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pal pottery without a Potter's wheel

The pal, a pottery village in Trishal

Trishal is a small town not far from the metropolis of Mymensingh. Mymensingh is an important transport hub on the Meghna River. Trishal has a university whose campus is growing rapidly and to which I was invited by the Department of Folkore. After a visit to colleagues from the art department, we got the tip to have a look at the dolls that are made of terracotta in nearby villages.
So on Friday, after prayer and lunch, we set off quite late and after a half-hour drive by motor rickshaw reached a village where, after a long search, we found the corner of a village where a family of the Pal, a Hindu occupational caste, made their own terracotta bowls for the household. However, they only make rice bowls, plates and storage pots for water and food to order. Therefore, none of the families had any earthenware to spare. But they told us about another village where almost only potters live. We immediately went to see them.

Temple of the Pottery Village near Trishal, Photo: Claudius Günther, 2020

The potters’ village had a temple at the entrance where the goddesses Lokkhi, Durga and Sharasvati were honoured. Lokkhi was the most beautiful, as she stands for money and financial wealth and is therefore also decorated accordingly. The goddess Durga in the middle Durga, standing in the middle, stands for power, a power that the potters (Pal) seem to have lost. Once they are said to have had a great kingdom, which the Pala led a royal dynasty.
led. This Buddhist kingship, however, gradually lost its supremacy around 800 to the power of Muslim followers seeping in. The third deity in the Tenmpel was the goddess of wisdom or science Sharasvati, a goddess who is worshipped everywhere in Bangladesh and who holds a promise for the future for all, education as an escape from previous circumstances.
As darkness was just falling, a short devotion was held to the goddesses, which is not done in silence, however, but usually represents a sacrifice accompanied by a high-pitched sound and beating tongues of the women (ulu deoa).

Pottery with stamp and hand, Photo: Claudius Günther, 2020

In the village of the potters, both men and women are involved in the pottery work. The men fetch clay from nearby pits and pound it with their feet until it is soft and appears to the women to be usable clay. The women are then given a lump of clay, from which they make plates and other dishes by hand, without a potter’s wheel, using prefabricated wooden moulds.

Oven for the pottery village, one for all, Photo: Claudius Günther, 2020

Once a sufficient number has been made, the preparation for firing begins. The dishes are is piled up in five layers on the kiln platform. Layer of leaves and clay are spread over the top as a cover to keep as much heat as possible inside the firing. A session takes about four hours, and so does the cooling. The bowls and plates fired from it are very fragile and thin-walled.
The low price and fragility of the earthen ware is explained by the tradition that earthen ware is broken and thrown away when people from the Hindu religious circle die. Also, when eating from the bowls of non-caste persons
the earthenware is broken and thrown away. Thus, the supposedly inferior quality has its cause in the religious context of the potters (pal).
The potters receive only pennies for their products on the market. This makes them a poor part of the population. It does not help them much that the upper class in Bangladesh now considers local clay work chic again and pays high amounts of money for it, because those who make a profit from it have their sights set on certain master families with studios, an urban artistic class.

What the pottery villages can be proud of, however, is the continuous transmission of their pottery in their professional caste over hundreds of years. Mythologically, they place themselves at the beginning of the Hindu religion, as Shiva needed earthen storage vessels for water at his wedding, which had not yet been invented. So Shiva took a bead from his necklace and created the first male potter from it, and from another bead he created his wife. So Shiva is the father of all potters, one of his names Rudra is therefore often the name of the pottery caste, the Rudra Pal.

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