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The Intricacies of Molela Terracotta

Molela Terracotta: A Glimpse into India’s Timeless Clay Artistry

India is a country rich in artistic legacy, with many different traditional art forms. Each has its own distinct expressions and background. Among these, Molela Terracotta handicrafts have drawn both national and international attention due to their intricate designs and sacred meanings. In this blog, we delve into the fascinating world of Molela Terracotta, exploring its origins, symbolism, and the artists behind this time-honoured craft.

Let’s explore this folk art form and study its cultural and religious significance.

Unearthing the Origins of Molela Terracotta

A Gauri Nritya performance (image source:

Molela, a quaint village in the Rajasthan state of India, is the birthplace of this exquisite terracotta art form. The Molela Kumhars, who are potters, create a variety of devotional plaques. This includes large panels that portray rural village scenes and smaller pieces like temple bells and household ware. Their most well-known creations are hand-modeled, hollow relief clay plaques. The visual narratives of their daily lives and customs that these products create are incredibly charming.

Dating back centuries, Molela Terracotta’s roots can be traced to the Gupta period, making it a living relic of ancient India’s artistic prowess. A legend says that a blind potter once dreamed of Lord Dharmaraja, who instructed him to dig clay at a specific location and create his image. His vision was restored the next morning. He created God’s image to fulfil his promise. As a result, future generations took up the craft. It is inherited, as are most crafts, primarily from fathers to sons, though it changes with each generation. In most cases, the men create and decorate the murtis (idols), while the women prepare the clay.

Religious Significance of Molela Terracotta

A plaque featuring religious deities (image source:

The gods depicted on Molela terracotta may be characters from the mainstream Hindu pantheon, such as Ganesha, Durga, Kali, and Chamunda. They are more frequently local deities whose cults are based on folklore honouring local heroes or animistic belief systems, such as Nagadeva.

Originally, Molela Terracotta plaques were crafted for tribal worship. The locals installed these exquisite plaques in the village shrines. They believed that the plaques had the ability to cure illnesses and bring good fortune. The Bhil community and their priests, known as Bhopas, would travel great distances from regions like Madhya Pradesh to Molela to acquire these sacred clay images.

Molela Terracotta is deeply rooted in the local culture. It plays a vital role during the Maag season, coinciding with the harvest festival. Tribal communities from regions across Rajasthan, Gujarat, and the Madhya Pradesh border visit Molela to select their votive plaques. These indigenous communities carry the completed idols on their heads back to their villages, a sign of respect for the sacred art.

The Intricate Craftsmanship of Molela Terracotta

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Molela Terracotta is characterised by its intricate designs and remarkable attention to detail. Skilled artisans craft these clay artefacts, infusing them with deep symbolism and cultural significance. Every piece is a testament to the artist’s dexterity and a source of cultural pride.

Artisans use the mud excavated from the banks of the Banas river to create the distinctive narrative plaques, tiles, and murals. The craftsmen avoid using any non-organic materials. The traditional design depicts the god Dharmaraja riding a horse. Artists use squeeze, pinch, and coil clay on a flat slab to build and refine the images.

The exclusivity of Molela Terracotta lies in its regional confinement. The unique clay found in Molela, along with the local climate, plays a crucial role in shaping its distinct design. The clay here enables the creation of robust designs, preventing the cracks that might appear when clay from other regions is used.

Symbolism and Significance

The Molela artisans of the Kumhar community have passed down this art form through generations. Their work reflects their deep connection to tradition and their ability to evolve while preserving the essence of the art form. Their skilled hands breathe life into the clay, creating masterpieces that captivate art enthusiasts worldwide.

Artisans make all plaques by hand; no moulds are involved. The artisans use organic substances and natural colours made from lacquer. Traditionally, they were not paid money but were given offerings such as money, clothes, or grains. The intricacy of the work and the plaque’s size determine its price.

Themes, Motifs, and Tribal Traditions

A plaque by artist Mukesh Prajapat (image source: Abhijna e-Museum)

Molela Terracotta doesn’t limit itself to religious themes alone. The plagues represent a range of subjects, from Rajput heroes and local deities to daily household chores, women empowerment, celestial bodies, and agricultural activities. Mythological stories and legends, like Krishna lifting a mountain with his finger, find their place in these clay creations.

For the tribal communities, these plaques are not static idols; they serve as protectors and healers. Many indigenous communities, such as the Chaudhary and Bheel, order terracotta replicas of human body parts, which they offer on shrines to cure ailments. The Molela Terracotta plaques represent local protective ideals, heroes, and deities, creating a deep connection to the community’s beliefs.

The Artists Behind Molela Terracotta

Molela Terracotta’s journey from ancient India to the modern world is a testament to the resilience of traditional art forms. As we celebrate the artistry of Molela Terracotta, we also acknowledge the importance of preserving these legacies for future generations. By supporting the Molela artisans and appreciating their craft, we contribute to the continuity of India’s rich artistic heritage.

If you’re intrigued by the world of Molela Terracotta, consider planning a visit to Molela village in Rajasthan. It’s an opportunity to witness the artists at work, discover their stories, and acquire these timeless clay creations, ensuring that this remarkable art form continues to thrive.

Molela Terracotta: A Timeless Tradition in Modern Times

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While Molela Terracotta’s origins are steeped in history, it continues to thrive in contemporary India. The artisans have adapted to changing times, finding new avenues to showcase their craftsmanship. From decorative items to architectural embellishments, Molela Terracotta is a testament to the enduring appeal of traditional Indian art.

In conclusion, Molela Terracotta stands as a testament to traditional Indian artistry, bridging the past and present. Clay sculpture has been a part of Indian cultural identity since the pre-Harappan period, and art forms like Molela Terracotta only serve to strengthen that legacy.

Interested in learning about the effect of folk art on cultural practises? Download the Rooftop App from Google Play or the App Store and read our Art Wikis and blogs for more information.

By Melissa D’Mello

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