The Beauty and Importance of Terracotta Pottery

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Terra cotta or terra-cotta, generally known as Terracotta, translates to “baked clay” in Italian. One of the perfect definitions for, what is terracotta made of? Therefore, terracotta can be understood as earthenware, a ceramic made from clay. This ceramic could be glazed or unglazed. The origin of terracotta is generally used for sculptures made in stoneware and even for several practical uses such as vessels or flower pots, wastewater and regular water pipes, bricks, roofing tiles, and embellished surfaces in building constructions. This term also refers to the typical brownish-orange colour of terracotta pottery.

History and Importance of Terracotta pottery

People nowadays treat terracotta pottery with extreme reverence, and it is quite an achievement to use these beautiful sculpture pieces as home decor. The sculpting and creating terracotta pottery dates back to 2600 to 1700 BC. That is around the time of the Indus Valley Civilization. Archaeologists and historians have found various terracotta vessels and pots while excavating Harappa and Mohenjodaro. You have probably already guessed that the art of making terracotta pottery is entirely exclusive to the most skilled of artisans. Every terracotta art or sculpture is sculpted with utmost dedication and grace. Every piece also takes a great deal of time and patience, so terracotta pottery is treated with such reverence and is so expensive.

How Terracotta Pottery Is Made

Terracotta is clay used to make sculptures or pottery on a potter’s wheel. The fired body of terracotta pottery can be characterised by greater porosity. There are different types of terracotta clay art. In contrast, initially, it is moulded into a specific shape on the wheel after which it is then left to dry on combustible materials in a furnace or fire pit. Thus, the terracotta pots or vases get fired. Mostly wood, charcoal or coconut shells are used to fire terracotta pottery and firing temperatures lie in 600 to 1000 degrees Celcius. The firing process is completed when the terracotta sculptures have been baked for over two hours. It is necessary to bake this type of pottery for so long as it is robust, rugged and durable. Yet, as we said earlier, terracotta pottery has greater porosity.

Consequently, water can seep in through these pores. Hence, terracotta pottery has two varieties- glazed and unglazed. Terracotta pots that have been glazed are easier to cook in and clean, and the food gets more evenly cooked. But glazing terracotta ceramics has its disadvantages. For example, the balance of acid and base can no longer be maintained, and glazed ceramics don’t add the earthy flavour that unglazed ones add to food. Terracotta artefacts pottery can be distinguished by its characteristic reddish or brownish-orange colour.

Difference Between Terracotta Pottery and Handmade Clay Pottery

Both terracotta and clay pottery are used for various functional and decorative purposes. However, terracotta pottery is also a type of clay pottery, so how do you distinguish between clay and terracotta pottery. Before we get into it, you should know both have some very distinct differences. Firstly, while you can find clay pots of the same colours like red, blue, green, white or black, terracotta vessels and pots are always the colour of orangish-brown or reddish. Secondly, you will find that terracotta pottery emit a sharp metallic sound, and since they are sonorous, you can gauge the compactness of particles in terracotta pots. Thirdly, while most clay pots are glazed ceramics, terracotta ceramics are mostly unglazed, especially the ones used for garden decor. Finally, terracotta pots are baked at a higher temperature than clay pots, giving them their characteristic reddish colour.

Terracotta Art Of India

In India, you will find almost every household having various types of terracotta sculptures as home decor. While there is reverence for terracotta pottery all year round, demand increases during certain seasons. For example, during the harvest festival, votive idols and new pottery is required, due to which the supply and demand both grow. As a result, the artisans generally take up other forms of income like agriculture to sustain themselves for the rest of the year. Since the artisans cannot always come up with new designs every day, customers ask for a particular strategy and get a piece of customised terracotta pottery. Yet, that does not mean there is no variety in the art of terracotta. Keep reading to find out more about the various forms of terracotta art in the different states of India.

Various Forms Of Terracotta Art In India

Since the art of terracotta has been ingrained into Indian culture from centuries ago, it has still not been lost. You can see our heritage in the various forms of terracotta art in the different states of India, as listed below.

  • West Bengal: West Bengal has always had a rich culture of different art forms, and terracotta pottery is undoubtedly included. The rural areas of this state is a hub for all kinds of excellently crafted terracotta figurines and pots, figures of horses being the most popular of them. Some twins renowned for terracotta pottery are Digha, Hooghly, Birbhum, Murshidabad and Jessore.
  • Bihar: Terracotta art in Bihar has continued since the 2nd and 3rd centuries BCE. Since figurines of horses are most commonly seen in terracotta art across the easter states, Bihar is no exception. Other figures include clay elephants traditionally put on rooftops if a marriage takes place in the house.
  • Gujarat: You would find skilled artisans of terracotta art in Gundiyali, which falls in the Bhuj district of Gujarat. These artisans use the potter’s wheels to create mesmerising clay pots hand-painted with beautiful geometric patterns. The primary importance of clay pots is an eco-frinedly product. Such practices are identical to those found on the jars and vessels excavated from the Indus Valley.
  • Haryana: The tradition of terracotta art in the state of Haryana dates back millennia, that is, to the Harappan Civilization and the Pre-Harappan times. In those times, people used to make daily items out of terracotta clay, such as toys, jewellery, figurines etc. Painted grey ware having black designs back from 1000 Bc, the Mahabharata period was also excavated from Kurukshetra.
  • Madhya Pradesh: This state in central India has always had a rich culture of creating beautiful terracotta figurines, both for daily uses and occasions or decor. The most common terracotta figures that are, instead, those in Madhya Pradesh are those of birds, elephants, snakes etc.
Apart from these states, the art of terracotta is also trendy in Rajasthan, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and  Jammu and Kashmir.

Exciting Facts About Clay and Terracotta Pottery

Now that you know so much about the terracotta art of India, here are some interesting facts about clay and terracotta pottery.

  1. Terracotta art has been in India for more than 10,000 years. The oldest excavations led to the discovery of many items made of terracotta back from the Indus Valley Civilization from a pre-Harappan site.
  2. The world’s most enormous hollow clay figures were made by Tamil villagers who made such hollow horse figurines from terracotta, embellished elaborately.
  3. The Delhi Blue pottery and the Blue Pottery of Jaipur do not use clay. Instead, this pottery is made from a paste of Egyptian origin with raw materials like Multani mitti or Fuller’s Earth, powdered glass, quartz, gum, borax and water

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  • ihchealth

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