Devi Prasad is one of India’s foremost potters and yet barely a handful of people outside the country has heard of him. This in itself speaks volumes for the man. Mindful of his place in the greater scheme of things of which he formed but a minute yet integral part, he embodied and gave voice to the great Asian values and ideals based on non-violence. He was a man of the pot who was far more humane than any towering emblem of pride or fame.
Born in 1921 there were two major figures that became the guiding principle to his life and which moved India to centre stage in world affairs. Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian to be awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature and Mahatma Gandhi who led India to independence from Great Britain. Satyajit Ray the film maker was another one of the greats who influenced his life.
Devi-bhai, as we all fondly came to know him as, was indeed fortunate to have known these great men. Later he would join Gandhi-ji at his ashram in Sevagram to set up a pottery and teach. The spinning wheel became a symbol of resistance to colonial rule but it could have so easily have been the potter’s wheel. Independence did not necessarily mean political and social freedom because Devi-bhai continued to champion the work of the roadside potter who was a symbol of dignity and put humanity at the centre of progress. Gandhi’s cry of “Bread comes first, adornment afterwards!” fuelled him more than wood could and he gave examples of how everyday utilitarian objects were artistic parallelling what is found in the Japanese aesthetic of “Wabi-Sabi”. He said “The government must not let this art die!” in reference to the art of the traditional potter. “Let Rashtrapathi Bhavan start using “kullars” and “handis” made by traditional craftsmen. No airy-fairy pie in the sky romantic idealism but something we could put into practice and take a pot out of his kiln by seeing that at International and National Ceramic Events, Festivals, Fairs, Conferences, Openings of Exhibitions and Ceramic Schools we don’t see plastic used instead of hand crafted ceramics.
But Devi-bhai would also translate his work into activism in another form. He became secretary and later president of War Resisters’ International and was heavily involved in the Anti-War Movement which harmonized ethics with life. He wrote widely on the inexticable link between peace and creativity, child and education, politics and art. He enjoined the spiritual with the physical adapting imagination and creativity to all areas of his life. The appointed hour has come. The bul-bul sings in the Flame of the Forest and like Rikyu “Never again shall this cup, unpolluted by misfortune be polluted by man” The vessel has broken into many fragments. He has passed forth into eternity. His legacy lives on.
60 Devonshire Rd, Palmers Green. London N13 4QX. England
28th June 2011.