regular use. The name of Iswar chandra Prasad, Rajat Ghosh and Amresh Kumar are important in second category that belongs to those who have acquired terracotta skills following their passion. Mithilanchal region has contributed immensely in the growth of terracotta craft in Bihar. Almost every village in Mithilanchal has a tradition to offer the terracotta made idols like horses and horse-memento to please their distinct village-deities in Brahma-Sthan and Salhesh-Sthan. In the month of 'Shravan' (July- August), the earthen idols are offered to Raja Salhesh and other deity-like characters associated with him. The earthen terracotta idols of Naag and Naagin are worshipped to commemorate the Nagpanchami festival in Mithila in the month of Shravan. Jhijhiya is a famous folk dance of Mithilanchal and it is performed on the occasion of Durga Pooja with piling up of several earthen pots with holes and placing the burning lamp in them.

In addition, the terracotta idols of 'Laxmi-Ganesh', 'Kalash', 'Deep', Elephant, Horse, etc are used on festivals like Chhath Puja, Durga Pooja, Deepawali, Sama-Chakwa. Maulaganj of Darbhanga and Mangruni of Madhubani district are famous for making terracotta idols in Mithilanchal region of Bihar.

The beginning of the art of making figurines in clay in the Indian sub-continent in proto-historic period was mainly confined to the western parts. The clay-tradition was prevalent even before Vedic era in Bihar. But, we can weave out an authentic story of the Terracotta tradition in Bihar since Mauryas. The animal figurines, especially horses, preliminarily hand-modeled, were the recurrent theme of Terracotta tradition in Bihar.

Top