Terracotta - An Epitome of Indian Pottery

In the Indian sub-continent, terracotta would perhaps be the epitome of Indian religious expression conveyed through clay. One can refer to pottery and earthenware as distinctly utilitarian and often decorative while porcelain and studio pottery belong to the realm of art. Terracotta sculptures in temples were abundant. Proper structural forms were developed such as moulded bricks and tiles designed in artistic forms.

Terracotta is mainly used for religious purposes such as votive offerings to the numerous gods in the Hindu pantheon. Hence, each region has a distinct design, content and body. In villages around New Delhi, there are about dozen centers engaged in the production of good terracotta figurines.

Deities such as Ganesh for Ganesh Chaturthi or Durga for Navratri, elaborately moulded and worshiped during these celebrations in Maharashtra and West Bengal are the finest examples of clay being used for religious expression. Bengal has the largest array of the finest specimens of temple terracotta panels. Even in South India, numerous offerings of terracotta horses and elephants are made to a deity called Aiyanar who is believed to ride them

Producing Terracotta
The native earthenware shows mature ability. The base for each is the village. The votive offerings are a substitute for sacrifices. There is usually an intriguing symbolism in the size and form of each. For instance while the horse is big, the rider by comparison is small. The explanation is that, the horse has divine essence, whereas the rider is only a human representation.

The fabled richness of the Bhoomata or Mother Earth, lends the medium such a high degree of adaptability that beauty of form, colors and texture varies across the length and breadth of the country.

West Bengal has perhaps the best tradition of terracotta. Most of these figurines have a ritualistic connotation. The Bankura horse, which is also the logo of the Central Cottage Industries Corporation of India (C.C.I.C) in New Delhi, is famous. Heavily decorated, this horse is made of rich red clay and is offered to the gods and goddesses at religious ceremonies. Some of the best terracottas are seen in Murshidabad, Birbhum, Jessore, Hooghly and Digha. The style is essentially folk and designs are highly expressive.

Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh is famous for its ornately decorated terracotta horse. One would require some knowledge of Indian regional art forms to decipher the finer differences in the horses from West Bengal and Gorakhpur.

The use of colored glazed tiles began after the Muslim conquest. The tile art called Chini or Kashi became highly refined. Today, many ceramic centers produce tiles - both glazed and unglazed terracotta with traditional and modern designs.

Terracotta Today

Today under the onslaught of modernity, when traditions and cultures are being eroded and corrupted by the availability of mass-produced goods, many common household items are becoming collectors' items! For the appreciative and discerning it is these artifacts of everyday life, like storage containers for rice and salt, earthenware water jars, cooking pots and incense burners, which are assuming rich forms and ideas, hitherto undiscovered. Utilitarian yet unique, such ordinary articles are as much the result of a folk craft handed down over the generations as of the collective experience and wisdom of the people.

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