The call of clay and mud: Potters’ traditional sorcery

The demand for earthen diyas during Diwali lights up several pottery pockets of Karnataka. And in Belagavi, children pay a playful tribute to a Maratha king, writes Divyashri Mudakavi

The demand for earthen diyas during Diwali lights up several  pottery pockets of Karnataka

Sitting in the balcony of her plush apartment in Melbourne, Australia, Deepti Desai, an NRI, lights small earthen diyas to welcome Diwali. She believes they reconnect her to her roots.

While the traditional lamps from the historic Nandgad village in Belagavi district  brings a smile to her face, 55-year-old Mahadev Kumbar, who has sculpted the clay beauties, hardly knows that his creations have reached Australia.

“When traders buy our diyas in bulk, we have no idea where they will land up. We realise it only when customers directly share their experience. But as potters, we wish that our diyas light up the life of every buyer,” wishes Mahadev.

He says there has been an increase in the sales of the decorative clay items, including diyas, as NRIs carry them back to their countries from Belagavi and Dharwad districts to mark Indian festivals and indulge in diya-gifting.

No contest

Back home, many feel that clay diyas are losing out to fancy Chinese electric lights and wax lamps. But, according to Veeresh Kumbar, a potter from Mugad, a village in Dharwad taluk, clay diyas are still in demand, especially during Diwali and the Hindu calendar month of Karthik.

He says that several people and temples place bulk orders for clay diyas during events like Laksha Deepotsava or Sahasra Deepotsava, and to meet the demand and generate income, all the potters of his village have been working tirelessly. Though many engage in other professions too, they contribute to diya-making during Diwali.

Manohar Kumbar of Gurlgunji village says that several villages in Khanapur taluk of Belagavi district including Phulewadi, Kothali, Gotgali, Tenginkoppa, Nittur, Nandgad are famous for making clay items including diyas as the clay sourced locally is best suited for pottery, and the Central Village Pottery Institute, one of its kind, imparts modern potterry techniques to potters. “The diyas made here are of good quality and can be carried to any part of the world without any fear of breakage,” he adds.

Eshwar, another potter from Khanapur town, says that they begin making diyas just after Ganesh Chaturthi. They use the river-bed soil sourced before the beginning of the rainy season and then keep the diyas ready before traders from Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and other parts of the country place orders.

The rains and the floods this year posed a challenge for them as they could not find wood for running their kilns, and the villages were submerged. However, they managed to overcome the problem so that the festivities were not dampened.

While on the one hand, there are potters who keep the traditional art alive, on the other, some have contemporised their profession into a profitable venture. For instance, the Kumbhar Gallery at Bazar Galli Madhavpur in Vadgaon area of Belagavi buzzes with urbanites.

“We have several people coming to our store by contacting us on social media sites. Good-quality clay articles, especially diyas, are in demand even today. In fact, we fall short of skilled labour to meet the demand sometimes,” said 30-year-old Kulbhushan Kumbhar, an MBA graduate and third-generation potter from his family.

He and his family have improvised the designs for urban population. They have diyas with figurines of Lord Ganesh, peacock, tortoise, fish and the like. But unlike the moulded-clay articles that come in from Bihar and Rajasthan, all their diyas are handmade and attract customers from Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, Goa and other countries like Malaysia, Dubai, the US and Australia. During the season, they sell around one lakh clay diyas apart from the designer ones. While the regular diyas are sold at Rs 800 to Rs 1,200 per 100 at a wholesale price, the designer ones are a bit costlier.

Well-informed minds

Jagadish Jamkhandi, a wholesale seller of diyas from Dharwad, says that people, especially students, have become environment-conscious and look for earthern lamps. He says that even children insist their parents buy clay lamps on the suggestion of their school teachers. This, too, has recreated a market for clay lamps.

He says that potters were giving up the profession due to unavailability of raw materials, lack of government support, lesser income in spite of the hard work involved, and not because of the demand.

He points to another fact: that once, the men of kumbar (potter) community were refused brides because the profession was no longer attractive. However, the Gen X potters have changed the face of pottery and earn a decent income, too.

The potters also echo that the government must help them in their efforts to export the products for a better income. They say that most of the potters, who live in villages, are not aware of export guidelines.

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