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Ratna Bharali Talukdar
Date of Publish: 2017-10-09

Earthen lamps from Rajapukhuri illuminate Deepavali in Guwahati

 

The courtyards of every household in Kumarpara locality of Rajapukhuri village in Assam's Kamrup district are dotted with handmade earthen lamps of different hues and shades kept under Sun for drying at this time of year when the state's capital city, Guwahati prepares to celebrate Deepavali - the festival of light.

 

 

Potters' families belonging to Kumar community of the village under Rampur Development block have been traditionally making these earthen lamps to meet the demand of Deepavali market in Guwahati and its surrounding areas.

 

Making earthenwares used on different religious occasions is a regular activity throughout the year for over 150 potters' families of Kumarpara. However, thousands of earthen lamps are made every year on the occasion of Deepavali in addition to this regular activity. Almost every female of the village knows this unique craft of making handmade earthen lamp, the simple as well as decorative ones, which they call 'Sati' in local Kamrupi dialect.

 

“It is mandatory for all the girls to learn the craft. The daughter-in-laws of the village who hail from outside, too however, normally have shown their interest to learn the craft”- says Labanya Kumari, (57). She is proud that she is a daughter and also a daughter– in-law of the potters' village.

 

Labanya Kumari, a widow, has three sons and two daughters. Of her three sons, only the eldest - Bhadeswar Kumar is associated with the craft, while two of her sons are masons. She says the average income of the family from the pottery work is nearly Rs. 10,000/ a month. However, during the festive month of Deepavali – the earning mounts up to Rs. 50,000.

“The market has been increasing steadily. There is a constant increase in price per thusand pieces too. The retailer pay us between Rs. 400 to Rs.2000/ for per thousand earthen lamps depending on the decorative work and sizes. Till five years ago, the minimum price was Rs.80/ per thousand”- she says.

 

While the market has been expanding steadily, there is a scarcity of raw-material - the clay. Once clay was easily available in surrounding areas. However, due to increased biotic pressure they now have to purchase it from the nearby village at Rs.400/ per carriage van.

 

“The process of making earthenwares is tedious. However, seven to eights hours work a day fetches one at least Rs.500/. The regular earning helps us make both ends meet despite all the odds” – says Thakuri Kumari (52). A widow and a mother of four, Thakuri Kumari, who has been running from pillars to post to get either a widow-pension or a house under central government's flagship programme of Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awas Yojana, previously known as Indira Awas Yojana - always prefers to sing a folk song aloud in a desperate bid to forget the spinal pain, the intensity of which increases during work.

 

The handmande earthen lamps are kept under Sun for three to four days for drying.

 

The dried earthen lamps are collected, and coloured with earths of different colour collecting from river bank. Pinky Kumari, a student of Class X of Madhabdev Government High School, decided not to visit the school on October 3, 2017, as she has to help the family by colouring the Ssatis, as the festival is approaching.

 

After drying process these lamps are baked in Bhatis or kilns for 3-4 days. Anupama Kumari, a daughter-in-law of Kumarpara village is busy in collecting ready for sale earthen lamps from the Bhati.

 

Now the products are ready for sale.

 

The artisal families, who have kept alive this age-old tradition, have not received any government support for upgrading their skill. Only those youth, who failed to avail a job in other sector, have shown interest in taking up this craft as the last option of income generating activity.

 

Only ten families have the “potter’s wheel” that help them to work at a faster pace. Other families still practice handmade pottery which is less remunerative.

 

Ratna Kumar(35), a master artisan, is among those fortunate ones, who have a potter's wheel at home. He has been associated with the craft for past 20 years.

 

Ratna Kumar is also expert in making diversified products apart from the traditional pots. He, however, says that the traditional pots have huge demand in local market in comparison to the decorative products.

 

 

"The traditional goods including Satis or earthen lamps, mola (used for offerings as Prasads or Bhogs) ghot (pot) etc. have huge demand in different temples. These items fetch us more money too. For example from the same amount of clay if we make a decorative tub, the retailer would pay us Rs.10/ only, while he would pay at least Rs20/ for a ghot (pot).

Photo, Video and Text - Ratna Bharali Talukdar

 

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