Plaque depicting Dharmaraj
India, Rajasthan, Molela, 1969
Lent by the Museum of Anthropology, MU (Gift of Robert F. Bussabarger)
Modern-day potters from Molela make plaques featuring the major gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon as well as tribal deities such as this one showing Dharmaraj, a local warrior-ruler turned into a god. He is regarded as the preserver and dispenser of justice, and as such he is sometimes equated with Vishnu. Dharmaraj also rules over the domain of departed human souls.
Dharmaraj is depicted riding a horse and holding a spear in one hand and lotus bud in the other. A black cobra, representing the power of nature, rises up above the horse’s head, while another spotted snake slithers between the horse’s legs. The five knobs crowning the arches across the top of the plaque signify the five human senses.
The plaques, made from locally-dug clay, are modeled and formed by hand and dried in the sun. They are then fired in a kiln and later painted with vivid, bright colors. The plaques usually serve a religious purpose in local Hindu homes, but nowadays they are also collected as decorative art objects or wall ornaments. The production of these plaques and other ceramic objects supplement the makers’ incomes when they are not tending their herds, their main occupation.
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"I still remember the feeling of awe and disbelief when I was alone and walked in the room with those casts." --Ruth Tofle, chair of architecture, winner of the 2013 distinguished faculty award from the MU Alumni Association