History & Culture

Terracotta horses that protect the seaside town of Pulicat

Frozen in time The terracotta horses special arrangement   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

They stand facing the sea, silently watching the waves. They will remain there — their terracotta feet digging into the sand, under rain and sun, some crumbling with age.

Terracotta horses are a permanent fixture in the hamlets that dot Pulicat, a seaside town in Thiruvallur district, 60 kilometres from Chennai.

If you walk past the hamlets, you will see terracotta herds standing next to one another, a stone’s throw away from the sea. Xavier Benedict, the founder- trustee of AARDE (Art & Architecture Research, Development and Education) Foundation, whose office is in Pulicat, recently shared images of these horses on Facebook, generating a renewed wave of interest in the tradition.

“The practice is prevalent in one particular fishing community in the region,” explains Xavier, adding that he shared the photos to “reinstate their identity during these tough times.”

The pandemic has been hard on all of us, and more so on fishermen who are not able to go to sea. “There are around 35 fishing hamlets in the region and the images I posted are from Goonankuppam,” he adds.

The ritual of placing terracotta horses is connected to deaths in the family. “I’ve seen families get a horse or a human statue made and placed by the seaside after the death of a loved one. They believe these departed souls will protect villages from natural disasters,” he says.

Over the years, the practice turned into an annual one, in which families got together to install the statues during Pulicat’s Pongal festival. “They positioned the statues in the North or South of the village, and believed that this protected the village, and helped them prosper by ensuring a good catch,” explains Xavier. Made by local potters, the horses feature a blend of sand from the village and clay.

Now, the practice is rarer. But the herds still stand, facing the waves. As Pulicat demonstrates, when times are tough, it does us good to call upon all our resources. And maybe, the sturdy horses by the seashore are listening.

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 7:15:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/terracotta-horses-that-protect-the-seaside-town-of-pulicat/article32090885.ece

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