Pottery is associated deeply with the Indian history and the fine art of terracotta is still alive and well. This ancient craft shows understanding of various art forms in India and the art not only survived through ages but has also stood out with time.
India has a rich history of understanding ancient art and culture that has been preserved by many artisans in the country till date.
Madhya Pradesh is one state which in addition to its huge forest reserves is also rich with grasslands, date palm trees and earthen clay. Being one of the largest states in India, it is in the forefront in producing various handicrafts that include textile and carpet weaving, block printing, bead crafts, glass beads, wood, shell, white metal jewellery and containers and toys. However, the terracotta figures are amongst the specialties of the place, and are admired globally.
“This is a totally handmade art and is made out of the locally found clay. The shape is given by the artisans and then the wares are dried under the sun, followed by the engravings and then it is polished to give the finished lustrous look,” says Gautam, a local terracotta artist from Madhya Pradesh.
The word ‘terracotta’ means baked sand, and as the name suggests, it is used to refer to items made out of earthen clay.
Terracotta in Madhya Pradesh is not just a means of livelihood or a skill; it is an art that has sustained for generations in the rural areas of the state. Finery, decoration, the natural saffron colour and experiments with innovative shapes are some of the features that make this art turn heads.
The practitioners of terracotta have protected the art form the onslaught of modernity, erosion of culture and tradition and people’s growing craze for sophisticated high-tech decorative items. However, the craze for these traditional items is now increasing not only in urban India but also in many international centres.
“The demand is ever increasing and people highly prefer to decorate their gardens and interiors with dark brown painted terracotta art,” Gautam adds.
Not only decorative items like lamps, vases, paintings and sculptures, but also terracotta bowls, cups and tavas (frying pans) are now often seen in homes that have taken shape over thousands of years.
“The chappatis you cook on these tavas are very soft and have a distinct flavour that comes naturally,” says Sushila Sharma, who remembers using one a few years ago.
Unlike other traditional handicrafts that are becoming extinct with time, the future of terracotta is bright. It is profitable, well protected by the government and is so much in demand that the artists need more hands to fulfil the ever-growing demand.