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Friday, February 21, 2020

Hues of pottery, a timeless craft tradition of India

From flower pots, terracotta chimes to the thirst quenching ‘Surahi’ and ‘Matki’, pottery as an art and craft form is practiced across the length and breadth of the country, and remains one of the most timeless living craft traditions of India.

Written by Swasti Pachauri | New Delhi | Updated: November 21, 2019 4:11:35 pm
pottery, eco-friendly pottery, pottery in India, types of pottery Pottery is among the most timeless living craft traditions of India. (Photos: Swasti Pachauri)

Indira (45), a native of Chittorgarh district, Rajasthan has lived in east Delhi for the past few years. A widow and mother of two, she specialises in carving the decorative ‘phool’ or flower-shaped discs in plaster-of-Paris. She also sells toys, kulhars, oil-lamps, mitti ke bartan, and other décor all year round, besides colourful artefacts from Gujarat.

Similarly, Raju (40) from the same locality has been selling earthenware for a decade, using “chikni mitti” or mud sourced from neighbouring states, which costs Rs 5,000 per truck, he notes

With the festive season on and the government’s focus on phasing out single-use plastic, the spotlight is on eco-friendly materials. For instance, Khadi Village Industries Commission (KVIC) recently launched bamboo water bottles, and usage of bio-degradable cutlery, especially leaf-cutlery made of sal, banana, palm leaves, is also gaining prominence. Serving food on ‘dona-pattals’, in fact, has been a timeless tradition. The Ministry of Railways has already reintroduced usage of kullhars in place of plastic cups.

Revisiting pottery

Pottery is among the most timeless living craft traditions of India. From flower pots, terracotta chimes to the thirst-quenching suraahi and matki, pottery is practised across the length and breadth of the country. A visit to the countryside and “potter’ villages” speaks volumes about the economic importance of this craft. In many parts of India, along with subsistence agriculture, people engage in pottery using traditional manual potter’s wheels and kilns, making earthenware an integral part of haat, bazaars and urban market spaces, especially during the festive season.

pottery, eco-friendly pottery, pottery in India, types of pottery Freshly moulded oil-lamps or ‘diyas’.

Right from Ganeshotsav to Durga Puja, Diwali and Ekadashi, little oil-lamps made of clay, sculpted idols, temples, and toys dot the markets. Terracotta utensils, kitchenware, and other clay furnishings dominate consumer choices, making pottery stalls quintessential in any festive ‘haat’ bazaar.

Be it colourful Khurja pottery (Uttar Pradesh), azure shades of blue pottery (Rajasthan), sturdy black stone ‘Longpi’ (Manipur), clay works are an important source of livelihood. Here, we look at some popular pottery forms practised in India (this is not an exhaustive list):

Jaipur Blue Pottery, Rajasthan

Jaipur blue pottery has the Geographical Indication (GI) tag. This is a glazed form of pottery that uses a blue glaze and is typical of intricate designs in blue and white. Popular in crockery, décor, artefacts and other utility items, this finds a place in almost every pottery aficionado’s household. Globally, the origins of this art form are traced to Central Asia. Quartz forms the main ingredient for the clay used in blue pottery, which is reportedly found in abundance in this region.

pottery, eco-friendly pottery, pottery in India, types of pottery The humble ‘kullhar‘ which is commonly used at chai stalls.

Khavda Pottery, Gujarat

A traditional art form using ‘Rann ki Mitti’, it originates in the village of Khavda, Rann of Kutch. The beautiful ochre / gerua shades give this art form an earthy feel with painted symmetric black and white designs. The special mud with which it is made is reportedly procured from near a lake.

Many potters in Delhi markets procure colourful terracotta products from the colourful Rann of Kutch. (See picture).

Khurja Pottery, Uttar Pradesh

pottery, eco-friendly pottery, pottery in India, types of pottery Also known as the ‘ceramic city’, the Khurja pottery form has the GI tag.

Khurja in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh is a famous tourist attraction, thanks to the colourful pottery it produces. Also known as the ‘ceramic city’, the Khurja pottery, which the GI tag, boasts of a variety of tea-sets, crockery, and ceramic tile works. Among the most popular glazed pottery forms, the process involves a range of labour-intensive tasks such as clay churning, moulding, colouring, followed by glazing.

Longpi Pottery, Manipur

Originating in the Longpi villages of Ukhrul district of Manipur, Longpi pottery has gained international prominence owing to its sturdy nature. Made from black serpentine stone and a form of clay which is found only in this area, the classic black exterior with bamboo/cane woven around handles give the clay-wares a unique identity. Longpi pottery can also be used for baking and is microwave-friendly.

pottery, eco-friendly pottery, pottery in India, types of pottery Longpi pottery can also be used for baking and is microwave-friendly.

Black pottery and terracotta, Madhya Pradesh

Black matkis, pots, utensils used for cooking and décor near villages of the Pench National Park in Seoni district, and terracotta works from Chattarpur district are very popular.

Andretta pottery, Himachal Pradesh

In a small village nestled in the lap of nature, Andretta pottery from Kangra in Himachal Pradesh has gained popularity. Glazed with fresh shades of blue and green, this has been popularised by the Andretta Pottery and Crafts Society. The colours used are reflective of nature, evergreen woods, and the mountains. The society also conducts regular workshops.

In addition to the above and many more, Kumortoli potter’s colony from Kolkata, Kumhar Gram in Delhi, potters from Bastar, Chhattisgarh, and women potters of the Kota tribe in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu are vital to enhancing India’s rich cultural repository of crafts.

pottery, eco-friendly pottery, pottery in India, types of pottery The colours used are reflective of nature, evergreen woods, and the mountains.

Way forward

While popularising pottery forms is essential, issues affecting potters must be addressed. For instance, many feel the processes are laborious and the payments meagre. Moreover, not every potter has access to technological advancements like the electric potter’s wheel. Additionally, pricing issues and stiff competition from cheaper substitutes like plastic and plaster-of-Paris décor are other challenges. The shortage of clay is fast becoming an issue plaguing the sustainability and livelihoods of potters and artists.

Ecofriendly and beautiful: India’s grasswork and handicraft communities

To boost livelihoods and preserve pottery as an art and craft form, more eco-friendly consumption should be promoted in line with the targets of sustainable production and consumption targets under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #12. Initiatives like the ‘terracotta grinder’ to reuse wasted pottery launched by KVIC in Varanasi and initiatives like the ‘solar potter’s wheel’ must be popularised and made accessible. Additionally, workshops for potters on entrepreneurial skills and marketing must be regularly undertaken.

Similarly, trends such as #PottersKiDiwali, largescale purchases made by government departments and corporates, and tax exemptions given to potters such as the one undertaken in Umaria district on the occasion of Diwali 2019 are other ways to nurture pottery as an industry.

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