Terracotta or clay craft is a clay based unglazed ceramic, where the fired body is porous and red in color. It is a symbol of man’s first attempt at craftsmanship, just like invention of potter’s wheel to use power of motion for productive purpose. The art of pottery making dates back to the Indus valley civilization. Evidence of pottery has been found in early settlements of Mehrgarh. Various terracotta figurines depicted animals like cows, dogs, bear & monkey have been recovered from the remains of Indus valley civilization. Terracotta has been used throughout the history for sculpture, pottery as well as bricks & roof shingles. Along with phallus-shaped stones terracotta female figurines were uncovered in excavations of Mohanjodaro (3000-1500 BC), suggesting fertility cult & belief in mother goddess.
The Burney relief is also an outstanding Terracotta plague from ancient Mesopotamia of about 1950 BC. The ancient Greeks Tanagra figurines are mass produced mould-cast & fired Terracotta figurines. Large scale use of Terracotta was there in Emperor Qin shi Hung’s Terracotta Army of china, built in 210-209 BC. Extensive use of Terracotta was also reported from pre-colonial west Africa, especially the Nok culture of central & north–central Nigeria. Terracotta & tiles were used extensively in town buildings of English Victorian Birmingham.
Terracotta has a simpler process of creating finished work and at a lower cost, as compared to other works. A refined clay is partially dried & cast, moulded or hand worked into desired shape. After drying it thoroughly, it is placed in a kiln & fired. Then the hot ware is covered with sand to cool. Various other Terracotta works like tableware, sanitary pipings or building decorations in freezing environments require that material be glazed. The normal Terracotta red color is obtained by letting out the smoke through the vents of the kiln after firing, and the black color is obtained by sealing the vents & not letting out the smoke.
India has a rich heritage of Terracotta & unique & splendid works can be seen spread over different states and Union Territories. Thanagarh in Gujarat is famous for Terracotta of Kutch, Murshidabad, Birbhum, Hooghly & Digha in west Bengal are famous for Terracotta based on theme of folk & patterns. The Hukka, Chillums (or the smoking pipes) craft of Haryana, terracotta products from districts of Ropar, Ludhiana & Hoshiarpur in Punjab include flower pots, diyas, toys & miniature temple structure and the votive Terracotta of Molela, Rajasthan are living example of the magnificent art surviving in India of today.
The state of Uttar Pradesh has its unique and splendid contribution in Terracotta works. The glazed pottery of khurja in famous for ceramic pottery done with relief work. The black pottery of Azamgarh with floral & geometric designs and the glazed pottery of chinhat, where shades of blue & brown are prominent on white/cream surface, are few other examples of the surviving art. But the Terracotta work of Gorakhpur is an example of traditional art form surviving over centuries, where the potters make various animal figures like, horses, elephants, camel, goat, ox etc with hand-applied ornamentation. Some of the major product of craftsmanship include Hauda elephants, Mahawatdar horse, Deer, Camel, Five-faced Ganesha, singled-faced Ganesha, elephant Table, Musical troupe of humans & Ganesha, camel cart, bullock-cart, horse-cart, camel-lamp, lantern, chandeliers, Hanging bells etc. The entire work is done with bare hands and they use natural color, which stays fast for long time. There are more than 1000 varieties of designs of terracotta works crafted by the local craftsmen. The craftsmen belong to ‘Prajapati’ caste and are mainly spread over villages of Aurangabad, Bharwalia, Langadi Gularia, Budhadih, Amawa, Ekla etc in Bhathat & Padri Bazar, Belwa Raipur, Jungle Ekla No-1, Jungle Ekla No-2 in Chargawan block of Gorakhpur.
There are 04 President awardees, 05 people have got regional medal for excellence in craftsmanship in the last three decades for their outstanding & unique contribution in propagating and taking forward the dying art. The various Govt. schemes have been dovetailed locally to provide working sheds, research/training centre and showrooms for exhibition & sale of their products, and the local administration has taking up development works like road connectivity, electrification, construction of drains etc to attract tourists. It is an idle village tourist destination and one can see people from all parts of the country, Queuing up to collect orders of these unique, original and rare terracotta works.