The worship of clay images in Bengal
The thesis examines the contemporary Bengali practice of worshipping clay images. By clay is understood 'unbaked' clay. The thesis makes a distinction between 'baked clay' (terracotta) images and 'unbaked' clay (terracruda) images and examines the preference for worshipping terracruda images. The worship of clay images is examined within the context of image worship in general in India, referring to the classical iconographical canons and other texts in which clay is mentioned as a suitable medium for the making of religious icons. The study is restricted to the Hindu religion. The thesis does not restrict itself to a purely iconographical approach. The thesis discusses the artistic tradition that gave rise to the clay images of Bengal,as well as attempting to understand the religious significance of the images. In tracing the tradition, the author has used vernacular sources as well as early records of travellers. In describing the contemporary technique of clay image making, the author has relied on recorded interviews and photo-documentation taken during a three month period of fieldwork in West Bengal. The thesis establishes that there has been a tradition of worshipping clay images in Bengal that is at least two centuries old and suggests that there are earlier precedents for the tradition. It also concludes that it is a strongly regional tradition that developed in Bengal and influenced the neighbouring states of Bihar, Assam and Orissa. The worship of terracruda images in Bengal is a regional practice that is the product of both classical and 'folk' influences.