Akshay Mahajan

People of Clay is a visual folktale, following the tunes of local songs from the Rajbanshi community in Assam and Bengal, India. Historically, this community has continuously been mis-identified and culturally erased through the crushing weight of colonial bureaucracy. The series documents Akshay Mahajan’s journey in search for what ‘identity’ truly is.

Growing up in Mumbai as a child of the Indian partition, without any knowledge of his own heritage, Akshay Mahajan attempted to construct a new identity: not by birth, but through love. Folksongs, sung by his wife, drew him to north-eastern India, to the Rajbanshi people—bringing back to live a cultural tradition on the brink of obscurity.  

The resulting works are an intuitive and associative exploration about the meaning of ‘identity’. The use of the collaging technique refers to the constructed nature of identity, as something that is continually challenged and reassembled. Mahajan explains: “We are all people of clay, our identities constantly changing, not chained by the borders we have inherited.”

Listen to "Dine Dine Khasiya Paribe" by clicking the play button at the bottom of the exhibition.

People of Clay

Akshay Mahajan

The Legend goes that when a merchant refused to worship the Goddess of Snakes six of his sons tragically died from poisonous snake bites.

Trying to outsmart the Goddess, he married his last son, Lakshmindara, to a woman destined to never become a widow: Behula. When Lakshmindara too is bitten by a snake and dies, he is set afloat on the river.

Behula however refused to leave his side, and there was no one who could dissuade her from this strange decision.

'Either I shall die with him or he will come to life and I shall be beside him when he does.'

The raft floated down stream, passing village after village, she remained unmoving and undisturbed as the corpse began to swell and putrefy.

Passing villagers assumed her to be mad, but Behula kept praying to the Goddess–please, please—and finally, the Goddess responded, ensuring the raft survived storms, whirlpools and crocodiles, bringing back Lakshmindara to life.


next: Aaryan Sinha