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SPECIAL FEATURE

Terracotta in full glory

What started as an invention of necessity has today evolved into a popular interior decor trend, tracing a long history from decorating external temple walls to decorating the modern day internal home walls. Terracotta is the revived art of Bengal.

In Dhaka city its revival started some 25 years back when a few shops in the Dhaka University High Court region started to retail the traditional goods with a touch of modern colours and designs. Those small shops have today grown into a big hub acting as the central market within the capital. Other competitors soon followed with a few setting up shop in the Dhaka College region and still more alongside Mirpur Road, Dhanmondi.

This revival of the once essential terracotta into a design instrument by simply making the articles colourful and unique may seem a very small value addition but the effects of this small addition had a life-saving effect on the craftsmen of this dying form of art. Today, the Pal (or Kumar) communities in Savar, Barishal and Comilla are thriving as a result of the steady demand for their products from the retailers of the cities. True, the art and the industry still has much unexplored potential but the art has experienced a comeback nonetheless.

The retailers in the cities exhibit a large range of products from wall decorations to ceiling decorations to tabletop decorations and not to forget numerous styles of flower pots and tubs. Hasim Muhammed, the shopkeeper of a small terracotta shop in the DU region jubilantly declared that sales have increased in the past three years. “We used to have monthly sales of around Tk.90,000 to Tk.1.5 lakhs but now our monthly average is Tk.3-3.5 lakhs.” The business is also thriving because of the healthy margin that these retailers are able to charge by bringing the basic items from outside the city and then adding the frills themselves.

Miss Nasima, a customer at Hasim's shop, tells us a little about why terracotta is back in style. “I guess several years back painted glass items, wrought iron flower pots and so on were new and so everyone wanted to decorate with the latest things. Back then the whole Bengali attire and traditional designs were not in vogue, but today it is back in the picture so everyone wants this.”

Shirin Lipi, another customer at a nearby store says that it is perhaps like the cyclical structure of the fashion industry. “At one time, around 30 to 40 years back I remember my grandmother's house having lots of terracotta flower pots and some wall decorations. Then, during my mother's time, such items were completely out of fashion, today it is back again but the items are definitely more creatively designed and colourful than those used by my grandmother's generation.”

Muhammad Jamal, a worker in perhaps the largest of such terracotta retail outlets in Dhaka says that the demand for flower pots has always been high but recently terracotta utensils have also started bringing in some revenue alongside wall and table top decoration pieces. “The small items sell more. We even have foreigners who buy a decoration piece or two as memorabilia from their Bengal trip. The terracotta utensils craze has caught on from last year when there was a big boost in sales of terracotta utensils prior to Pohela Baishakh.”

Nasima provides the customer's perspective to why terracotta utensils have been such a hit. “You see, we Bengalis do not always like to act as traditional Bengalis, draped in a sari with a red tip to go with it, but then there are days like Pohela Baishakh when we revel in our culture and look for ways to grab a feel of the old traditional way of living. That is why panta ilish in a terracotta bowl is much more fun than the same in your everyday ceramic plates.”

A third customer at the market says that she likes terracotta items as a unique piece in a room otherwise designed with modern items. “I think a whole room decorated with terracotta wares is a bit over the top and dilutes its beauty and so when decorating my house I use these items sparsely so that they stand out and catch the eye of guests.”

A final addition to the industry is terracotta tiles which are increasingly being used to decorate outside walls of private houses. The designs in these cases are a little altered from those which were found in the temple walls and it still gives out the feel of grandiosity and importance to the home it decorates.

Terracotta started in prehistoric times as utensils and later as decoration on temple walls. There were times in between when it was perhaps ignored to the point of extinction but today, as we once again buy terracotta utensils, not because we have to but because we want to, and we decorate our walls with terracotta, the journey of terracotta has come full circle.

By Raisaa Tashnova
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed


BY THE WAY

Healthy fluids

When you need to drink fruit juice, drink only fresh fruit juice, not from the cans. Don't even drink juice that has been heated up. Don't eat cooked fruits because you don't get the nutrients at all. You only get the taste. Cooking destroys all the vitamins. But eating a whole fruit is better than drinking the juice. If you should drink the juice, drink it mouthful by mouthful slowly, because you must let it mix with your saliva before swallowing it.


   
 

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