Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Clay is essential to Indian culture past and present. It has been the perfect vehicle for Indian creativity throughout the ages. There are innumerable forms of shapes and styles made of clay, both fired and unfired.

Offering of terracotta animals to forest and hill shrines has been integral to the tribal tradition in parts of Gujarat. Terracotta horses yet another expression in clay are a common sight around Ambaji in North Gujarat and Pavagad in the Panchmahal region of eastern Gujarat.

Garasia tribe, an interesting tribe having a strong influence of Rajasthani mixed Gujarati culture inhabit across the Aravali Mountains in and around Ambaji, a holy place of Gujarat. Garasias are primarily agriculturalists, but also depend upon the surrounding forests.

The Garasia tribe believes in ancestral worship and believe in Bakhar Bhavsingh, the supreme deity of the Garasia world. ‘Bakhar’ is the name of the hill range in the Garasia territory while ‘Bhavsingh’ is a mountain whose mount is a horse. This tie in with their tradition of offering terracotta horses, when they want to communicate with the divine. Once the offering is made and prayers are given they believe that the spirit inside horse is absorbed by the deity and all their remains in the terracotta horse, which is left to disintegrate.

The influence of Rajput tradition is also prevalent in some of the terracotta horses, such as the image of mounted horsemen, and tridents.

Offering of terracotta horses around the Pavagad hill is also a common sight though the style and shapes are different from that of Garasias. For Rathwas, a section of Bhil, the central character of their sacred lore is the God Pithora Baba, whose mount is a horse. According to the belief, Pithora was conceived when a minor god raped a sister of the great God Indra. Pithora’s mother abandoned him. However, his aunt (another sister of Indra) adopted and reared till he grew into youth.

Besides terracotta offering Pithora Baba and Pithori are also painted with other gods and goddesses (especially the marriage procession of Pithora Baba and Pithori) mounted on horses.

The Rathwa terracotta horses are made of simple techniques. Hollow cylinders which are made for tiles turn into legs, the bigger pots turn into torsos and a small pot turns into the mouth.