‘A Terracotta Temple In Odisha Is My Ultimate Dream’: Sculptor Narottam Das

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As a teenager, Narottam Das bagged Odisha State Award for the best design in terracotta in 1996. By the time he was 30, the Odisha-born artist had won a National Award for pottery design from the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC).

In his career spanning nearly 25 years, this gifted artist, now in his early 40’s, has carved a niche for himself with his unusual and creative works in terracotta and ceramic in India. His works have been exhibited in a number of prestigious shows across the country including the famed Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai.

Pic Credit: Narottam Das

After serving 12 years in Maharashtra as the KVIC’s designer, Narottam came back to Odisha recently with the dream to build a terracotta temple in Bhubaneswar besides setting up an exclusive centre for promotion and research on terracotta.

Excerpts from an interview with Odisha Bytes:

Your works are more familiar in Maharashtra’s art-circles than in your home state of Odisha.  You also got the National Award representing Maharashtra. Is it not unusual for an artist who grew up in Bhubaneswar?

My guru and mentor was the late legendary Devraj Sahoo, the cult figure of Odisha’s terracotta art. He always encouraged me to be creative, innovative and different in my work. Thus, my quest for mastering more took me away from Odisha.

For more than 12 years, I worked at the KVIC’s Regional Pottery Training Centre at Bhadrawati in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra. For a struggling young artist, this job provided me the much-needed financial security apart from artistic freedom to experiment with designs. During those years, I also got married to an artist from Maharashtra and both of us launched two art projects in Amravati and Nagpur.

However, I am now back in Odisha to set up an exclusive centre for promotion of terracotta in Bhubaneswar.

Pic Credit: Narottam Das

Did you close down your art projects in Maharashtra?

No. Vedika, my wife, looks after the two projects. She is a trained artist. Since she is the only child to her parents, she is required to look after them at their advanced age living in Amravati. Our son also studies there. So, we would continue our work in Maharashtra.

Interestingly, my wife encouraged me to go back to Odisha to do something for my state. She is very fond of Odisha and my parents as well. So, she volunteered to manage our art projects alone and family responsibilities in Maharashtra.

What plans do you have for Odisha?

I am trained and experienced in terracotta and ceramic art. I wish to groom the upcoming artists of our state who wish to be in my field. Our art colleges do not offer such courses for the aspiring artists. So, I wish to bridge the gap. I wish them to learn the latest techniques and developments in the field.

My guru Devraj Sahoo groomed me in the true Gurukul tradition. He spotted my talent in art and brought me to Bhubaneswar. I stayed with his family for eight long years. He took care of me as a father. He gave me the expertise and the vision. I could not do anything for him as he is no more. But I will continue teaching and grooming talents as my guru did.

My ultimate goal is to build up a terracotta temple in Bhubaneswar. Since I saw the amazing terracotta temple in Bishnupur in West Bengal during my student days, I have this dream of having a terracotta temple in Odisha. Of course, to translate this dream into reality, I would need the support of our people and government. But I will definitely try my best.

How did you get interested in art as a career?

I imbibed the passion for art from my mother Nirmala Sahoo, who was very artistic. She would explore as many mediums as possible to express her talent in art. Be it clay from which she used to make toys for her children or the traditional jhoti that the village women would do on walls of the homes for rituals, she was revered as the best in our village.

To my luck, Devraj (Sahoo) Sir had come to our village once for a marriage ceremony of his relative in our neighbourhood. He saw the beautiful jhoti that my mother was doing and I was assisting. He suggested my mother to send me to Bhubaneswar to study art.

With his advice and support, I came to Bhubaneswar after my schooling and got admitted to the State Handicrafts Training Centre where Devraj Sir was teaching terracotta. Later on, I graduated from Dhauli College of Art and Craft and went for training in ceramic pottery in Bengaluru. My father and elder brother provided the emotional and financial support that I required during my entire journey as an artist.

What is the state of terracotta art in Odisha today and what changes would you wish to bring into it?

Terracotta is an ancient art tradition and Odisha has a legacy of its own, especially in pottery. However, our state lacks the required innovations that would make our terracotta known at the national and international level in present times. We need visionaries like Devraj Sir to bring the change. Our terracotta items should be more innovative, decorative and utility oriented in order to have a better market.

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