1st Edition

Potters without a Wheel Ethnography of the Mritshilpis in Kolkata

By Saswati Bhattacharya Copyright 2022
    168 Pages 28 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge India

    168 Pages 28 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge India

    168 Pages 28 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge India

    This book is an ethnographic study of clay idol-makers of Kumartuli in Kolkata, India. Much of the visibility and identity of Kolkata’s creative culture has been dependent upon the clay artists of Kumartuli for the last 100 years or so. This book explores the nature of the carefully constructed identity of these idol-makers as mritshilpis , or clay artists, who, as opposed to ordinary potters, work with their hands instead of a wheel. It looks at how the mritshilpis consciously embrace and expand their market based on this variation and elevated status as artists instead of artisans and studies the embeddedness of this identity within the commodity markets. It also shows that commodity markets, in this case the market of clay idols, are an outcome of trends of urbanisation, popular demand, corporatisation and commodification of culture, all of which have shaped the contours of clay idol-making as not only an occupation but a brand identity.

    Drawing on extensive fieldwork and in-depth interviews, the book highlights the larger structural relationship between urbanisation, indigenous occupational categories and identity politics. It will be indispensable to scholars and researchers of sociology, social anthropology, political studies, cultural history, urban economy, art history, urbanisation, cultural studies and urban sociology.

    List of Figures


    List of Acronyms

    1 Why Explore the Genre of Clay Idol-Making?

    2 Pottery, Potters and Mritshilpis: Claims of Heredity

    3 Regional Culture of Durga Puja and the Mritshilpis

    4 The Market for and of the Mritshilpis

    5 Political Economy of Mritshilpo

    6 Reclaiming and Maintaining Identity




    Saswati Bhattacharya has been teaching at the Department of Sociology, Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, since 2010. She has completed her doctoral research at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. Her interest areas are urban sociology, sociology of religion and sociology of contemporary India. Her main research area is urbanisation and the religious publics, exploring how patterns of urbanisation, migration and post-industrial economy shape the nature of religion in urban spaces, which further modifies the nature of both, social policy and interpersonal relationships.