A small cluster where male and female, young and old of altogether eighty families are always busy to shape and create a range of fascinating terracotta and pottery items is Asharikandi craft village under Devitola Development Block of Dhubri district of Assam.
NECARDO- North East Craft and Rural Development Organisation, an NGO that works for the preservation and promotion of the traditional craft and welfare of the craft persons claims that Asharikandi is one of the largest clusters of Terracotta and Pottery in the North East India.
An object of art made of a composition of clay and sand and baked with earthen color, a brownish red, is Terracotta. Terracotta is one of the oldest crafts that human beings ever introduced on this earth. It was once considered to be the poor men's craft. But in course of time, it has made its access and occupied a distinct identity among all classes of people by its aesthetic value.
In India, the single largest cluster where both Terracotta and Pottery crafts are found and practiced in traditional way is Asharikandi (Madaikhali) craft village. Due to the factors of production, the product-quality of one place varies from that of another. Weather is a key factor and plays a major role in Terracotta-production. The main raw material for pottery and terracotta craft is Hiramati, a special type of soil. The quality of Hiramati varies from place to place. The quality of Hiramati and artistic skill determine the quality of Terracotta and Pottery products.
Artistic skill, quality of Hiramati, climatic condition and age-old tradition of Kumbhakaras (potters) of Asharikandi, has enabled to retain a separate identity of Asharikandi- style of Terracotta. HATIMA doll, nationally and internationally acclaimed unique masterpiece of late Sarala Bala Devi, has brought much repute for Asharikandi- style of Terracotta.
The connection with the river Brahmaputra through the Gadadhar, a tributary of mighty Brahmaputra, gives the place an advantage for marketing network with the major cities. Earlier, the needs of the Jamindar (Royal) family for ware and utensils of everyday-use were catered from this area since this potter-community migrated to this place.
Terracotta and pottery work is now their main profession; few years back it was their part- time job. Earlier they used to sell their products like - pitchers and other utensils in the nearby towns and villages, and terracotta products- like Hatima Doll, Ainar Horse, Elephant, Rhino, and other idols of God and Goddesses on the occasions of local festivals and fairs. Now they go out for selling their terracotta products on the occasions like trade fair, and sale cum exhibitions organized by the various Govt. Departments and NGOs. Resellers of terracotta and pottery items come to the artisans' cottages and purchase the goods direct from the village. One can roam in and around the cluster, visit the artisans' cottages full of traditional products, have a glimpse of making of Terracotta, and can also buy them.The selling part of the products is also run by the Scheduled Caste fisherman Barman community people, who are also the residents of Asharikandi village and five hundred families in number. This fishing community, due to the lacking of fishing opportunities, had to leave their ancestral-work and has been shifting to terracotta and pottery trade.
The organizations those have been working for the revival of the craft and socio-economic development of the craft-persons of Asharikandi for long are: NECARDO - North East Craft And Rural Development Organisation, an NGO, ATAPDC-Asharikandi Terracotta And Pottery Development Committee, a voluntary organisation comprised of district level heads of development-departments and elected panchayat members, constituted by the District Administration, Dhubri, headed by the Deputy Commissioner as its Chairman, and ATDMSS Ltd , Asharikandi Terracotta Doll Making Samabay Samiti Ltd, a registered co-operative society of the artisans.
Artistic touch adds value and liveliness to clay. Among numerous artists of Asharikandi cluster, a few who have brought name and fame to their credit and have occupied a special position in the world of Terracotta in respect of artistic skill are:-Late Sarala Bala Devi who begged the prestigious National Award on Terracotta craft in the year of 1982 for her excellent innovative masterpiece -HATIMA doll a lovely female figure with a child on her lap. Sri Dhirendra Nath Paul, the worthy son of late Sarala Bala Devi, is nationally and internationally acclaimed master crafts-man on Terracotta. Sri Mahadev Paul is one of the senior crafts-men of this cluster. He begged State Award on Terracotta for his excellent masterpiece Ganesh, the son of Lord Mahadev. Sri Gokul Paul, Sri Ashwini Paul, the young upcoming talents of this cluster, are distinguished for their skill on Terracotta works.
SIDBI (Small Industries Development Bank Of India) has constructed one Office cum Godown cum Work-shed on 1200 Sq. ft. area on the land of the Artisans' Society to cater the various need of the artisans.District Rural Development Agency (DRDA), Dhubri, has constructed one building in the cluster. The said building is used as dumping ground.NECARDO has formed twenty SHGs under DRDA, Dhubri, in the craft cluster of Asharikandi village. District level SGSY committee has approved NECARDO to form one confederation of SHGs in the cluster for the all round development of the craft cluster. Handicrafts Department, Government of India, ATDC- Assam Tourism Development Corporation Ltd, SBI-State Bank of India, LHO, Guwahati, have come forward to help the craft and the craft-persons of Asharikandi.
Rural Tourism Project At Asharikandi
Government of India –UNDP new Country Programme 2003-2007 is an ongoing programme. Under this programme Government of India, Ministry of Tourism, has taken up Rural Tourism Scheme. The programme seeks to propagate craft-based tourism for sustainable livelihood and integrated rural development during the 10th five-year plan for capacity building, direct training and infrastructure with the rural community as primary target beneficiaries assisted through the Rural Tourism Scheme of the Department of Tourism, Govt. of India.
On the basis of the above mentioned Programme and Scheme, the Deputy Commissioner, Dhubri, Assam, submitted a project proposal Titled “ Rural Tourism Project on Terracotta craft cluster of Asharikandi in Dhunri District, Assam”. The village where the project has been proposed has recently been brought under Tourist Circuit of Govt. of Assam, for Handicrafts (Terracotta craft ). The village is accommodated under Rural Tourism Scheme to exhibit rural life, art, culture, heritage of the place at rural location (Asharikandi) to the visiting tourists benefiting local community economically and socially.
The project costs of Rs. 70 lakhs i.e., Rs.50 lakhs for Hardware and Rs.20 lakhs for software. Out of Rs.50 lakhs of the Hardware component, Rs. 39.17 lakhs i.e., 80% of the Hardware component, has been sanctioned and released by the Ministry of Tourism, GOI, to the Deputy commissioner, Dhubri. Out of the Rs. 39.17 lakhs against hardware components, one gate at the entry point of the village, two numbers of huts to showcase terracotta products, one work-shed cum show room to demonstrate works to the tourists, one community hall to facilitate the artisans to perform community works, one office cum interpretation center, one park, statues and tourism related things, one restaurant and block toilets have been constructed in the village as infrastructure support for the amenity of the tourists and welfare of the villagers.
The construction works under hardware have been completed in the year 2007. Though the project has not been formally inaugurated but it has practically started its function. The tourists and the artisans have started to reap benefit out of it. The works under this project have been executed by the ATAPDC and Deputy Commissioner, Dhubri and implemented by the Construction Committee.
The software part of the project has not been sanctioned till November 2009. The Ministry of Tourism, GOI, is yet to release the rest 20% of the fund. NECARDO – North East Craft and Rural Development Organisation an NGO that works for long for the all round development of the craft and craft persons would implement the software part. The economy of the village largely depends on terracotta and pottery industry and this project has given an impetus to it. Of late, one problem has come into the way of development. The communication to the village has been disrupted due to wash away of the bridge that connected the village to other part. The district administration has taken initiative to restore it for the greater interest of tourism and terracotta.
The project benefits directly to generate employment approximately to 400 artisans and indirectly to 1000 people at present.The completion of the project would cater the need of the tourists and the artisans and the villagers in bigger manner. The restoration of the bridge would determine the fate of the project.