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     Volume 7 Issue 44 | November 7, 2008 |

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A Quintessential Part of our Pottery

Fayza Haq

One of the most popular forms of folk art enmeshed in religious myths and rural tradition is the Lakshmi Shora - a circular clay plaque. The Lakshmi Shora, with images of goddess Lakshmi was kept to bring 'lakshmi' or good vibes that could mean peace and harmony, into the home.

Shora, related to Bangladeshi craft, belongs to the pottery section, of which there are often exhibitions in Dhaka -- in various venues, such as the Zainul Gallery and the Bangladesh Shilpakala Gallery. This clay curio is also seen at numerous Dhaka and many other district fairs, during the Lakshmi Puja festival and other seasons. It is sometimes spotted in Bangladeshi homes, where the pottery piece remains an important part of the interior décor-- where nostalgia remains an integral part of the visits to various places-- both at home and abroad. The flamboyant colours of vermilion, jet-black, and other contrasting and blending colours, give the object the attraction of a center- piece in many homes -- such as that of two artists Lala Rukh Selim and Tawfique Khan. Thus it sits there on the shelf, brilliant in its own glory -- very much at home with other curios, brought from other parts of Bangladesh and overseas.

Numerous images, that of both flora and fauna, along with abstract lines and dots of numerous juxtaposing colours and symbols go into the making of a Lokkhir Shora. The designs on the pottery piece-- all of folk, taken from religion, myth and allegory-- make different designs and patterns. Made by potters, they have various qualities. Those from Rajshahi are perhaps the most well known, says Nisar Hossain, a professor of the Institute of Fine Arts, Dhaka. Nisar Hossain is known to carry out many unflagging researches into fine arts and related crafts, over the years . His discovery trips take him to regions of both Bangladesh and India, at all seasons and times. The painters of "Shokher Hari" are painters of remarkable talent who have been often trained for years by their "guru", whether it be a member of the family or friend circle.

Many Bangladeshi award-winning artists of repute have tried their hand at the painting pottery but never the "Lakshmi Shora", as far as has been seen or recorded. Nevertheless, on examining the " Shora" pieces, one realises the tremendous imagination and expertise that has gone into the painting of these curios, says Hossain. "These originally formed the lids of clay cookery utensils, and maybe seen in use in some Old Dhaka homes, as one realizes." Even the fish and birds, that often surround the human figures of gods and goddess, have been simplified in the mind and transferred into painting. It is different from painting human figures. Painting over the circular form of the "Shora" is difficult to conceive and manage successfully. Unless the painter has tremendous skill this is not possible or probable."

There are many types "Shora", more demands for them being in districts outside Dhaka. Gulshan Dutt, a craftsperson of a high repute, has left signs of his expertise in many places, far and near Dhaka. In Dhaka alone there are 13 types of "Shora" that maybe traced down to Dutt, says Nisar Hossain. In Faridpur too there are at least six types of "Shora" done by Dutt. It is during "Gauri Purnima", often related to the "Lakshmi Puja", after the rains, that one finds the "Shora". It is in certain sections of Barisal, Dhaka and Faridpur, where the land is inundated with rainwater -- and where there is an extra crop of rain, which is known as "Aush" (originating from the word "Haush", meaning "happiness").

If there is flooding or less water than normal, this crop will not come to fruition. The year this "Aush" rice is harvested, this leads to an extra income, which helps satisfy all the farmers' hopes and desires. The other name for "Lakshmi" is "Sri"(which means beauty or beautifying oneself and ones home). "Lakshmi'" is the Hindu goddess of wealth, related to "Durga" (representing power) of which is the largest festival in Bangladesh, goes the explanation.

In most traditional Bangladeshi homes, says Nisar Hossain, it is women who look after the home and hearth and so the "Lakshmi Puja" is more related to them than the man, who, conventionally, brings in the earnings. Thus the "Lakshmi puja" takes place in the homes, rather than the "mandab", in public. Thus the worship of the goddess Lakshmi takes place at home , and is related to the " shora", where the goddess has been painted. Thus one gets the saying, "Amar ghore Lakshmi elo".

The two main styles are that of Faridpur and Dhaka.The "shoras" made by astrologers (astrologers began painting them at one time) kept the background white while that of the "Ganka shoras" are painted red with white dots and flowers. These are of two types: In one the image of Radha and Krishna are prominent. The images are profiles, with one eye. In other the images of the deities (except that of Ganesh) are done with complete images, with two eyes. The Radha-Krishna images are presented as a pair, and Lakshmi has to be painted singly at the bottom. All the images are put in a separate compartment, by drawing straight lines on both sides. The edge of the bottom is edged with black. As much more time and colour are spent for painting these "shoras", the prices go up, says Nisar Hossain.

On the upper portion trees and creepers are placed in straight lines in red on the edges. Circular lines are drawn, one after another, in red, green, black etc. As regards painting and styles, says Nisar Hussain, the "Dhakai shoras" are similar to the ones from Faridpur. The goddess Lakshmi, however are drawn on these as sitting on the "mayurpankhi". Besides some marked distinctions in the use of colour and lines. One can mark, for example, absence of green, predominance of red on the backgrounds of light red and the use of only stripes as designs. The garments of the figures painted on the Lakshmi-Saraswati or Durga "Shora" in the regions of Dhaka, and places like Nawabganj, Manikganj Dhamrai, Kashimpur etc and the adjoining regions have, at times, depicted with extra drawing of flowers, vines, or leaves.

The white "pati" or border encircles the "shora" to unify the picture. At times, the clothes are made with fine lines and dots so that they may be compared to gold ornaments. The images are more ornamental and attractive in the Durga image in the large "Lakshmi Shora". Red or pink, green or blue flowers are juxtaposed at the back. The balance in the minimised colours have tremendous appeal to the sensibilities of those that long for finesse and subtlety, says Nisar Hossain.

The painting is executed in thick and opaque colours to enhance the brightness of colours, as the white coating is not applied to the background. At times, flies are included in the background to invoke flooding which draws flies, symbolising plentitude.



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