Have you seen these terracotta items somewhere? Perhaps in urban homes, resorts, farmhouses or hotels. I too have seen them. I knew where do they come from. Not just that, I frequently visit that district under which this little Potter’s town comes. But as is the case, I did never visit this little town of Molela. Till this rainy season.
Molela is in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan and is near to the well known temple city of Nathdwara. It can also be done as a day excursion from Udaipur. It is a small routine village, just like any other village we pass through our journeys. Some thirty families in the village are engaged in this art of clay. One can roam around to find the work of his or her interest.
Legend has it that there was a blind potter who dreamed of God Devnarayan. God Devnarayan asked him to dig clay at nearby place and make his idol. Next morning his vision was restored. He made the image of god in a two-dimensional plate instead of a three dimensional statue. This design of Devnarayan on a horse was the first design of this craft. This craft is unique in that gods and goddesses are depicted in a two-dimensional way instead of three-dimensional statues elsewhere, and the figurines are hollow.
Traditionally, this craft has catered to the needs of the tribal communities who change the votive plaques of their Gods regularly. Every year, during the Hindi month of Magh( January- February), Bhil, Meena, Gujjar and other tribes from Rajasthan as well as MP and Gujarat come to Molela to buy clay plaques of gods and goddesses of their tribe. With the end of rainy season, the busy season for these potters start. They make large number of clay votive plaques in anticipation of sales.
The process of buying the new votive plaques in itself is an event. Tribals come with their priest who selects the plaques. Once bought, the plaques are carried to the nearby river Banas in a great procession. There the deity is worshiped and then taken to the village to be installed in the temple.
we visited the house of Ramesh Kumhar, whose father Khemraj Kumhar was awarded the Rashtrapati medal for his artistic skills in this art of terracotta plaques. We were taken to a display room where a whole world of clay art comprising decorative, religious and functional items, opened to us. There were five female figurine statues on a plaque which is hung as a welcome plaque. A series of plates depicted daily chores of rural life, drawing water from the well, working in fields, cooking and dancing. Many animals like cows, tortoise, elephants, horses were displayed along with utility items like water jug, milk pot, diyas, Tawa( flat pans to cook chapatis). It shows how well the rural artisans have adapted their art according to markets.
Two small chambers were filled with clay. One had clay with high sand content and other had fine clay. These two clay are mixed together and donkey dung is added to it to make the clay pliable. Molela clay is dug from the banks of local pond of the village.
Kids confused these beads to be donkey dung. It made all of us burst into laughter and exposed our urban mind’s urban ideas!
Our request to show the various work in progress took us to different rooms. While one room stored many plaques of war scenes arranged in rows for a client, another stored elephants and horses.
One room stored many suns as well, stacked neatly. A message well drawn: with so many wars and conflicts, perhaps we will need more than one sun to enlighten the mankind.
Another room had freshly completed plaques of Krishna’s life depicting scenes of his childhood and early youth’s mischief.
Ramesh told us that the wet plaques are first left to dry in shade for a week and then dried in the sun for two-three days. Then these are baked in a brick made kiln. It being the rainy season, no baking was being done and kiln area was sown for maize crop. Finally these are colored as per the requirement of customer
There was this interesting plaque depicting many gods at one place- Krishna was in his cross-leg pose on Kaliya naag; Durga, Devnarayan and Ganesha also found a place.
Every room had Ganesha in one form or another. Our obsession for the two pot-bellied gods, Ganesha and Laughing Buddha has turned these into house decor items. A basket full of Ganesha was waiting to be packed and shipped.
There is a popular belief that if we want Ganesha idol as auspicious symbol, we can buy those who have their trunk turned towards left-hand side. Only the idol which has its trunk towards its right hand need to be worshiped daily. How clever and Jugadu we human beings are! We want God’s idol to be in home so that he can bring luck and prosperity for us, but do not want the trouble of worshiping Him everyday. So we devise a plan- on a larger level, we appoint a Pujari to take care of God daily and we go to His abode as per our convenience; on a smaller level because we can not appoint a Pujari, we just turn his trunk to this or that side and hope to get all his blessings. Sometimes I do wonder- who made whom?
Once we were done with seeing and buying, we requested him to make something live for us. A small blob of prepared clay transformed to a Ganesh idol( more Ganesha!) in less than fifteen minutes. It included rolling, squeezing, pinching to get a desired shape. Clay coils were made to add finer features. Lastly a knife like instrument added the details of fingers, jewelry, eye brows.
We brought some ready clay with us and kids made……….What else?
1. Molela can be included in a trip to Nathdwara and Haldighati, from Udaipur.
2. It is 55-60 Kms from Udaipur.
3. Try to visit Molela in first half of the day when you can see potters making this art.