Pedro Sousa Raposo

photography and cinema

Ephemeral Sculptures

Pudukottai (Tamil Nadu), India, 2009


Large dimensions compound dedicated to votive sculpture, a type of sculptural display particular to the South of India with strong tribal roots. During ritual acts, the devotees offer the gods terracotta figures in exchange for protection. These figures protect the villages and are placed in shrines usually at their outskirts. This place, close to the village of Urupetti, is one of the most imposing examples, though little known or recognised. The larger sculptures are between three to four metres tall and there are hundreds, maybe thousands, placed in sequential rows throughout the compound. The cycle renews itself every year with the setting of new figures during the rituals dedicated to the gods, Aiyanar especially.


Creation and destruction walk hand in hand here.


The ritual is ephemeral and afterwards the offering is left to the elements, slowly returning to dust by disintegration. A perfect analogy to the cycle of life. These figures have a huge sculptural interest, with more advanced technical features than elsewhere and with a very thorough attention to relief and detail. Great technical skill is required, for the moulding as well as the baking. Only a few are able and chosen for the task. There are hundreds of figures still standing and many others partially destroyed. It’s centuries of devotion.


The place is surrounded by thick vegetation and many species of wild animals. The last rows of figures are swallowed by nature. At the village, today potters work in a nearby quarry that pays better. The manufacturing of figures is nearly over. For now, the baked clay placed here for so long remains as one of the heights of terracotta sculpture in the world.