A traditional profession is a religion in itself. Followers of this profession have their own tenets with its inherent ethical propensity towards their job. This principle is ensconced in one of the Vachanas of Saint Basavanna, who is a 12th Century Statesman, Philosopher and Kannada Poet. Vachanas means: those words which are said and written rhythmically.‘ Kayakave kailasavaaya’ (ಕಾಯಕವೇ ಕೈಲಾಸವಯ್ಯಾ), is the Vachana referred. This means: ‘Work is worship’.
Benjamin Franklin says, “Example is the school of mankind”. We can deduce that such exemplary actions or creations led to the emergence of inter-dependent specific groups of professions, say tillers of sea and land, archers, oil-pressers, weavers, smiths, and many traditional artisans. Potters are traditional artisans, whose existence is known from the figures and pot-shreds found in Sindhu excavations.
Pot-makers of Tulu Nadu are called as ‘Moolye, Odari, Kumbaara or kumbar, kusave (ku+sa+ve = one who works with mud and water) and Handa. They are toilers in earth or soil (Mannu in Tulu & Kannada) and water. As a dignified nomenclature, they are also known as Kulala (ku = earth + ala = water and/or man), tracing their origin to Kulalan, the son of Lord Brahma. Potter’s chakra or wheel of creation is proverbial. So, they also call themselves as ‘Chakrashali’ (word coined on the line of Padmashali, the weaver’s class), i.e. one who possesses Chakra as ones implement (for his creative job). In Kannada, they are called as Kumbāra, Tamil Kusave, Telugu Kummara, Orissa Kumbaro, Sanskrit Kumbhakāra and Northern India Prajapati. They are all Hindus, following either Vishnu or Shiva.
It is a belief that potters of Tulu Nadu are from Telugu and Kannada speaking areas (as also quoted by H.A. Stuart). Usually, Telugu potters are followers of Vishnu, excepting Lingayat potters, who bury their dead.
Tuluva potters’ mother tongue is Tulu. They follow ‘Aliya Santana Kattu’, i.e. matrilineal system of inheritance. They have the same Tulu culture and follow Bari System as Mogaveeras, Billavas, etc., say Bangera, Karkera, Kunder, Salian, Suvarna and so on (besides Moolya, a community-marker surname).
Significance of Moolya
Why in Tulu Nadu a pot-maker is called ‘Moolya’? Normally, one is ashamed of being called by caste-name (This applies to call castes). First thing that occurs to one’s mind is that ‘Moolya’ stands for ‘valuable’. It is an adjective and a noun, meaning ‘Value’. (The writer pities those parents who are now fond of naming their children by adjective word). The caste name ‘Moolya’ has a specific connotation. We all belong to this Mother Earth, wherefrom we all spring and merge but are not called as ‘Moolya’. He is a man of the earth and always toils with it in an open space of a village or in colony of pottersin a corner (= Moole). One who lives in a ‘moole’ is came to be known as ‘moolye’. This is in one sense. In another sense, ‘moola’ means ‘original’. As Lord Brahma creates many types of living beings, a potter too moulds and creates pots of different shapes for different uses. So, he becomes the originator (Moolye). This is the reason why potters of Northern India call themselves as ‘Prajapati’ (Creator). He is an artist on his own right. He creates, sustains and destroys.Analogy of shristhi, sthiti and laya is hidden in ‘Moolya’. This is the ‘tripadi’ (a poem of three lines) of a human existence. We remember here Kannada Poet and Saint Sarvajna, who composed many poems in Tripadi metre. He is from a potter’s family. Karnataka Government has erected a statue of him at Bengaluru.
Some members of the potter’s community call themselves Kulala Vaishnavas as against Tamil and Kannada Kusave/Kusavans and Kumbaaras, who worship Lord Shiva. They claim their descent from Kulala(n), the son of Lord Brahma. Kulala was fond of creating things and destroying them daily. So, Brahma made him a potter, to be the progenitor of Pot-maker’s community.
All the potters claim an impure Brahmanical descent. Edgar Thurston records this collected story in his Book ‘Castes and Tribes of Southern India (Vol.4)’. His source was H. A. Stuart: Madras Census Report, 1891 & Manual of North Arcot District – Stuart, IV-8). The concise story is given below:
“A learned Brahmin, after long study, has discovered the day and hour in which he might beget a mighty offspring. After a long wait for the opportune time, he sets for the house of his selected bride but could not make it. Being obstructed by a flood, he stops at a potter’s house en route and marries the daughter of his host to seize the opportunity of ‘auspicious time’. He begets a celebrated son Shālivāhana. He develops a knack for pottery and makes many earthen figures of mounted warriors right from childhood and hides them in a place. When Vikramarka invaded Southern India, he ordered the people to supply him with pots for his army. People appeals to Shalivahana. Miraculously infusing life into his clay figures, he leads them to battle against the enemy and wins the battle.The country (Mysore) falls into his hands. Eventually, he was left as its ruler and became the ancestor of the early Mysore Rajas. “
(Source: H.A. Stuart: Madras Census Report, 1891 & Manual of North Arcot District – Stuart, IV-8)
The efforts put in by a potter is typified in the following proverb in Tulu and Kannada “ಕುಂಬಾರಗು/ ಕುಂಬಾರಗೆ ವರುಷ, ದೊಣ್ಣೆಗು/ದೊಣ್ಣೆಗೆ ನಿಮಿಷ” (Kumbaargu/Kumbarage varusha, donnegu/donnege nimisha). This means: “What is made in a year by a potter is destroyed by a stick in a minute, meaning within no times”. This depicts the vulnerability of his products. Quirk of fate may leave these simple folks destitute. That is why some families always live in a state of poverty by ignorance of availability of good raw material and market.
Stages of pot-making
1) Collecting suitable clay, i.e. sticky soil (jedi mannu/āve mannu or mudar (= soft) mannu in Tulu):
A variety of mud is used in pot making. We find this soil deposited in water-logged low field (Patla Kanda in Tulu) due to flood and on stream (‘Tār’ in Tulu) and river beds. It is said that such soil, digged at a depth of 6 ft. below stream or river, is very good. As reported, Uppinangadi and ManEl (now Malali near Puraal, aka Polali – 3 km away from Gurupura-Kaikamba in Mangaluru) areas are famous for availability of such soft earth and hence, the preponderance of potter-families there. Jedi Mannu (potters clay) mixed with parel mannu (= maralu mannu, i.e. fine sandy soil) is perfect soft soil (āve mannu) for pot-making. Now, there is a demand for reverting the village name Malali to ManEl by locals to preserve its meanigfulness.
2) Powdering lump of earth, sieving & burning:
Lump of ave mannu is to be beaten to powder. This powdered soil then is sieved to separate pebbles, stones and other coarse matters, before burning.
3) Soaking, thumping and softening mud:
To make the soil soft and pliable, it is to be soaked in water. Soaked mud is thumped or pounded by legs. This soil is to be kept for 2 to 3 days for seasoning. This well-ground softened soil is called ‘are mannu’ in Tulu.
There is a wise-saying in Tulu: “ಅಳಪ್ಪೆರ ತೆರಿಯಂದಿನಾಯೆ ಆಚಾರಿ ಅತ್ತ್, ಮೇಲಿಪ್ಪೆರೆ ತೆರಿಯಂದಿನಾಯೆ ಓಡಾರಿ ಅತ್ತ್” (Alappere teriyandināye aachari att, melippere teriyandināye odari att). This means: A carpenter must know how to take measurements.
Likewise, a potter must be skilled in mixing clay well with water and knead it into a mass by thumping. If they are not skilled in their respective jobs, then they are not fit to be called as ‘Aachari (carpenter) and ‘Odari’ (Potter).
‘Are mannu’ is very precious for a potter and he never let it go waste. It is a matter of pride to him. This trait is epitomized in a Tulu wise-saying: “Odari ‘are’ budaaye, ‘aritarayi’ madyale budaaye”, which means, a potter is very much conscious not to waste the well beaten and softened soil (= are), just like a washer-man who never forgets to take rice and coconut (ari & tārayi) offered in a ceremony, which he officiates. (Read the explanation given in our Post-395/25.12.2017: A matter of cleansing).
4) Using potter’s wheel (Kulala Chakra):
In Tulu, potter’s wheel is called as ‘tigari/tagori and gaali. Monier Williams (Sanskrit) Dictionary describes potter’s apparatus as “a simple circular horizontal well-balanced fly-wheel, generally 2 or 3 feet in diameter, which can be made to rotate by slight impulse. The potter loads it with clay lump and then, with a few easy sweeps and turns of his hands, he moulds his material into beautiful curves and symmetrical shapes and leaves his products of skill to bake in the Sun.” (Source: Madras Pottery Journal, Indian Arts VII, 1897 as quoted in Castes & Tribes of Southern India).
His product varieties are:
· kara (rice cooking vessel),
· bisale (large-mouthed vessel for cooking vegetables, fish and other preparations, mande (big vessel used for boiling bathing water, storing rice and grains, etc.),
· neeradyara/Korai (a wide-mouthed used to clean rice and filter or decant liquids,
· bavade (lid for vessels),
· gaddavu (half spherical small eating vessel with circular leg),
· toori/mutti (Sans: kalasha) (small vessels,
· kooji/kooje (beaked water jug),
· kundi (flower pot),
· dose kavali (cake pan),
· tibile (used for oil-wick-lighting at homes, temples and during Deepavali, Festival Lights, etc.
5) Potter’s kiln (Ave) and baking:
Potter marks-out a circular space, about 10 ft. dia., at any convenient open space. Small pieces of wood and dried sticks are spread over this space to a depth of six inches and a layer of dried cow-dungs cakes are laid over the sticks. He piles up all sunbaked vessels carefully over this platform of fuel to a height of 5 to 6 feet. This whole heap is then covered with straw. This straw is plastered with clay all over, leaving a few openings here and there. These openings allow the smoke to escape. Now the potter’s kiln is ready. He then fires the fuel at the bottom. He has to keep a watch that fire does not die. Half-burnt vessels are useless. Baking process is complete during a few hours. Avedu deevandi kara, uppuda kadaludu odedu chooraavu (=non-baked vessel in a kiln breaks and dissolves in salty sea water).
6) Polishing Techniques:
In some special vessels, potters make use of polish made from seeds of Gyrocarpus Jacquini for polishing. “Another method employed for producing a polish is to rub the surface with the mucilaginous juice of tuthi (Abutilon Indicum) and then fire the vessel again” (ibidem). Such polished antique potteries are found in cromlech (= a megalithic chamber tomb, dolmen, passage grave).
Potters were skilled in making pyriform sepulchral urns. In excavations, these are found in Tinnevelly, Madura, Malabar and elsewhere. Dr. G.U. Pope shows that these urns are mentioned about the burial of heroes and kings as late as 18th Century AD.
Note: Common names of Gyrocarpus Jacquini: Helicopter tree, Whirly Whirlytree burl, Stinkwood, Kannada: Kadu bende, Tamil: Chaivavatala, Tanakku, Kadavai, Telugu: Tanuku, Hindi: Zaitun. (Source: Wikipedia)
A big rattan basket is tied to wooden plank. A potter stacks all his wares into this basket. Alternatively, he makes ‘kavadi’ of bamboo stick with nets fixed at both ends for keeping vessels and carries it on his shoulder. Traditionally, he used to take his earthen-wares on head load to weekly markets, which are held regularly in different villages. He also sold his wares by going house to house in villages.
Now-a-days caste cooperative societies are providing market-platforms for these products. These societies are based in a village, town, city and State-wide).
It is customary that some members of the potter’s community are doing priestly work in Bhootasthana (Shrine of Divine Spirits) during annual celebrations (known as Nema or Kola). Duties include:
(1) Bringing masks and other ornaments, etc. used in worship of deity,
(2) Acting as Torch-bearers and
(3) Purification and other rituals of the shrine.
They are called as ‘Moolyada Pujari’ (Read our Post-314 on Billava Community). Besides potters, this title is also given to people of other communities, say Mogaveeras, Billavas, Bunts, who are doing the duties as said above as a convention. They are also called as ‘Mukkaldi’.
Woes of Potters
Most of the potters, sticking to their ancestral livelihood, are struggling under acute poverty though there is demand for pottery, being consumer products. Reasons and problems are many:
· With modern education, youth are not interested in sparing their time for pot-making. Earlier, all family members were a part of the pot-making ritual.
· Scarcity of raw materials, i.e. suitable clay (as nearby natural water courses are disturbed or nearly vanished) and burning wood and straw.
· Heavy cartage for transporting such materials from distant places.
· Demand is dwindling because of modern cooking utensils (of alluminium or stainless steel).
· Use of plastic vessels and decorative items
· Pots are very brittle and needs care and suitable warehousing before finding markets.
· Difficulties in getting quick returns in commensurate with efforts put in.
· Besides traditional marketing, potter must take his earthen-wares to different and distant places, entailing prohibitive cost of transportation.
· No Government subsidies and loan facilities as are offered to other traditional artisans.
Kulala Sangha is a charitable trust, founded in 1929 in Mumbai, for the upliftment of Kulalas. The primary object of the Sangha is to promote education, spirit of fellowship and co-operation. Their mouth-piece Journal is ‘Amulya’. Their pet project of Kualala Bhavan – a Convention Centre - and Students Hostel is under construction at Jeppu, Near Mangaladevi Temple, Mangaluru.
There are many other organisations at village, town and taluk levels in Udupi and Dakshina Kannada and in other cities. Some are styled as ‘Kulala Sudharaka Sangha’.
Pot-making is a cottage industry for livelihood. Educated youth are not interested in continuing the ancestral art of making pots. As a stranger to this art, we do not know how far these organisations help propagating this art. We have come across some ads in Internet by some pottery labs (e.g. one at Bandra locality of Mumbai), offering teaching the pot-making art. We suggest the Kulala Sangha ear-marking a spot (instead of exhibition of visuals) for a workshop and sale centre in unused land at the new Convention Centre, if not envisaged. This will create job opportunities to under-privileged potter families. This amounts to encouragement by a Sangha, besides arranging social events.
Food prepared in earthen-wares are wholesome and tasty. This quality is reinvented, and canteens, eateries and big hospitality industry have started cooking in earthen-wares. So, demand for earthen pots is increasing. Water stored in earthen jugs and vessels (madike/madka) remains ice-cool and hence they are in much demand during summer. The Sangha would do well by highlighting the healthy features of earthen pots in visuals at exhibitions of pottery and on Convention Hall walls.
As an artist, potter is adept in giving shape of his choice to the mud. Knowledge of his art is percolating down from his ancestors. His enthusiasm and confidence are manifest from the following Tulu saying:
“ಯಾನ್ ಕಲ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯೆಲಾ ಉಂಡು, ನಾಲೂರ್ ಮಣ್ಣುಲಾ ಉಂಡುನ್ದ್ ಓಡಾರಿ ಪಣ್ತೆಗೆ” (Yaan kaltina vidyelaa undu, naalur mannulaa undund odaari pantege).
Potter says, “There is abundance of clay in the Nature everywhere (Naalur mannu) and I have mastered the knowledge and skill (Kaltina vidye). I have no worry of future." Mark the grit and sincerity expressed in this saying. A potter would survive despite vicissitudes in his life.