A long time ago! The art of cooking had not been invented. Everyone was surviving on raw food. There used to be a problem with digestion. Many fell sick. Once everyone assembled at a central place and decided to have an audience with Lord Vishnu, the protector of the universe.
At Vaikuntha Puri, the abode of Lord Vishnu!
‘Oh Lord, we are not able to digest the raw food. Each of us is falling sick. A genuine request from all of us – please save us!
While listening to the grievance of people Lord Vishnu started sweating. From his sweat was born the first potter Rudrapal on earth.
Vishnu ordered Rudrapal – ‘make pots and pans for people to cook’. Rudrapal followed the divine order and became the founding father of the potter community.
First, he created a wheel and using it made a plethora of earthen objects including pots and pans of various sizes and forms. People were so happy – now they could cook and eat digestible food. Nobody fell sick.
One year there was no rain. Everywhere there was drought. Again everyone assembled at a place and decided to meet Lord Vishnu.
At Vaikuntha Puri!
Lord Vishnu asked: ‘Now what is the problem? People answered in the chorus – ‘we are suffering from a severe drought – there is nothing to eat. Please save us again.’
Vishnu remembered Adimata, the creation mother. Adimata rushed to Vaikunta Puri and asked Vishnu the reason for remembering her. Vishnu replied ‘after listening to the grievance of my people I remembered you. Perhaps you could help to lift them from the misery of drought.’
Adimata replied: ‘After started eating cooked food the people on earth have become very selfish. They have forgotten me and my other children, which includes bulls, cows, and other animals. Hence I am very sad. On the occasion of Saptapuri Amavasya, if people worship their farmlands offering terracotta animals and sweet meat, I would be pleased and free them from the suffering of drought.’
From then on the potters of Western Odisha (also known as Kosali Potters) have been making terracotta objects of Adimata and her children to facilitate the occasion of Saptapuri Amavasya.
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After thousands of generations from the birth of Rudrapal comes Manbodha Rana, a Koshali potter known for his creative excellence in terracotta art, especially terracotta roof tiles that have figures of animals, such as frolicking monkeys, lizards, turtles, tiger, chirping birds, and many more. Such tiles are believed to ward off evil eyes. He also specializes in fashioning icons for worship, functional, ritualistic, decorative and tribal folk terracotta figures. Manbodha Ji is using techniques such as clay throwing on the wheel, moulding over an old pot or modelling by hands that have not changed from the time of Indus Valley Civilization.
Barpali is a small town in Bargarh District of Western Odisha at a distance of 335 km from Bhubaneswar and 226 km from Raipur (both have airports). The nearest cities are however Bargarh (the district headquarter, 20 km away) and Sambalpur, the largest city in Western Odisha, 73 km away.
Apart from terracotta, Barpali and its surrounding villages are also known for well known Sambalpuri Ikat fabric. You will be warmly greeted by a number of national awardee weavers and their looms here. Bidayabati Meher, a young entrepreneur can guide you to explore the weavers’ homes and their workshops with prior appointments (Her number +91 9937779519).
For terracotta, meet the national awardee potter Shri Manabodha Rana at his home cum workshop with a prior appointment (+91 7381284727).
Barpali has very few staying options near the Railway Station. However one can find decent options at nearby Bargarh, 30 min away in a cab. While at Bargarh try the local delicacies hendua khata and baunsa karida bhaja (made from bamboo shoots).
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Manbodha Ji was born in 1959 in a traditional Kumbhar family. His father Parameswara Ram Rana was a renowned terracotta artist of his time under who he had received his early training.
In the film below, Manbodh Ji explains the significance of Saptapuri Amabasya for terracotta artists like him in Western Odisha.
Manbodh ji’s life had not been an easy one. But his out of box thinking, leadership and risk-taking attitude have made him what he is today. In the film below he explains his life’s journey.
Today Manbodh ji is a celebrated artisan and a source of aspiration for many young potters and terracotta artists of Odisha. However, the core of his life’s journey has been the tradition of our strong association with nature and the ideals of Indian wisdom, where every form of life is treated with respect and equality as children of Mother Nature, in this case, Adimata.
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Author – Jitu Mishra
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org