Potters troubled as diyas lose sheen, outshined by artificial lights market
By M.T. Yogesh Kumar
Pottery work is extremely labour-intensive and earthen lamps have been selling at the same price for years with only a marginal increase. But the expenses and labour have doubled for the potters and the invasion of cheap Chinese lamps sold through umpteen online marketplaces is making their lives more miserable.
In the village of Doora in Mysuru district, the potter community is busy and in anticipation of the festive season of Deepavali, they began making diyas (earthen lamps), the cheapest article that makes the festival bright, for a couple of months now. But these potters just manage to make their ends meet.
The COVID-19 pandemic, influx of cheap artificial lamps and light bulb-affixed diyas have affected their traditional occupation. The festival is bringing no cheer to the potters as traditional earthen lamps have fallen out of favour among shoppers as they opt for the attractive home delivery options offered by online sales platforms.
Consumers are more in the mood to buy artificial lights and they are available in various forms and designs. Buyers are naturally drawn towards them as they are durable and fashionable, too. Moreover, they have a wide range and beautiful designs like grapes and colourful flowers.
However, this trend has directly affected the Kumbara community from Doora village, Jayapura hobli. Earlier, they would spend months making clay diyas for festivals like Deepavali and Karthika Masa rituals. But now there are only a handful of potters who make limited diyas as they are now fighting for their existence.
Even the number of potter families too is decreasing and many have migrated to urban areas in search of jobs. While some are working as daily labourers, others have migrated to other places in search of better livelihood options.
Those who are still in the trade are continuing their family legacy, despite odds. 14 Kumbara families have come together and have formed an association called ‘Kumbara Kushala Kaigarika Sangha’ since the last four to five years through which they are supporting each other to make a living out of pottery.
80,000 to 4,000 lamps
Speaking to Star of Mysore, Govindaraju, a member of the Sangha said that traditional lamp-making has been their family occupation for decades. “We used to prepare at least four to five lakh diyas and export it to markets in Mysuru, Chamarajanagar and Mandya. Since 2019, after COVID hit every household, our business plummeted. Apart from the pandemic, fancy lamps are another reason why the demand for clay diyas has reduced,” he said.
“We are forced to sell per diya for Re. 1 or Rs. 2 where shop owners might sell it for Rs. 3 or Rs. 4 or even Rs. 5. It takes a lot of effort to prepare diyas and days of hard physical work. There are about 100 members in the Sangha. Out of 14 Kumbara families, each family used to prepare at least 70,000 to 80,000 diyas. But now as the demand and sales are down, a family hardly prepares 4,000 diyas. The overall sales have dropped from 4 lakh diyas to 40,000 diyas which is indeed a great loss, he explained.
Modern and colourful lamps are destroying the life of traditional potters, thus making them struggle financially. Many potter families are scared of falling into a huge financial crisis and are quitting this job. They are wandering and opting for random and odd jobs.
Exponentially rising prices of clay and transport, pandemic-induced economic crisis, loss of employment and lack of demand for locally-made diyas have become major challenges in survival of the traditional potters.
Somanna, an artisan of the village from the past 40 years, said that he does odd jobs to make a living. “I used to prepare roof tiles and after the demand decreased, I started preparing clay pots, Tulasi katte, diyas, etc. However, as people are now opting for pots and Tulasi katte made out of cement and plastic, we are staring at huge losses again. We hardly get any income from this business. I urge the Government to take necessary action and help us survive,” he added.
Preparation of diyas not an easy task
It takes days of hard work to produce traditional diyas, as it is prepared manually without using any factory equipment. The clay is brought from a lake-side and it is softened by stomping on clay mounds constantly with feet to bring it in desired consistency. The moulded clay will be covered with a tarpaulin and will be kept for three to four days.
Once diyas are prepared, they are baked to a certain degree inside a specially designed clay kiln (furnace) for five to six hours. Later using dried coconut frond, baked pots are removed from the kiln after three days and are segregated based on the quality. Well-baked and hard diyas will be sent to shops. However, during the process, a few diyas get damaged which is again a loss. Even selling diyas is no cakewalk either. Buyers are reluctant to shell out the additional price on each diya and they go for cheap and fancy lamps so that they can be used next year also. Clay lamps often break