Mother and child. Terracotta; 18 cm x 12 cm. Madhubani, Bihar. Contemporary. 88/3/D.
On the day of the new moon, in the Hindu month of Kartik (October-November), young girls and women of Madhubani prepare delightful unbaked clay figures of the goddess Shyama1, believed to be the daughter of Krishna, and her husband Chakaiva2, satbhaiyan, or “seven brothers”, malin or “flower-girl”, jhanji kutta, a dog and dholia or drummer, for the benefit of their brothers’ well-being in whose honour the 10 day long festival Chhathi is celebrated. On the full moon day the brothers in the family ritually send Shyama back to her in-laws’ home by causing the symbolic disintegration of her image. The clay figures carried in baskets, are ultimately “returned to earth” in the fields.
This terracotta mother with her child is an offshoot of this tradition which subsequently developed its own vocabulary of forms and symbols. The head cloth, worn by rural women all over India, gracefully falling across the shoulders, the somewhat unabashed yet virtuous position of the legs and the possessive arm around the child epitomise the instincts of maternal love so well known to Nirmala Devi, the creator-craftswoman of this folk terracotta.
1. In conversation with Ganga Devi from Madhubani
2. A majority of women in Mithila report that Chakaiva is Shyama’s brother but Ganga Devi’s version seems more plausible.