Creating with clay

IN A country of billion people, enjoying different faiths, the multitude of annual festivals more or less manifests in forms that may seem unique to the rest of the world. Every grand occasion, be it Ganesh Chaturthi, Holi, Diwali, Bakrid, Christmas or Baisakhi, is further enriched with a distinctive show of idols, customs, crackers, colours and sweets.

On the flip side, these celebrations can sometimes end up being a source of concern for environmentalists and authorities. Like for instance, Ganesha idols made of clay, and in various sizes and colours, are immersed in water bodies during Vinayaka Chaturthi.

However, most of the idols made of Plaster of Paris can asphyxiate aquatic life, as they do not dissolve completely in water. Moreover, the attractive chemical dyes and colours used on the idols contain traces of mercury, chromium and lead, which can be carcinogenic in humans when fish from polluted water source is consumed. Traditionally, idols were made of stone or precious metals. However, as they were unaffordable to the masses, artisans turned to clay. But the problem with clay idols was that it was brittle. As keeping disfigured deities in homes was considered inauspicious, the tradition of idol immersion took hold. But to make it worse, the decorations on Plaster of Paris idols have become jazzier as they are decked up with thermocol, zari, and plastics that are not only non-biodegradable but also toxic to marine life.

Nevertheless, in some places clay continues to be part of the day-to-day ritual. The work that goes into creating these clay idols is itself a sight to watch. Most of the idols come from rural areas, where one can find potters pounding the sludge with their feet.

The pounded clay is then mixed with rice husk and applied over the straw. This then left to dry. Cracks appearing on the surface are smoothened with strips of cloth, and fresh application of clay. This is followed by another round of application of fine-grained clay , which is later poured into moulds to acquire the desired shape.

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