58-year-old Ramkumar Prajapati in Indore is a busy man these days. A potter by profession, he is busy making diyas for the festival of lights in front of his modest house at Kumharkheri.
It is time for him to earn extra buck from selling ‘Diyas’ (earthen lamps), ‘Gawlan’ (holy dolls use in the puja rituals), small clay pots and ‘Hathi-Godha’ (pair of clay elephant and horses usually placed with the holy doll during puja).
Though busy, things are not rosy for Prajapati or the hundreds of other families of potters living in this area. Many have shifted to other profession to make a living, while others have taken up additional jobs to supplement their incomes.
Prajapati is among the very few in Kumharkhadi who are full-time potters and are keeping the tradition alive in the hope that earthen diyas and other clay goods will make a comeback.
“At one time, over 250 families worked as potters, but now only 25 work full-time as potters,” says Prajapati.
The main reason is the huge influx of Chinese products such as electric diyas, along with factory-produced wax candles. “We are unable to compete with the cheaper Chinese products and people are abandoning us,” says Gopal Prajapati, another full-time potter.
Dwarika Kumhar, a housewife, says that the use of disposable items such as glasses for serving tea, sweets, lassi and other products is also adding to the potters woes, as earlier, ‘kulad’ (earthen glasses) were used for serving beverages or sweets. “Even as the use of earthen pots for cooking has stopped,” she says.
Potters also rue the increasing cost of raw material such as soil, wood and fuel and decreasing availability of space for them. Sonu, a young potter says, “We need space to make diyas, but since most potters are poor, we use parks and roadsides for this purpose.”
Jairam Kumhar, 52, says that the art of making fine pottery is dying and most of the younger generation are not keen to take it up since it requires hard work. Kumhar had learned pottery-making from his father when he was just seven.
“None of my two children or my grandchildren are interested in the profession, citing poor financial returns. Though they learned pottery from me as this is our legacy and we want to forward this to our younger generations, they are hardly interested in taking it up as a profession,” Kumhar said.
Many potters also blame the state government’s apathy for the dying art of pottery in the state.
“If you look at Rajasthan, the state government has been paying special attention towards the art and potters there earn better, when compared to their MP counterparts,” says Tinsukh Prajapati from Kumhar Mohalla, Indore. “The government here too needs to pay special attention and help us in keeping the tradition alive,” he added.