Notwithstanding the glittering transformations of the ‘deepams’, the modest terracotta deepams in its traditional avatar continue to hold a distinct market during the festivities.
Bearing testimony to this rich tradition of one of the most ancient professions of artistic expressions are the faceless congested lanes of Kummari Veedhi.
A few feeble hands work quietly to create wonders out of clay from the potter’s wheel. Right from the entrance, moulds of clay are strewn all along the dark surreal space. A few years ago, there were more than 15 families of potters in the place that would be brimming with activity during the festive season. Lack of patronage, and with the new generation weaning away from the family profession, the number is reduced to four now.
“The work requires specialised skill and immense hard work,” says V. Mallesu, who makes deepams ahead of Deepavali and works as a contractor during the rest of the year. He learnt the art from his father when he was eight years old. Despite the hardships involved, it is the fascination towards making his creations from the potter’s wheel that has made him hold back to his family tradition, despite the meagre returns. The middlemen and art galleries, designer lifestyle stores and exclusive outlets have taken over from the traditional craftsman, he feels.
“The demand has come down considerably in recent years. We have to sell bulks of deepams and pots at wholesale rates to the dealers who sell it at a much higher rate at their shops with slight modifications. On top of that, the rising prices of basic necessities have made a deep hole in our modest food basket,” he rues. With rising cost of living and the low-fetching profession of potters, the younger generation is taking to other means of livelihood and refrains from coming into their family business.
The clay the potters bring from Pendurthi has to be burnt before use, which requires a separate place as it emits a lot of smoke.
But a severe space constraint has added to the woes of the traditional potters. “We can’t produce in bulk. Where is the space to keep all the pots to dry?” he says. Even as the tired, distressed faces continue to work on the wheel, it’s their passion for work that helps them sail through the twilight years of life.