Terracotta maestro Manabodha Rana: A lifelong dedication

Prameyanews English

Published By : Prameya News Bureau | June 18, 2024 IST

Bratati Baral

Manabodha Rana from Barpali in Bargarh district has garnered recognition on national and international stages for his exceptional terracotta craftsmanship. Now, even at the age of 65, he remains active and devoted to his traditional profession. His entire family exemplifies resilience in the face of changing times.

 Born into a family of potters in Bargarh district, Manabodha developed a passion for terracotta artistry as early as seventh class. Prameya English recently caught up with the noted artisan and his family to know about into their journey in the world of artifacts.

The pottery community's traditional occupation involves crafting earthen pots and various clay items for sale in local markets. Manabodha's father, an accomplished terracotta artisan, played a crucial role in nurturing his skills. Due to financial constraints, Manabodha could only attend school until the 7th class. At the age of 13, he began his apprenticeship in the family's pottery trade, learning to operate the potter's wheel under his father's guidance. Over time, he mastered the art of creating water storage pots, clay cooking vessels, Patli (pots used for cooking dal or pulses), and clay lamps (diyas).

Manabodha gained prominence when he started crafting earthen toys for Saptapuri Amavasya, including elephants, horses, cows, bullocks, and other items traditionally used for worship. Little did he know that these small creations would elevate him to national artisan status. Beyond everyday pottery and utensils, he ventured into creating miniature figures on roof tiles, such as crows, parrots, doves, frogs, and even intricate scenes like a mother monkey grooming her baby. His work found a niche market among urban elites and international buyers. 

In 1987, Manabodha was honored with the National Award by the then President of India, R. Venkatraman and the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in recognition of his exceptional craftsmanship. In 1981, he had conducted live demonstrations at the National Handicraft and Handloom Museum, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, consistently during the India International Trade Fair. Additionally, he has showcased his work eight times at Dilli Haat, seven times at the Surajkund Mela, and once at the World Trade Centre in Mumbai.

One of Manabodha's notable achievements is a terracotta mural measuring 47 by 80 feet, displayed prominently at the INA metro station in New Delhi, one of the city's busiest hubs. This expansive artwork comprises 58 rectangular pieces, intricately assembled to depict a picturesque scene: a tree branch alive with chirping birds and playful squirrels. His creations, including this masterpiece, highlight his skill and artistry, making significant cultural contributions both locally and internationally.

Pottery is a sustainable cottage industry for Manabodha. He begins by collecting iron-rich black soil from Nimisarannya bandha pond near Barpali and mixing it with red soil from nearby agricultural lands in a 1:2 ratio. After soaking this mixture overnight and filtering out small pebbles in the morning, he creates a thick black clay dough. This clay is then shaped on the potter's wheel using both hands. After forming the pots, he applies terracotta designs known as appliqué work. Once these raw articles dry indoors, they are fired in a kiln fueled by straw, rice bran, and cow dung, burning for six to ten hours. After firing, the artifacts are colored using ochre-red soil known as geru in Oriya, mixed with an adhesive.

I've been engaged in this craft since my childhood, and now I feel immense pride seeing my family members also taking interest in it," says Manabodha.adding "I will continue to work diligently in this field with pride until my last breath”.

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