Ganesh murti from Molela
The object of the month for November is a votive plaque from Molela in Rajasthan, a representation of Ganesh, the widely popular elephant-headed deity. Ganesh is the god of good beginnings, and so a suitable welcome to the new season at The Hermitage. This is an example of a plaque before it has been painted, and as such, it can tell us a lot about the process of making a votive plaque or murti
Molela is a small village in the south of Rajasthan, near Nathdwara, situated by the Banas river. It is from this river plain that generations of potters have dug their clay. Molela is famous for the murti that the Maru or Kumhar families produce alongside cooking dishes, plates and vessels.
In the past, Adivasi groups from across Rajasthan and Gujarat came on pilgrimage to the village, with a holy man, to select new plaques. The fired and painted representations were then taken to be consecrated by the river, or up in the temple that perches on a craggy rock above the plain, before being carried back to far off village shrines, where they functioned like altar pieces in puja (worship) rituals. It is said that clay from Molela is special, that it breaks less – a broken plaque no longer holds the holy spirit and must be replaced.
The deities depicted in the votive plaques come from Adivasi folklore – Dharmaraja riding a horse, numerous Devis (goddesses), Gora and Kala Bhajrav (two aspects of Shiva - pictured), Dhola and Maru (the hero and heroine of a Rajasthani folktale similar to Romeo and Juliet), Naga (the snake god) – through to more recognised gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon.
Today, the pilgrims arrive by bus. And the potters have adapted to new markets by producing clay tiles depicting scenes of traditional life. These are sold to the owners of hotels and havelis who are trying to appeal to the heritage tourism market.
These Ganesh plaques help to represent the process of making a murti. Clay is mixed with donkey droppings and beaten into a slab with a pindi (a round stone tool), which is coated in a slip and flattened with a patiya (a strip of wood). The murti are cut to shape (the background shape of each plaque represents an idealised temple setting) and the excess is used to make the figures. The body is made hollow by shaping clay across the back of the potter’s hand. Next comes the limbs and trunk. The eyes, ears, headdresses and other details are shaped from small balls of clay. The finished plaque is dried in the sun and then fired in an open kiln. Finally, they are painted with a mixture of watercolour and gum and decorated with silver foil.