Working in terracotta has been a tradition in India since ancient times. Terracotta or clay craft symbolises man's first craftsmanship. Civilizations are now dated and assessed by the degree of skill and beauty displayed by the earthenware found in excavations. It may be that the potter's wheel was the first 'machine' man invented to use the power of motion for a productive purpose. Pottery has been called the lyric of handicrafts because of its universal appeal. But it is the association with everyday life of this very humble object that has given it a deeper significance.

Any casual visitor to an Indian village invariably finds a hoard of terracotta animal figures lying under pipal trees or at rural shrines. Abstract in form and varying in sizes, these figures stand for the longings and aspirations of the village folk, who still retain the age-old mystic belief that

guided the life of the people more than five thousand years ago. The tradition has continued unbroken whether in the clarity of design or in the characteristic plastic values of the shapes. The Mother Goddess or the so-called fertility symbols still produced in Assam, West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa resemble the ones worshipped in Mohenjodaro and Harappa. The children of the pre-historic period were amused with similar toys which even today fascinate the children of rural India.

Though the 'ageless' variety of what is connected with rituals and beliefs basically remains unchanged in shape and form, orientation in designing the 'time-bound' type is clear even to a casual observer. To suit the taste of the modern generation, however, a trend of commercialising the craft has come about. Modern designers are consciously trying to adapt traditional figures and forms. Modern methods of moulding, firing and decorating these items are producing good results. But craftsmen who still work in the rural areas caress the clay in the age-old style, and treat it as work and play at the same time. However in the rural areas the craft is also dying out slowly, terracotta is fighting for survival faced with competition from other materials like plastic and metal.

Traditional terracotta artisans are finding it more and more difficult to live above subsistence level. Faced with the rising cost of fuel and the grueling hours of work, the next generation is shying away from this wonderful practice. As such we are now in the age where perhaps in the next decade or so very few terracotta potters will be left, or none at all.