How can terra cotta be ever out of fashion? Mangalore is rediscovering what has always been part of its heritage
Just when people thought they had seen the last of the Mangalore pottery and their cool, brick red colour, the tiles are back in different shapes and for different uses. The tiles have arrived in city in loads and they are everywhere and in all forms from common flowerpots to exotic designer pots in delicate artwork.
Mangalore has a great history of terra cotta work. Travellers of yore like Ptolemy and Peitro Dellavelle and even Chinese and Arabian merchants have been recorded carrying clay from Mangalore to their native lands. The Chinese also sent some of their "china" to Mangalore, which you now find in Barkur, formerly part of the Vijayanagar Empire. Pottery is one of mankind's oldest vocations. Prehistoric (sometimes Neolithic) remains of pottery in Scandinavia, England, France, Italy, Greece and North and South America have proved of great importance in archaeology and are often a means of dating and establishing an early chronology. Pottery has also been of value as historical and literary records; ancient Assyrian and Babylonian writings have been inscribed on clay tablets. Simple geometric patterns in monochrome, polychrome or incised work are common to pottery of prehistoric and primitive cultures. Mangaloreans love this old art and have an inclination to make it part of their everyday life and culture.Mangalore is perhaps the largest market in Karnataka after Bangalore for pottery. Potters from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and North Karnataka areas are thronging to this city to market their produce and trends indicate they sell real fast. Rathnam Naidu, who visits Mangalore every year from Ranga Reddy district of Andhra Pradesh, brings pots from Andhra Pradesh that have a distinct character. Typically, his Dravidian designs and down-to-earth prices ensure they sell fast. Tamil Nadu potters who have settled down in Mangalore use local clay, which is a tinge greyer than that found in that State. But when this clay is fired they acquire a natural terracotta colour, says Thangavelu who has camped near Urva Marigudi. Clearly, he is doing well.
Being very close to Kerala, Mangalore enjoys a good inflow of clay articles from that State. There are hardly any modern homes that do not have Kerala pottery. Right from the common pots in the garden to the corner piece in the drawing room there is that piece of terra cotta making a quiet, earthy statement.Dora, the owner of the designer clay boutique Potz and Plantz, says Mangaloreans have an affinity to pottery, which is an intrinsic part of their culture and tradition. "Mangalore was known for earthen cooking vessels that were quite hardy," says Dora. She also remembers the distinct aroma of the hot Mangalorean fish curry cooked in earthen vessels. Architectural consultants Thirtharama Valalambe say people may build modern houses with lots of steel, granite and wood, but a simple piece of pottery inside the house lends a different beauty to it. With the summer heat of Mangalore just around the corner, clay water pots have also started arriving in the city. No fizzy drink can ever be as refreshing water boiled with a bit of vetiver (khus) and cooled in a clay pot.M. RAGHURAM