Clay: Molela clay is muddy in color. It is dug from the banks of Banas River, 2 Km away from Molela on Nathdwara Road. Each potter has his own spot for digging, based on his own previous experiences.
Leedh: It is donkey dung, which is mixed with rice husk and added to the clay for strengthening.
Mingni: These are goat droppings, utilized for making 'Kande' (dried cakes).
Chhan: It is a local name for cow dung, which is used at several steps during Molela terracotta process.
Kande: It is a fuel used for heat generation in kiln, this is made from cow dung, hay, goat droppings and bio waste of other ruminants. It has a high calorific value and the smoke resulting from its combustion keeps mosquitoes and insects away.
Ghasan: Ghasan is a traditional tempering substance used to bring desired consistency, texture, hardness to the clay.
Kadab: A dry corn grass. Being a main crop of Molela, this grass is readily available and utilized as a fuel.
Wood: It is used for making basic tools for plaque making process; wood is also utilized as a fuel for heat generation.
Bani: Bani is a local name for ash resulting from burning of firewood, hay or Kande, sometimes even ash is added to clay paste.
Dawrigund: It is a vegetable gum used as a binder, derived from the trees.
Paliya: It is a golden pigment to put golden finish to the artwork.
Palewa: It is a clay slip prepared through Molela clay and used to make different colors when mixed with different materials.
Pilli Mitti: A natural ochre color utilized for coloring plaques.
Khadi: Khadi is a chalk based material used to impart white color on artifacts.
Jala: It is a local name for a lacquer coat applied as polish or varnish; this is derived from lacquer mixed with a particular solvent
As the process involves the most basic raw materials, which are biodegradable as well as naturally derived; there is not much waste to be tackled. The ash produced is utilized for washing hands and utensils, fired clay pieces are used for sealing the kiln or they are disposed off.
Tools & Technology
Mogri: Tool to beat the solid clay knots to powdered form.
Pindi: One of the beating tools used in the process, taken into account when donkey dung is mixed with the clay to create a moldable paste.
Lohe ki bhaardid: It is a flat tool with a sharp edge; it has ferrous composition and thin cross section, generally used to scrape clay, cut the clay coils or to form the desired shapes through clay.
Baldi: Local name for a chisel like tool used for shaping the plaque.
Lakdi ka pattiya: Patiya is a flat plank of wood, a general tool that can be used to collect or pick up the clay from ground and it is also used to form a flat slab of clay with uniform thickness.
Kunchi: A paint brush made with donkey hair, used to paint various colors on the formed plaque.
Cloth waste: As the process involves dealing with clay paste, colors, clay slip; old or used clothes are required to wipe out the undesired patches and spots. As fabrics are good absorbents, cloth is also used to apply Geru to the plaque.
Chack: A local name for potter`s wheel, mostly utilized to form uniform circular or spherical shapes.
This craft is associated with the harvest rituals of the tribes. They travel to Molela from as far as Mewar region, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat to buy these plaques during the months of January and February, accompanied by a Bhopa or a priest. The plaques are an integral part of the cultural framework of the tribes. The plaques are believed to bring prosperity and wellness. After a proper scrutiny, the plaque is selected and customized in the way the Bhopa or tribal priest has suggested. The plaque is then carried on the heads of tribal people, up to the native village of the tribe. When the plaque arrives in the village, there is a ceremony in which the plaque is carried to all the houses in the tribe to purify these houses; the plaque is then installed in the holy shrine. In a way, the craftsmen of Molela have been sculpting spiritual integrity in these tribes. The respect and honor which they receive from various tribes is the pillar around which the craftsmen's whole work culture is formed.
Preparing the clay : There are two types of local clay utilized for plaque making, Nada and Alu. Nada is coarse clay with sand content and Alu is finer clay, both are mixed in equal proportions. Nearly 15-20 measures of donkey dung is also added.
The mined clay is brought and beaten with the help of Mogri to reduce the particle size. It is then collected and brought for plaque preparation. Dried and sifted donkey dung is first spread on the ground and then the prepared clay is laid on it. The mixture of cow dung and clay is then beaten through Pindi, a beating tool made from stone. During the beating, clay is scraped off the Pindi using a cutting tool called Baldi. The beating is continued till a clay slab 1.5 inches thick is attained. After this, a wooden plate called Patiya is used for beating. As a result, a surface is formed by conditioned clay, the outline of which is made uniform by slitting out the irregularities through Baldi. The flat surface attained is the base of the plaque, it is called Thala.
Several holes are dug into the slab with an iron tool Bhaladi. These holes help in the removal of pores or trapped air, which can result in irregularities during firing.
Making the shapes : Approximate measurements are taken on the slab using the palm of potter's hand. The main shapes are cut and outlined. Thick coils are then made by rolling the clay, which are then placed on the slab according to the design and flattened to make a shape. Thinner coils are used for the detailing. Square coils are used to make tapered noses and tiny balls of clay are used to make finer details like jewelry. The clay is squeezed, punched, twisted and dried to a certain extent in the hands to give desired details. The craftsmen skillfully shape the plaque image in such a way that the characters on the plaque are hollow from the inside, this makes the plaque light and easy to handle and also leads to efficient firing of the plaque.
Drying : The slabs are left out to dry in the sun. Some sculptures can be several meters high, so they are built over a pile of pots thrown together. These are left to dry for almost 4 to 14 days, depending on the weather. The red Geru is mixed with the glue and it is used to cover the idols just before the firing is done.
Stacking : The damaged pieces are repaired and stacked. This almost takes up an entire day. Fire-wood is chopped and pots to build the kiln are brought in. The pieces which were placed to be dried are then carried to the kiln by the family members.
Firing in the kiln : The idols are made to stand in an open kiln, which is covered with pieces of broken pottery. Wood is added slowly to this open structure, to keep the temperature constant. The right temperature is determined by the craftsmen according to the height of the flames. A large basket sprinkled with water is held in one hand by the craftsmen as a shield, citing that the temperature in the kiln is quite high. The fire has to be fed every 10 to 15 minutes. Two people hold a large cloth against the kiln to break the intensity of the wind.
Finishing : Some artifacts might crack while firing in the kiln. These cracks are then filled with a mixture of ground fired clay, water and Fevicol. The ground fired clay is used to fill the larger gaps while the Fevicol and water mixture will suffice for the narrower openings. After this the entire surface is covered with a liquid, which is made with powdered clay and water to create a uniform surface finish. If the plaque has to be colored, it has to be chosen from traditional seven colors i.e. blue, green, black, orange, peach, red and yellow. These colors are applied by mixing them with clay slip and glue. Some icons are decorated with thin foils of silver paper while still wet with varnish. This is again left in the sun to dry for the glaze to harden. Once sold, the Murti are carried away by the buyer on his head, in reverence for the Gods.