An interview with Rachel Webb, a London-based potter who uses Sanskrit prayers to embellish her work.
22nd October 2008
What made you work with Sanskrit?
I chose Sanskrit because of its aesthetic beauty as well as its beautiful meaning. I studied the language as a child and have been singing the prayers I engrave on the bowls for as long as I can remember. My father also studied and taught Sanskrit in the School of Philosophy. He devised the Sanskrit font which I use about 15 years ago along with a couple of others in the school. It is a beautiful font and I feel privileged to have access to it.
How do you choose the prayers?
I started by writing my favourite prayer onto the first bowl, Om Purnamadah:
ॐ – पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदम् पूर्णात् पूर्णमुदच्यते
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमआदाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः
Om – purnamadah, purnamidam, purnat purnamudachyate,
Purnasya purnamadaya purnamevavashisyate.
Om shanti shanti shanti
This is perfect, that is perfect, perfect comes from perfect,
Take perfect from perfect and the remainder is perfect.
May peace and peace and peace be everywhere.
[Invocation of the Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad]
I exhibited this piece in a small exhibition in London where I took a commission for a bowl with Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhina.
ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः सर्वे सन्तु निरामयः।
सर्वे भद्रणिपश्यन्तु मा कश्चिद्दुःख भाग भवेत्॥
Sarve bhavantu sukhina, sarve santu niramaya
Sarve bhadrani pashyantu, ma kascit dukha bhaga bhavet
May all be happy, may all be free from disease
May all have well-being and none have misery of any kind.
[Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.14]
This was commissioned as a present for my brother in law who is Chairman of Lucca Leadership [a transformational leadership charity] in North America, and this prayer was adopted as the ‘Lucca Leadership prayer’. In short, I love that I am using literature with such penetrating meaning.
Could you describe how you make the pottery?
I throw a large bowl on the wheel, and when it is leather hard, after about a week in a damp store, I turn the foot ring. To decorate the bowl , I paint the whole thing in a coloured liquid clay called slip, and use a darker coloured slip to stencil on the prayer. The stencil is cut out of paper with a knife and as it gets wet in the process can only be used once, therefore each bowl is unique. The stencil is made so that the prayer will exactly fit around the inside rim of the bowl, so the font size is chosen carefully before it is printed and cut out. Once the stencil is cut and ready each word is temporarily stuck to the inside rim of the bowl with water so that slip can be applied and the stencil removed. This process is done, word by word, until the whole prayer is complete.
What kind of response do you get from customers?
As I have only made three of these bowls as of now, I cannot really say who is interested in them. So far it is those who have a knowledge of Sanskrit and also those who appreciate the difficulty involved in creating lettering on ceramics.
The bowls cost between £80 to £120. Those who wish to know more are welcome to get in touch with Rachel at firstname.lastname@example.org.