Clay, Māti or Mitti – while rolling on its rustic surface, when you widen your ears, what you hear are stories of your ancestors of generations that you can’t count. In fact, clay has been the greatest gift of nature. It is mother earth. It gives you food, provides shelter and what not. Clay is also synonym with the fertility cult, the worship of Maa Durga in every Ashwina. And what can be a better gift for mother earth than a splendid image of Maa Durga created out of her own body itself.
When you are at ODIART Purvasha Museum, spend some time at its gallery dedicated to terracotta sculptures with its splendid display of images of Maa Durga, Varaha Avatar of Lord Vishnu, Lanka Podi Hanuman, a Sadhava boat depicting Tapoi story and many more. They are perhaps among the best creations in terracotta you would have ever seen. Their creator is Mukund Rana, a gifted potter who lives and work at distance Kuibahal Village in Sonepur District of Western Odisha.
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Maa Durga Display at ODIART Museum
Display of other Creations of Mukund Rana at ODIART Museum
Mukund Ji, now 58 belongs to Rana potter community. He started his career in the early 1990s with motivation and mentoring received from his uncle, the nationally awarded potter Shri Manabodha Rana of Barpali. But from then on he has never looked back. Mukund Ji and his son Debananda Rana now work day and night to meet the demand for terracotta objects in Urban Odisha, especially Bhubaneswar.
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While I met him recently and spent two days at his workplace I discovered not only his insights and creativity but also the process in the terracotta making, a cottage industry that has continued from the Neolithic-Chalcolithic time in the region.
Chalcolithic – Iron Age Pottery from the Region (Courtesy: Prof Pradip Behra, Archaeologist, Sambalpur University)
Little wonders the region is blessed with the availability of the best clay for terracotta. Another fascinating draw of his studio is his manually drawn wheel which he has retained for fitness.
Kuibahal or Kuhibahal Village is located amidst paddy fields surrounded by Hirakud canals at a distance of 38 km from Sonpur on the bank of River Mahanadi. The village is small and does not have staying options. However, nearest Sonpur, Bargarh, Bolangir and Barpali have basic stay facilities. Carry also your own food or contact in advance Mukund Rana for food arrangement. His phone no is +91 9938505146. While at Kuibahal also visit Barpali and Sonpur, two major handloom clusters. For a spiritual sojourn visit the samadhi sthal of Santha Kabi Bhima Bhoi at Khaliapalli Village.
Clay is collected in summer months from the floors of dried up ponds and stored for the rest of the year. At the first step, the desired objects are created in the wheel. But before the clay is thrown into wheel, the clay is converted into a fine dough. Before converting into the dough, the clay is kept outside for sun drying for a day; then it is mixed with water and finally, the water is removed through the filtering process. Depending upon the desired object’s shape and dimension the dough is shaped in the wheel. If it is a complex object, such as an animal on a roof tile, it is made in parts. Sometimes, if it is a too delicate object, moulding in hands is preferred. Once the object is made it is left for drying in shade and two hours before, shifted to outdoor for sun drying.
In the next step, a thin polish is applied to mud paste called mazni over the surface of dried objects for lustre. Now the objects are ready for an open fire in the kiln.
In the firing process, first, the objects are arranged over a shallow pit and then covered with straw. Once thoroughly covered ash is spread and finally allowed for slow open firing. The process lasts for 7 to 8 hours, before, the objects are finally removed.
In June this year, I had got a chance to visit the workshop of Mukund Rana at his village and had covered a story. However, that time I had not got the chance to interact with him as he was touring in distant Koraput. This time I was fortunate to be with him for nearly two days to understand his work and creativity more closely. One of his specialities is making of sculptures of Lanka Podi Hanuman, which are made in large scale during Saptapuri Amas, 40 days before Dussehra, the day Rama defeated Ravana. On this day Lanka Podi is performed in Sonepur during which Monkey God’s terracotta images are burnt, crushed and thrown into the river as a mock of Ravana’s antipathy.
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During this time of the year, Mukund Ji’s workshop is largely occupied with making of different forms of diyas (earthen lamps) for Diwali festival. Among these the most popular ones appear as terracotta lanterns.
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Mukund Ji and his son Debanand are also expert in making of murals and three-dimensional objects. Yet another speciality of his creation is Tulasi Chaura, quite distinctive from the ones you see in Coastal Odisha. In Mukund Ji’s creation, you see miniature women standing in two rows all holding a diya and are in namaskar mudra. Overall all Munkundi’s Tulasi Chaura appears as Kosali style temple with an amalaka at the top and above it is placed a diya.
Mukund Ji also makes terracotta animals, small and large for decorative as well as bin purpose. Another speciality is handi which is mainly supplied to Bhubaneswar for cooking mati hand mansa (terracotta vessel cooking mutton). According to him and also based on well-tested experiment, the food cooked on terracotta vessels are much more nutritious and healthier than cooking in a pressure cooker. Perhaps this was the best learning for me from the visit.
Mukund Ji one of the finest terracotta artisans I have met so far. He is also humble warm and welcoming. However, unfortunately, his talent is yet to be recognized by the Government of India for a national award.