Tihar brings momentary boom for a potter familyBishow Laxmi Prajapati, 43, was soaking palas (earthen oil lamps), in a solution to give them shine at the famous Pottery Square in Bhaktapur on Monday.
Bishow Laxmi Prajapati, 43, was soaking palas (earthen oil lamps), in a solution to give them shine at the famous Pottery Square in Bhaktapur on Monday. Nearby, her father-in-law, Ganesh Kumar, 68, was busy applying finishing touches to the lamps he had just conjured from a mound of mud spinning on a potter’s wheel.
Laxmi’s daughter, Krishna, meanwhile, helped her grandfather by carefully arranging the soft palas at a spot where they get direct sunlight. Tihar, the festival of lights, is here. It is that time of the year when the Prajapati family is the most busiest. Although most people these days prefer electric lights to traditional palas to illumine their homes on the day of Laxmi Puja, there are still those who prefer palas—those the Prajapatis and other families at the Pottery Square cater to.
Today, only 50-odd families at the Pottery Square ply their traditional trade of making earthenwares. Ganesh Kumar said the people from his community were gradually leaving their traditional occupation and making forays into other sectors.“It is difficult making a decent earning doing pottery these days,” he explains, “Though our earning during the Tihar is good, the remaining part of the year is a struggle.” Pottery business is also facing risk of obsolescence as clay pits are not abundant in and around Bhaktapur as they used to be in the past.
Rapid urbanisation has taken over the areas that were once inexhaustable supply of black clay for potters.Sahaila Baidhya, secretary of Bhaktapur-4, said only one-third of the Prajapati coumminty are now engaged in pottery. “The shortage of clay and the advent of cheap electric lamps and lights have hit the pottery business of Bhaktapur,” he said.Laxmi understands her family trade has survived because of her grandfather and few other elders who still ply the trade, undeterred whether they make profit out of it or not. And unlike most of her contemporaries, she sees pottery-making as a form of art, not an outdated occupation.
Although she is studying to become a nurse, Laxmi has been helping her family during her free time to make earthenwares and learning the tricks of the trade from her grandfather. “Pottery-making is the identity of my family and Bhaktapur as well. It will be a shame if I knew nothing about my family tradition and let it die. The tradition needs to be passed on and preserved,” she said.