Published in Cultural Forum, Vol. V. No. 3, March-April, 1963, pp. 72-76
India is one of the most religious countries in the world and her pantheon is very rich; this could be very well seen from the representations of the Mother goddesses in the form of Gramdevata. When there is a festival in villages people offer various clay-animals, human figurines, balls, votive tanks, Garba, Ghumat, Bamboo-Sticks etc., to these Gramdevata. These animals are called Ghoda but actually they are figurines of horse, elephant, tiger, rhinoceros, cow, buffalo and camel. Sometimes they are offered as Sawari (vehicle) and sometimes they are offered as Bhog (sacrifice). When people get their wishes fulfilled, they hang these clay horses on the branch of trees also.
The Gramdevata is a tutelary of protecting mother of a particular place or locality. Especially in rural areas this cult of the goddesses is very popular. There is hardly a village without the shrine of the Gramdevata. All people however can adore her near a water-side in a forest, or in stones, wood or clay temples. Sir Monie William has described the important Mother-Goddesses in India such as: Sitala, Khodiyar, Becharaji, Untai, Ambaji, Kalka, Thakurani. Moreover some more familiar are Bhadervadev, Kaliabawa, Govaldev and Bhathuji. The more popular names of the Goddess in south India may be mentioned as under: Kollapuri-amma, Huskur-amma, Bhadrakali, Durgaama, Aiyanar, Karappan and Muttaiyan.
We find more elaborate descriptions of Gramdevata in the Smrti-Purana Sumuchhaya, Gramdevete Pratista and Yogini Tantra. This crude form of religion comprising animism, magic, polytheism, mythology, ghost-beliefs, and others which exercise sway over the mind of the rural population, who have not yet come under the influence of Hinduism. In fact the rural religion sees spirits practically behind all phenomena and creates a phantasmagoria of numerous uncanny worlds of spirits. These tribes are now concentrated in Vindhyan complex comprising the Satpuras, Mahadeohills, Gavaligarh, Maikal range, Huzari-bagh range, Chhota Nagpur, Singhbhum, and Manbhum, Aravallis hills, Sahyadris, Mysore area. This cult draws most of its votaries from the lower tribes particularly from Bhils, Dangs, Gonds, Santals, Uraons, Baigas, Gadabas, Murias, Worli, Toda, Kurumbar, Kadar, Puliyan, Muthuvan, Savaras, Baiga, Chenchu Reddi, Irukes and Yenadid. Their common daily enemies are evil spirits and epidemics of cholera, smallpox and fever, childlessness and cattle diseases, failure of crops and rain.
Beliefs in India
People want to ward of evils, dangers and disease and pray for health, success and happiness. They have always to devise means. At the base of all the religions lies a mass of primitive beliefs. The early stage of religion, superstition is the means by which he explained things to satisfy these inquisitive primitive mind. The simple explanation given by the local people is that a person in distress vows to offer a horse or an elephant or a tiger or a rhinoceros to Godlings or Gramdevta. When his wishes are realized, he offers as substitute this trumpery donation. Moreover it is an act of prudence to secure their goodwill as an insurance against possible misfortune. Their attitude finds expression in a well-known proverb of Kathiawar which says ‘Pay reverence once to a benign God, for He may do you good, but twice to a malign power in order that He may do you no harm.’ It is a common practice to offer substitution of these kinds of clay horse, elephants, tigers and rhinoceros all over India. Thus when an animal could not be procured for a substitute. We have common examples of substitution of the same kind; on the same principle, women used to give cakes in the form of phallus to a Brahmin. Some give silver cow to Brahmin as a donation instead of a living cow. Some people cut the gourd at the junction of four roads. In the days of the Navaratri perforated pots with lamp and flowers are offered to deity. Even Muslims offer the Ghodas made up of rags to their tombs and Pir-bawa. Sindhis offer these clay images called Ghoda when they worship Goddess Laxmi on the New Year. In North India and Gujrat people offer these miniature figure of animal to Goddess Sitala when there is epidemic or cholera. People have the same custom of offering clay horses, elephants to tutelary deity in Bengal and Bihar. The guardian deities of villages in Madras are Aiyanar and Muttaiyan. It is a belief that they ride every night for driving away evil spirits. So figurines of elephant, horse and tigers are provided for them to ride on. These figurines are not common as we find elsewhere, but, are really imposing wood also. In Maharashtra people worship clay horse and bulls on the last day of Shravan and it is a big festival all over the province. These figurines are reminders to the deity of the help expected whether given before or after the help is received. Moreover people used to offer (madaparaka) honey, ghee, milk and (vasana) cloth, (Naivedya) food, and flowers, perfume and dipa. It is worth nothing that the worship is carried on generally by non-Brahmin priests, exorcist, Bhuva and Bhagatas.
Parallel Belief in Asia
It seems from the early times that people of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iraq and Palestine have been accustomed to place in their graves some objects to help the dead person on his long and tedious journey of his life. Oswal Siren has described the terracotta dug up from the early tombs of the Han period, the majority of the figurines were of remarkable effigies of animal, principally illustrated in the representation of camels, horses, bulls and other domestic pets. Even today horse-worship is still mixed up with the creed of the Buddhists of Yunan who probably derived it from India. Moreover even the Japanese believe that certain objects should be kept with the dead body-they are useful to them in the long journey. Similarly for a living horse, horse of baked earth afterwards substituted. The clay figurines of various types have been found from the tombs of the Nkodas and Princes. The Japanese farmers offer the clay images of animals to their local deity to protect their crops and cattle from the evil spirits as we find the Indian farmers do. Afterwards they started offering wooden effigies of horses and did it to such an extent that they constructed a special building called EMADO (Horse) picture gallery, for the public worship. The customs of omen of horses is also quite common in Germany, and they consider horse as a holy animal as we consider cow in India. These clay horses are known as Vytaka or Dymka in Russia and are offered to commemorate the dead persons of the family.
Terra-Cotta Folk Art
Folk art is a symbol of social and religious life. Itrevealstheinner beauty, the design and the value that lie deep in the community. The traditions, religious beliefs, and culture of a society are perfectly mirrored through these terra-cotta votive offerings. Their colour and shape suggest the aesthetic taste of the people in the daily life. Folk art is a collective aspirations and expressions of the people who generally live in rural areas. It is deeply rooted in the soil and closely associated with the popular customs and beliefs. These clay animals are intimately linked with their myths, rituals ad superstitions. It is difficult to trace the origin and development to trace the origin and development of this ageless folk votive terracotta but the earliest terracotta art traditions in India can be traced in India can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization about 2500 B.C. It has preserved itself ever since as one of the most handy medium of popular art and traditions.
The mystery of these votive dedicating clay images of animals lies partly in the fact they suggest rather than state. They are the vernacular expression of figural images. These are not made primarily for aesthetic reasons but purely for religious purposes. Therefore, these symbols speak the same truth as philosophy and myth. They may in a general way, be described as hieratic or perhaps best of all as traditional. They suggest a greater freedom of movements though they are primitive in appearance and technique. They are bold in creation and simplified in form. Distortions are made to make them more conventional and proportion. The potter (artist) does not care for anatomical and realist forms of animals. But their certain parts of body are made more elaborate, for example the ears of elephant, the legs of horse and horns of rhinoceros.
Generally these clay animals considered as poor man’s sculpture are of uncommon interest, for rarely do we find in the plastic art of the primitive people of the country expressions of such vitality and elemental simplicity. Like all true primitive art the aesthetic adventure of the people as found in terracotta is an unconscious one dictated by urging that know no outward moulding and refinement. However, forms powerful and mature emerge from the vast store-house of their unconscious as a store-house of their unconscious as a stream of unbroken imagery. This art stream of unbroken imagery. This art of the people concerns itself with clay horses, human figurines, votive tanks, balls and Garba and with those disembodied deities and spirits that guard alike seeds end crops, diseases, death and fertility. The great mysterious nature-cycle is the altar on which they lay their offerings.
These votive animals, like all other production of folk art, are brilliantly decorative and sincerely ingenious. They vary from place to place but are clearly of classical descent. Even if the potter-woman does not introduce any new detail, these figurines are usually very expressive, corpulent, dignified. A dashing horse-man, tiger, a long-legged horse and elephant with ‘Ambadi’, are very popular and common figurines. The artist produces a pleasing effect. The artists uphold their native traditions, especially in their manner of handling them. Life itself, however, is always suggesting new themes but the problem is how to remain faithful to these traditions and yet keep pace with the times. These terracotta provide data for the Archaeologists, Anthropologists and Art Historians. This art is on the decline these days and conscious efforts to stem the engulfing tide are needed to preserve it. It is in imminent danger of being overwhelmed by superior socio-economic forces of modern civilization.
In the villages the potters work generally at the Diwali time in the month of Aso. They prepare bodies on the wheel, but sometimes the figurines are modelled in various sizes entirely by hand. Their features and adornments, head, eyes, ears, legs, tails, neck are prepared separately from strips of wet clay. Afterwards all these parts are applied to model by the applique technique. The technique is crude in practice, the potters are completely conscious of the medium, so that sometimes they make short tails, short trunks of elephants, to avoid their breaking down. These figurines are lightly fired and subsequently decorated with white and red local pigments.
Published in Cultural Forum, Vol. V. No. 3, March-April, 1963, pp. 72-76