Crafts of Rajasthan - Votive Terracotta of Molela

Votive Terracotta of Molela (Rajsamand District)

The original inhabitants of Molela are the Mina and Bhil tribal’s, who have adopted icon worship into their own tribal systems of worship. During the month of January, every year, these and other Tribal groups like the Gujars and Garijats, travel to Molela to buy clay plaques depicting the images of the Gods who have fulfilled their wishes. These tribal groups replace these votive icons every three to five years, in gratitude for the blessings received.

Potter makes an assortment of votive plaques and domestic clay vessels. The utensils are made on the wheel and the clay used for making them is more elastic than that used for making plaques. Like most crafts, murtikala has been passed down through generations, chiefly from father to son(s), though it evolves with each generation. Typically, the women do the work of getting the clay ready while the men make the murtis and decorate them.

The red clay of village, Molela, is said to be special – for the murtis made of clay from the nearby villages break easily. It is found on the banks of the nearby pond. Husk and donkey dung are kneaded into the clay for strengthening and tempering it. The winter harvest coincides with the busiest time for making murtis, for the hot summer sun is too harsh and often cracks the clay murtis. Once the clay has been needed to the right consistency, the craftsmen are ready to begin work. The entire process is done by hand without using a wheel or any mould. The slabs or tiles are made first, with the help of a pindi, which is used for pounding and flattening the clay. The clay slab is then smoothened using a small flat piece of wood. The scene to be depicted or the idol or murti to be made is then fashioned on the tile. Often small round kalash (urns) are made on the wheel and added to the murti. The design and the line work on the clay are done with a baldi, a small flat chisel-like instrument made of metal. Both ends of the baldi are used - one end for drawing lines and patterns on the clay and the other end for making holes.

The murtis are allowed to dry in the sun before they are considered ready for firing. If the final colour desired is terracotta, red geru (terracotta powder) is mixed with gum and used to cover the murti before firing. The murtis are made to stand in an open kiln, and then covered with cow dung and shards of pottery. Wood is added slowly to keep the temperature constant. After the firing, bright water colours are used to decorate the freshly baked murtis.

Images of both male and female deities are represented. They could take the form of Nagadev (snake form), Mother Goddess, Dharamraj, Devnarain, Ganesh, and local heroes and heroines from folk legends dating back in time, who have now taken on divine powers and other forms.