Terracotta has been an intricate part of the Indian sub-continent since time immemorial. The use of terracotta to make sculptures and pottery dates back to the pre-Harappan and Harappan era. Each region has its own characteristic and stylistic features for the use of terracotta in its craft, one of them being the Molela craft from Rajasthan.
Molela is a hollow relief terracotta craft. The origin of the molela craft is unknown. However, various legends ascribe the craft to a blind potter who dreamt of Shri Devnarayan. The deity had asked the blind potter to make his image. Initially the potter was hesitant to comply owing to his blindness, however, he agreed with the wish of his god. The next morning, his eyesight was restored and people from his community started preparing and worshiping such votive plaques for wish fulfilment.
Molela is a small village situated on the banks of river Banas. It is from the banks of this river that the kumhars collect their clay from. The clay from this region works the best to prepare such votive plaques as both the clay and the climate suit its structure. The religious terracotta plaques are generally purchased by the Bhil tribals from Rajasthan, Gujarat and as far as Madhya Pradesh. The tribals are often accompanied by their Bhopas or priests on their journey to purchase new plaques which are changed every year in the months of February-March to avoid any misfortune. The religious molela tiles are prepared in such a manner that they appear as a miniature temple design. Each tile has five structural domes, pillars, central deity and floral beams.
Figures and Colours
The most important deities depicted are Devnarayan and Nagaraja. Although there are many other deities depicted as well. Specific colours are used to identify different deities such as blue is used for kala bhairav and orange is used for gora bhairav.
The colours are prepared using natural stones and minerals found in the region. The colours for molela are prepared from natural stone and mineral colours. Palewa is the clay slip which is used to prepare different colours when mixed with different stone and minerals. For example, red is prepared by mixing geru to the palewa and water mixture. Dawrigund, a vegetable gum is used as a binder. Jala, a locally available laquer coat is used for the shine instead of using commercial varnish since the votive plaques were traditionally religious in nature.
Devnarayan is the most worshipped deity of the Gujar tribe. He is worshipped for protecting his cattle. He is depicted seated on a horse while holding a spear and a lotus. Sometimes, a serpent, a herd of cows, a man, a peacock, a crocodile and sun are depicted attending to him.
Bhairavnath is the male deity who depicts the two opposite universes as kala bhairav or gora bhairav. The deity holds a trishula resembling lord shiva. Kalabhairav is the strong willed one and is offered animal sacrifice and liquor, while Gorabhairav is the compassionate deity who is offered sweets.
Nagadeva is the serpent god worshipped since time immemorial. He is flanked by numerous snakes and is sometimes depicted with 12 snakehoods.
Many incarnations of the goddesses are depicted, such as Durga riding a lion; Chamunda devi riding an elephant; Kali riding a buffalo. Other goddesses depicted are Devi Amba, Aawanmata and Sadhumata. The female deities hold a sword, a drum, a trishul and a bowl of blood in their four hands.
The Gangaur votive plaques are prepared to worship Shiva and Parvati. The divine couple is worshipped for a happy married life. Devi parvati is painted orange, while lord shiva is depicted in blue.
Due to the rise in urbanization, the Molela artists have now started to depict village scenes to cater to the rising demands as well.
Written by ~ Misha Jaswal