A spectacular molded form of earth into wonderful figurines and objects is what Terracotta is all about. Initially used as trade seals, several sculpted deities, cart frames and wheels have also been discovered from historical sites of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. Terracotta art has been an essential part of our culture since 700 B.C. Numerous artefacts and collectibles like attractive horses, household and decorative items including idols, urns, attractive bells, wall painting and oil lamps are crafted by terracotta artists as it is continuously in demand with customers. Even though this craft is practiced nation wide, yet only a few regions are famous for this craft form.
Well known towns in West Bengal which are home to famous terracotta artists are Murshidabad, Jessore, Birbhum and Hooghly. The terracotta art originated in Bengal in the 16th century by Vaishnav community. Their patterns elaborate the details to the community for which the craft is created. In Darbhanga, Bihar horses are generally made from terracotta art. Many sculptures signify major events or occasions like elephants are used during marriages. Artists from Gundiyali region in Gujrat craft clay pots with geometrical designs. Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha and Jammu and Kashmir are some other states well known for terracotta art. Some of the artefacts which are in high demand are birds, animal figures like horses, elephants, snakes tigers, cow, elephants, buffalos, large statues of Hindu Gods. In Tamil Nadu, few locals have sculpted huge hollow horses with exquisite decorations which are known to be the world’s largest hollow clay statues.
Terracotta art has survived since the 15th century due to its resourcefulness. From being used to create home décor items to building temples and building, terracotta is used for all. This building material is available in abundance universally. The know-how was developed after people learned the art of baking clay and started using it to design more permanent buildings, in case of inaccessibility to other materials like stones or woods. One of the best examples of terracotta architecture can be found in Bishnupura in Bankura district of West Bengal. It is the most popular and beautiful terracotta temple with extraordinary figurines and sculptures.
Derived from the Italian word “Terracotta” meaning baked earth, it was one of the oldest forms of crafts. For making handcrafted terracotta art, the clay is dried and molded into the desired shapes using a pottery wheel. It is then fired after drying. From Terracotta pots to containers and plant holders were used by people from time immemorial. Every other Indian household has at least one Terracotta product and that’s also because of their affordability.
Various states in our country are involved in the terracotta craft. Artists in Gujarat makes clay pots whereas, in Tamil Nadu pots of horses and elephants are crafted. Terracotta in rural Bengal is associated with the making of Bankura house which is native to the Bankura district. Terracotta besides contributing to artistic sculptures actually adds to the traditions and is a craft to uplift the livelihood of rural India. With the onset of urbanization, we often forget to appreciate the aesthetics of this legendary and cultural beauty.