1. Potter There are 15 potter families in the area actively pursuing the art of pottery. This is a poor community and is fighting for its survival. The situation of potters is not good; the sale is limited to festivals and religious purpose. And they say such religious demands are seasonal and have nothing to do with quality of the product. This has lead to deterioration of the quality over a period of time. The cost and availability of raw material is also problem, firewood and cow dung cakes are not easily available. We shared with them purpose of the discussion i.e. development of terracotta souvenirs for tourists. They shared with us few such terracotta work they did in past. On being asked if they would like to start a unit at Sanskritik Gram, few of them agreed. They also added the earth at Xuanzang memorial is very suited for making terracotta items.
Bargaon has 7 Iron foundries. Ironsmiths used to be well off some 10 years ago; but since most of their work is associated with repair of agriculture equipments and with coming of new machines they are getting very few repair opportunities, the economic situation is not as healthy as it used to be. With good transport links to Bihar Sharif lots of people prefer going to Bihar Sharif for repair works. We looked for an ironsmith who could make souvenirs by metal casting and met Om prakash viswkarma an ironsmith who had done lots of casting work before. He showed us a metal bush used in pump sets which he made by casting in his foundry. We discussed with him if he ever thought of making some cast based souvenirs. He said he had this in mind but he never actually tried it. He asked us if we can get him a dye prepared he can try to prepare the cast.
3. Stone work – Patthar katti
Stone based small souvenirs are very popular with the tourists in the Buddhist circuit. To involve some sculptor interested in participating at Sanskritik gram we visited Patharkatti, the village which has cluster of traditional artisans. The first village on way to Patharkatti is khukari; this village has as many as 3000 people engaged with the sculpture making work. Traditionally the work was limited to the Gaud Brahmins who migrated from Rajasthan on invitation of Rani Ahilyabai of Indore. Some 400 years ago the 1300 Gaud Brahmins built the famous Vishnupad Temple. Most of the families stayed back and continued the sculpture making from local stones. In last 20 years most of the gaud Brahmins have moved back to other places and only 4 families are left at Patharkatti. This craft was limited to the Gaud Brahmins till recently when in 1950’s Upendar Maharathi started a training centre to involve people from other communities. Since its inception many local people have taken training and the craft at its peak was spread in as many 10 villages. Presently the craft is limited to four villages and the biggest clusters are at khukari, Patharkatti and Tenbigha. There are few smaller clusters at Niyampur and Banwariganj all the villages in same vicinity.
The craft is not in much demand these days. Till about 15 years ago a lots of tourists frequented the place but now the number has gone down. Sculptures made are sold at various places through the middlemen and agents who have showrooms at Gaya, Rajgir and other tourist destinations. Few of the artisans also have showrooms at Bodh Gaya. Sale is generally low except for the tourist season.
Stone quarries have been exploited to maximum and most of the quarries are not left with good stone in reach. Lots of quarries require cleaning by removing earth from around it. Artisans now bring stones from other places like Dumka in Jharkhand, Sabja green stone and red sandstone from Chunar, Uttar Pradesh. Paliya stone from Jhansi region is particularly in demand because it’s a soft stone and suitable for making small idols. Children of age 8 to 10 are specialized in making small idols and make up to 10 to 12 piece a day. They sell it for Rs 10/ piece.
Marble made sculptor is very much in demand generally. They bring Marble from Rajasthan. There are many varieties of stones found in local mines; Patharkatti has around 27 varieties of stones available in its mines.
Some efforts were made to make a cooperative of artisans, but some anti-social elements murdered the key organizer and since then no another effort has been made to revive the cooperative. Local mines are suitable for large sculptures. Large sculpture takes lots of time to make and are costly hence hard to sell. Foreigners generally prefer small sculptures.
When asked why you don’t make small sculpture from local stone they said the stones are not suitable. They said Baijana mines on Murli hill have suitable stones for making small sculptures up to 2 inches but they require some earth clearing work. Mines at Dhanmahua are good for small sculpture but are now illegally occupied by some people who don’t allow them to quarry stones. Another mine they said is Pir mines which has good black stone suitable for 5 to 6 inch small sculptures. The popular varieties of stones mined locally are motiya granite, tambala, reda, hansraj, jhingpathar and parajitiya.
Another problem is electricity most of the work now is done with generator sets.
Ms Rajbala Verma DM, Gaya in 1993 visited the place and facilitated credit facility to many Artisans. She also provided marketing outlet to interested artisans at Bodh Gaya. She also sanctioned Rs, 1 Lac for clearing earth from one of the mines, though the amount was not sufficient and work is still unfinished.
4. Lac crafts (also Lacquer, Lahti)
Lac crafts are traditionally very predominant in Bihar. At NNMSG we plan to develop some souvenirs based on Lac. Lac, the raw material is easily available locally and the products are easy make. We visited Village Chandasi in Noor Sarai Block; the village has some 70 odd women’s group who has taken training on making Lahti bangles. A few women got interested in providing know-how to our cooperative members. In coming months we will organize a small workshop for basic training for crafts based on Lac. We will need help of product designers for development of range of suitable souvenirs made from Lac.