Traditionally, Bankura pottery was mainly used for ritualistic purposes. The rituals were almost all exclusively associated with local village gods and worship of various kinds of tribal, semi-tribal and folk deities. Apart from the traditional items presently the craftsmen make utility, home décor and table top items like tiles, tub, showpieces, pen stand, ash tray etc. The horses are also now more decorated than the traditional ones.
The process starts with preparation of the materials starts with removing silt, sand and pebbles from the clay to make it suitable for the wheel work. This is done by breaking the lump of clay and making it into more finer and powdered grains and also refining it by removing the sand particles either by hand or by using sieve. After the clay is refined, the next step is to add other raw materials such as fine river sand and water.
Mixing is done by hands if the quantity of the clay is less, but if the quantity is more then potters prefer using their legs. The mixing of clay is followed by the wheel work, which is mainly done to make the basic shapes such as cone, cylinder etc., which act as the main component of the items to be made.
The drying of the product made on the wheel is an important step. The drying is mainly natural drying and it takes around a day or two for the product to become ready for the next step. After the wheeled products are dried, they are assembled together by hand to give a basic structure and shape. Motifs are next designed on the semi dried product by hand and bamboo tools called Chhiyari.
After a little drying in the sun, holes are made on appropriate parts of the body. This is done before full drying, otherwise the inner and the outer surface of the body will not be equally dry. Cracks may develop in the body for unequal drying of the inner and the outer portions. The products are dried naturally. Two coats of colour made from bonop are next applied. This is a unique colouring process since clay is used to colour the products.
Finally the products are put in kiln at 700-750 degree centigrade for 4-5 hours .
The steps of making Terracotta items
Terracotta of Bankura is one of the first attempts of man at clay modelling which has been perfected with time. The simple yet dynamic terracotta artistry of Panchmura, Bankura has its origin in a religious ritual.
The structure of ‘Bankura Horse’ symbolises a mark of devotion and valour. It stands on its four legs with the neck held high and the ears and the tail erect and straight. To acquire the valour of a horse, the ancient Hindu kings use to perform Aswamedh Yajna to acquire power and glory, the sovereignty over neighbouring provinces, and general prosperity of the kingdom. Later, the common people and the converted Muslims carried on with the tradition whereby the real horse was replaced with a clay model due to affordability. Even today, the rural communities offer terracotta horse as a token of their devotion to the village deities.
Though the tradition started from Panchmura of Bankura, the Malla kings made the terracotta art of Bishnupur popular by building terracotta temples all over the place. The temples served a dual purpose for them by being a place of worship on one hand and that of shelter for warriors on the other. During the war ridden Middle Age, the kings fortified their kingdom in Bishnupur without making it obvious for the enemies. The ubiquitous terracotta structures with their apparent subtle and artistic façade were rock solid inside. The kings brought the craftsmen from Panchmura for building these temples and that marked the beginning of Bishnupur terracotta tradition which eventually outdid the prosperity of the tradition of Panchmura.