The highly acclaimed terracotta of Gorakhpur made from the special soil found in Bhathat area of Uttar Pradesh stands testimony to thousands of years of traditional art. The richness of this art seen in the different designs and types of bells, vases, Ganeshas, Buddhas, tables, elephants with mahouts, deer, horses, bullock carts, horse carts, lamps and chandeliers have received numerous laurels over the years.
The clay used in these terracotta products is the cabis (kabis) mitti found in the ponds of Aurangabad, Bhairawa and Budadeeh villages only during the months of May and June as they get filled up with water over the rest of the year. This soil contains the right amount of softness and elasticity that helps the artisans create very delicate and small objects.
Fine nets are used to remove stones and other impurities from the clay. Water is added to the clay and the craftsmen often stamp and crush the clay for better cohesion. The mixed clay is placed on the centre of the potter’s wheel which is rotated with the help of a stick. As the wheel starts rotating, the craftsmen begin to shape the clay into the required form.
Different parts of an object are turned separately and joined together later. The outer surface is smoothened using a wet cloth. Motifs are drawn on the surface as per the design. Pots, vessels and bowls are beaten with a flat wooden bat or a mushroom-shaped stone which is placed inside the object. This process is repeated till the desired thickness is achieved.
The objects are dried in the sun for 2 to 3 days. It is important that the objects are not left in the sun for too long as cracks can develop on the surface. They are then placed in the bhatti traditional open furnace and covered with locally available straw. The kiln is covered with mud and fired to produce a high temperature. The objects after firing turn either red or black.
The red colour is obtained by letting the smoke out through the vents while the black colour is obtained by covering the vents completely and retaining the smoke within. The articles are carefully checked for quality and finish.
The exquisite craftsmanship is based singularly on the traditional methods that use natural colours and hence, the red colour of terracotta does not fade for years. More than thousand designs are handcrafted by the local artisans.
Gorakhpur Terracotta was granted the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2020.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)