SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Huyler, Stephen P. (1991) The production and use of ritual terracottas in India. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

[img] PDF - Submitted Version
Download (81MB)


Formed from the very soil of India, pottery and clay sculptures are considered essential to the continuity of Hindu life. Clay is the Symbol of transition, of cycles of change, of impermanence and regeneration. The creation, destruction, and re-creation of terracotta is constant. Although the potters' position within the caste hierarchy is low, his transformation of impure' substance into functional and sacred forms, makes him socially respected - a servant of the gods. More potters live and work in India than in any other country or land mass of comparable size in the world. Unique as a separate, endogamous group of vessel makers and sculptors, these craftsmen still produce traditional products whose forms are virtually indistinguishable from those of their predecessors. By documenting and understanding the preparation, purpose and function of contemporary terracottas, scholars may be able to more accurately hypothesize about ancient material cultures. This thesis is primarily based upon a survey of Indian potters in fifty-four districts within fifteen Indian states, the material collected during thirty-two months of field research over a ten-year period. After a brief comparative study of these craftsmen and their roles within contemporary society, the text focuses upon the creation of ritual terracottas and the use of these terracottas as gifts to or receptacles for the gods. Detailed attention is given to the sacred and ritual roles of potters within their communities and the ways in which their products are vital to the devotional practices of the average Hindu, as recorded in shrines and household rituals in twelve states. Finally, three separate case studies - based upon interviews with potters, their families, local villagers and priests in community clusters in South Arcot District, Tamil Nadu, Deoria and Gorakhpur Districts, Uttar Pradesh, and Puri District, Orissa - document the production and function of ritual terracottas.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:09

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item