Written by Tirupati Chakraborty
Transcreated in English by Gautam Guha
Ritual Terracotta pot-cover discs are an integral element in the folk traditions of Bengal. These pot covers commonly known as Sar are glazed and painted for ritualistic purposes. These are also inseparable part of the rituals of Lakhkhi Puja. She is worshiped by the Hindus for wealth, beauty, prosperity and fertility. In many Hindu households, she is worshiped every Thursday. The grand annual worship is offered on the autumnal full moon day, following the festival of Durga Puja. Earthen images of different sizes are used widely. She is also represented, however, by a pitcher filled with water and Mango leaves with a green coconut covering the mouth of the pitcher.
In some households, particularly the non-brahmin ones, the Lakhkhi Sar are used for worship. The image of the goddess is painted on the Sar or the disc in bright colours. Four distinctive styles can be recognized based on overall artistic styles as also from the manner of depiction of the goddess. These are (i) Dhakai (ii) Faridpuri (iii) Sureswari and (iv) Ganaki. It is interesting to note that the art of Sar originated in present Bangladesh and are still widely used there. The tradition spread to present day West Bengal and are largely confined to the lower spectrum of the society.
In Taherpur area of the district of Nadia, there are approximately 50/60 households who are engaged in producing these discs. Interacting with them, one could come across many interesting facts regarding the art and craft of making these discs. The skills are passed on from family to family and from generation to generation. Demand, confirmed Sukumar Pal who has been making such discs for over fifty years, is on the rise. Earlier, each Sar fetched one or two annas but now a good price of more than seventy rupees is not unusual. Though it is recognized as handicraft, no assistance from the government has ever been forthcoming. They are compelled to toil hard in this family profession to attain the blessings of Lakhkhi in the form of a decent livelihood which, however has mostly eluded them.
Needless to say, this form has its origin in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. The round edge of the disc is slightly elevated. The base of upper part of the surface is painted white on which Lakhkhi and her consort Narayan are drawn facing each other. They hold in their hands sheaves of rice. The stems of the sheaves touch their elbows. A bur flower tree with a round yellow flower is depicted stylistically between the two of them filling most of the space on the disc. Lakhkhi is shown as sitting in lotus pose holding the sheaf of the rice. Her jewelry box and her carrier the owl are painted at her feet.
Faridpuri Sar has its origin in Faridpur district of Bangladesh. Panels and background are painted white. Stylistically as also on contents, it resembles the Dhaka style except that the edges are not elevated.
The style has its origin in the village of Sureswar in Faridpur district. The surface is divided into five vertical panels. The central panel is divided into two vertical but unequal rectangular boxes. The image of Shiva, the consort of Devi Durga adorns the upper box which is comparatively small in size. In the lower bigger box, Devi Durga is depicted as seated on lion killing the Mahisasur. In the schematic structure, Devi Durga dominates the Sar . In the two vertical panels on her left, Ganesh and Lakhkhi are depicted. Images of ornamental lotus petals adorn the panel dividers enhancing the aesthetic appeal of the painting. Similarities with the Dhaka or Faridpur styles are discerned in the dull white background.
Ganaki Sar is generally used by the lowest strata of the Hindu society. The background is usually painted deep red. The surface is partitioned horizontally, the lower part being considerable smaller than the upper one. The upper part is circumscribed by an ornamental border of flowers touching the edge of the disc. In the upper compartment, Devi Durga and her family dominate. In the lower compartment, Lakhkhi with her carrier the owl is painted. The goddesses are shown adorning bejeweled dresses. The disc is painted with a large number of white lines and colourful spots reminiscent of pointillism.
Lakhkhi Sar or Lakhkhi Pata : Sar or Pata is a circular terracotta disc. Victoria & Albert Museum describes it as “ritual pot cover”. British Museum refers to it as “painted circular ceramic disc more like a pot lid”. Lakhkhi is the goddess of wealth in Hindu pantheon. Various spellings (e,g. Lakshmi, Laxmi) are used while translating the word in English. Here it is spelt to reflect the way the name is pronounced among the Bengalis.