Glory of Mallabhum: Terracotta Horses from Panchmura



In enriching the collective Bengali culture the rural folk elements play an essential role, and the tradition is to be traced back to its ancient roots. Panchmura, a small village lying about 40 km from Bishnupur, has a rich history in terracotta production. The fame of terracotta elephant, cat, monkey, Manasachali, images of Sankirtaniyas (a singing pose of the Vaishnav cult), Ramayana, Mahabharata and other mythological engravings, leaves, creepers, household items of Panchmura has spread from the local through national to international level. But it is the ‘Bankura Horse’ that took the village to an eminent position of art & craft, which has now come to be regarded as a symbol of the artistic excellence of Indian rural handicrafts - a fact which finds confirmation in its use as the official crest motif of the All India Handicrafts Board. Enriched with rural folk culture, these horses are not only used as votive offerings made to their local, tribal gods and goddesses but are also deliberately purchased and kept for home decoration. The smooth bodies, glossy texture with intense elaborate decoration make these terracotta horses one of the perfect definitions of craftsmanship of rural Bengal. It takes almost 5-7 days to prepare each horse, thus, the kumbhakars spend a great deal of time and patience in the production. The best thing about the terracotta horses are that the artisans do not use any artificial colour, rather natural clay is used for colouring. Therefore, the colour does not fade.

The basic raw material for the production is clay. Sand, some khar (hay) and water are then mixed for kneading. Then the artist shapes cones, cylinders and round shaped pots using a traditional stick wheel, these are used for framing the basic body structure of the horses.

Cylinders are used to shape belly and back, while the cones for legs. Then the shapes are beaten with the help of a wooden bat and a rounded stone and are joined together to form basic body shape of the horse and are kept for drying.

The detailed motifs work is done using different tools of various shapes and sizes. The decorations, designs and patterns differ widely as the artists want to reflect their craftsmanship through the products and make an individual identity. Decoration work may take hours or even days if the clay is not ready. It is important that the clay is neither hard nor too soft. The artists use clay paste, coiled clay to make designs, and they also use tools to incise the body of the horse. This is worth mentioning that the head of the horse is decorated separately and joined only after drying for a day, otherwise, unable to take the burden the entire body will collapse. 

Colouring is an essential part and the women assist men in this. The colours are fully natural and made out of clay. Traditionally they refrain from using artificial colouring agents. The natural earth (clay) used for colouring are generally of three types: (1) Khadigad, looks white like chalk (2) Bhalogad, looks yellowish, glazy and oily and (3) Banak, looks brownish, oily and glossy. The ingredients are placed in earthen vessels and mixed with water. The residual portion is thickened into pigment under the sun and preserved for colouring.

Now the production work is finished and the horses are kept in the sun for drying. The terracotta horses are fired at a temperature of 900°C.

After cooling down the final product comes out.



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