There are numerous references to earthenware, especially painted pottery and terracotta figures, in the archaeological findings of the pre-Harappan, Harappan and post-Harappan periods. From the harappan civilisation sites of Lothal in Saurashtra, Gujarat, and Mohenjodaro in Sind, a delightful range of terracotta toys from whistles and rattles, to animal figurines and dolls has been excavated. Nearly five millenia later, India is still rich in her terracotta and pottery traditions, many of which have their roots in prehistory. Many of the mother goddess terracotta figurines, whistles and bulls on wheels, are still produced all over India in the likeliness of the objects excavated in the Harappa and later Mauryan sites.1
The Indian potters continue to create a wide range of utensils, ritual and toy figures, relief panels and plaques using techniques such as wheel thrown, moulding over an old pot , modeling by hand-such as coiled pottery and slab pottery.
Myths and legends about the origin of the potter and his craft abound all over India of which the most popular, with a few regional variants, is as follows:
Long ago, at the marriage ceremony of Shiva and Parvati, a kumbha (earthen pot) was urgently required. A Brahmin by the name of Kulalak finally offered to produce one on condition that he was given all the tools for making it. So lord Vishnu offered his sudarshan chakra (sacred discus) as a wheel. The Mount Mandar was the pivot on which the chakra rotated with the help of Shiva’s ghotana or pestle for grinding bhaang (cannabis sativa). Shiva’s langota (loin cloth) was used as an all purpose cloth. His kamandalu, gourd pot, for storing water and his sacred thread as janeu for separating the pot from the wheel. The adi-kurma or mythical tortoise was the scraper-cum-smoothener of the pot. Thus, the wedding of Shiva and Parvati took place . And, ever since, all the descendants of the Kulalak Brahmin are known as kumbhakaras or makers of earthen pots.2
Nestled away from the hustle and bustle of the city, surrounded by the mystic river Godadhar , in the backdrop of the natural serenity lies a potters village, Asharikandi, which carries a great legacy of society and culture of Assam from time immemorial. The Asharikandi village popularly known as paul pada is based on the potters caste from the tradition.
The terracotta art of Asharikandi stands out from any other terracotta art form because of its unique characteristics in terms of aesthetics and design. The practice of this traditional art form has remained a major source of identity among the potters blending it with the socio-cultural characteristics of this region along with many changes and innovations.
Asharikandi is located 14 km away from the district town Dhubri in Assam and comes under the Debitola Tehsil. Dhubri, the gateway of western Assam is bounded by both inter-state, national and international borders. The district share borders with Bangladesh, West Bengal, Goalpara, Kokrajhar and Meghalaya.
Before the partition of India, a few potter families from Pabna District of East Bengal i.e. present day Bangladesh, migrated to a place called Asharikandi in western Assam. During the rainy season of Ashar, heavy rainfall causes flood in this low lying area and the potters have to endure a lot. They cannot make, dry up, burn and store safely their products during the rainy season. The potters shed tears out of misery caused by the havoc of flood. Thus from the name of this rainy season (Ashar) and the shedding of tears by the potters (Kandi), the place has been named as “Asharikandi”. The senior most villagers opined that in spite of these problems they selected the place due to its nearness to raw materials, cheaper transportation facility and its strategic location. The main raw material Hiramati(clay soil) lies in the nearby areas of Silaipar, which is only 4 km from the village.3
In Asharikandi, at present around 137 households are fully engaged in the making of terracotta art and has taken it as the primary source of livelihood. The terracotta work is not only limited to the men but also women and children actively participate in its creation and in the process the tradition has been handed down from generation to generation.
Process of making terracotta objects:
Clay which is the basic raw material for making all kind of objects by the Asharikandi craftsmen is collected from the banks of the nearby river Silair in Silairpar Village. The clay is transported by country boats via river Gadadhar. Sand, straw, caustic soda, kabish etc. are few other raw materials used in making the terracotta objects.
The clay collected from the nearby river bank is soaked for two to four hours or overnight. In the next step , the craftsmen manually removes organic particles or other sievable impurities from the clay. Then the raw clay(80%) is mixed with water, sand (20%) and caustic soda to avoid crack or bend when it is put under sun to dry. In the next step, the craftsmen kneads the clay with his hands and feet to obtain elasticity of the clay. The process goes on for 1-2 hours.
After processing the clay gets ready to be used. Depending on the type or shape of the object to be made various means are employed. To create cylindrical form the clay is thrown on the wheel. Also, coiling and pinching technique is used to give the desired shape.
The objects are then sun dried for one to two days so as to reduce the moisture content. In the next step a coat of kabish (a kind of slip glaze prepared by processing red clay) is applied on the objects. Kabish is a type of solution powder prepared from the red clay collected from the nearby hills.
Finally the objects are fired or baked in the traditional kiln in medium temperature. Straws and woods are used as fuel for firing.
The traditional tools and equipments used are chiefly Kodal, Pitna, Kaim, Knives, Kathi, Boila, Khota, Aith and Brush etc. The Kodal(spade) is used for the cutting of the clay at the initial stage. Khota important thin tool of bamboo used for removing the impurities of the clay. Aith is used to bring out the hiramati from the big jar. Boila and Pitna are used to give a desired shape to the clay. Knives are used cut designs on the terracotta products. Lastly, brush is used for the painting of the terracotta products.4
The below excerpt from Mohibul Haque’s “A Study on the Socio-Cultural Significance of the Terracotta Craft of Asharikandi”, draws a deep insight into the journey of the terracotta art in Asharikandi and of its survival.
“The artisans of Asharikandi had used to make terracotta dolls for the children to play with. They used to sell these items in the neighbouring villages in a very low market rate. As described by Dhirendra Nath Pal, a senior artisan, the people of Asharikandi had almost left the profession of making pottery and terracotta. Only a few families were engaged with this craft and as alternative profession they used to catch to work as fisherman. At that time mostly the women were involved in making of terracotta toys. They used to go to the villages by boat loading with the pottery and terracotta dolls. Those who bought their items in return give them rice (like barter system) in certain fixed pottery jar locally called Shear (a jar fixed for weight in half or full of jar). The money they earned by selling these items in villages was very meager to run a family. As Dhirendra Nath Pal described, once idea had came in his mind to make sophisticated items and make it popular among the higher and middle educated class of the society. The time came when in 1982 late Sarala Bala Devi; mother of Dhirendra Nath Pal was awarded President’s Award for Traditional terracotta craft for Hatima doll and got a national recognition. The story dates back to the early 1970s, a glorious time when the royal family of Gauripur nearby patronised the terracotta toys. It was Nilima Baruah, sister of renowned filmmaker Pramothesh Baruah – the first of India’s most popular screen tragic hero Devdas – who coined the name Hatima Putul and showcased them in different parts around the world. The name came from observing the elephant-like ears of the mother. The Gauripur royal family also used to nurture an elephant-centred culture. They captured elephants from the wild, reared and traded them. Many local people were involved in this entire business. The folk songs of Gauripur are thus deeply rooted to this culture. Dhirendra Nath pal who first took the initiative to bring this craft to a higher level had denied two government jobs. The efforts of the craftsmen of Asharikandi got recognition in 1982 when Sarala Bala Devi was conferred the President Award for traditional terracotta craft for Hatima Putul. In 2005, Dhirenrdra Nath Pal (son of Sarla Bala Devi), won the Bokul Bon Award from Assam Sahitya Sabha and Mahadev Pal, bagged the Best Handicraft Artist Award by Assam Government for his master piece Lord Ganesha.”5
The object of Mother and Child or Mao-Bacha Putul, or in other words Hatima Putul is the most popular and celebrated object of Asharikandi terracotta art.
The mother and child doll of Asharikandi is called hatima doll because of the mother with elephant like ear carrying her child on her lap. An interesting aspect of the hatima doll is in one figure hatima is carrying her child on her left hand but on her right hand she is carrying a pradipdani. The purpose of the pradipdani is the people could know that not only the hatima with child but also they produce the pradipdani also. The hatima doll of Asahrikandi has its uniqueness in face, ear, the ornamentation and physical structure and can easily identify from other mother and child figure from other region of India i.e. West Bengal. Figure of the human female is the most numerous among the toys of West Goalpara. Marked by a very refined of stylization, they are also the most attractive. The head is flattened with a large round bun placed high on its back. The faces itself is elongated in the suggestion of the nose and the mouth. Ears, eyes and various ornaments are appliquéd into the main body. Hairs and fingers are indicated by scrapings made into the figure while it is still soft. In most toys, there is only the suggestion of clothing’s deftly executed with scrapings here and there. But in some toys with the standing posture, the addition of the lower garment with elaborate design, resembling the local female dress, gives them a most distinctive appearance. 6
Another prime object made by the artisans is of Mother goddess. Mother Goddess figurines are generally associated with the fertility cult. However, interesting terracotta productions of the Asharikandi in the mother goddess of Indus valley shape. Some writers tried to make a relation between the Indus valley civilizations with the past of Dhubri district but there is no evidence till date to prove their point. B. N. Dutta observes the similarity of many of the mother and child toys with some terracotta toys of Mohenjodaro is really striking. However, these folk toys do not seem to be connected with the mother goddess cult with which scholars have associated the Mohenjodaro toys.7
The artisans of Asharikandi produces number of terracotta items inspired from the past traditions, believes, aesthetics, ritual practices and present day demands. The toys of small animal, dolls, carts, bicycle etc. are commonly used in domestic play purpose by children in rural areas.
In response to the changing tastes of the clientele and growing local demands the artisans have shifted the subjects from traditional to modern or contemporary themes. Thus, inspired from the modern day transport system the artisans also creates motorbikes which is a common sight all over India. During fairs and festivals the motorbikes, among other toys, is sold in huge numbers and dragged along a string by enthusiastic little boys and girls.
The terracotta practice of Asharikandi has a very wide and multifarious significance. The contemporary terracotta products and its usages let us know about the past of this place in particular and Assam in general but also the socio-cultural dimensions of the people of this region.8
The terracotta toys or the products is regarded as the earliest outcome of human creativity. Since early ages this terracotta products carry the characteristics and identity of a particular cultural, religious, economic and other aspect of a society or region.
- 1 Jain, Jyotindra and Aggarwal, Aarti. (1989). National Handloom and Handicraft Museum p. 174.
- 2 ibid p. 175
- 3 Shah, R. (2011). ASHARIKANDI CLUSTER INTERACTIVE DESIGN RESEARCH AND NEED ASSESSMENT SURVEY. cluster level report under MSME scheme.
- 4 Devi, Barasha. & Deb Nath, Bhabananda. (2017). Terracotta Industry: The Living Source of Volume-III, Issue-III April 2017.134
- 5 Hoque, Mohibul. (2016) . A Study on the Socio-Cultural Significance of the Terracotta Craft of Asharikandi, ISSN: 2394-7969 (Online), ISSN: 2394-7950 (Print) Volume-II, Issue-XI, December 2016, Page No. 139-147
- 6 Datta, Birendra. (1973). A study of the folk culture of the Goalpara district of Assam, Guwahati. P-405.
- 7 ibid. P-403.
- 8 ibid. P-106