Varanasi’s clay art struggling for survival

Once famous, the city’s clay art now seems to be on its last legs. The potters selling their products were seen aloof and ignored at the prominent fairs held during the Durga Puja, Dussehra and Bharat Milap episode in Nati Imli.

“China products have ruined our business and very few buyers turn up for the clay toys and artefacts,” said Ram Das Prajapati (63) and Gullu Prajapati (45), two potters who were selling colourful handmade clay idols of Lord Ganesha, Laxmi, Shiv, Parvati, dolls, horses, parrots, squirrels, kitchen sets and diyas at Nati Imli.

Shyambali from Sathwa village could sell only 16 toys (fetching him Rs 160) out of a stock of 150 toys which he had brought with him during Chowkaghat Dussehra fair.

Besides cheap products from China, another factor which is affecting the potters is the unavailability of clay.

According to Dillu Chaudhary (70), a potter from Nai Basti area, most of the ponds of the city have been encroached and those which are existing, the clay there has too many filthy poly bags and plastic materials. “At some places, money is charged to get the clay. This makes our products more costly,” said Chaudhary.

When TOI talked to the potters who had come to sell their items from Nai Basti, Jaitpura, Tulsi Kuan and Sathwa, it was found that they have been working like this since generations and all the members of their families help in making clay items.

Asha Rani, daughter-in-law of Chaudhary, who was busy in moulding diyas, said that the sale of diyas would go up during the festival of Diwali, but there would not be many takers of toys.

She does not want her children to carry on this work as the profit margins are almost nil.

Sunil (22) did not want to learn this clay art from his father and chose to become a carpenter. Like him, most of the potters have left this occupation to start new ventures like general stores and tea shops.

According to Kamal Giri, a former teacher of history of arts at Banaras Hindu University, the presence of plenty of ponds and smooth in river beds used to help potters get raw stuff to make clay items earlier, but the situation is not the same anymore now. Different clay items were prepared for different occasions.

Idols of gods and goddesses, parading soldiers, Tulsidas, Kabirdas, Prem Chand, and even the masks of Lord Hanuman and other characters of Ramlila were made up of clay earlier.

Dillu Chaudhary who has been making clay toys for the last 50 years, recalled how people used to buy clay toys and idols in huge numbers with the beginning of Nag Panchami till Kartik Purnima in towns and villages.

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