Mapping the Pottery Culture of India

Pottery is one of the most evergreen craft traditions of India. From flower pots to terracotta chimes, matkas used for drinking water many types of Indian pottery can be found in every nook and corner of this country. A regular fare in several cultural fairs, village homes, and the boudoirs of some art connoisseurs,  Indian pottery is one of the oldest craft traditions in the Indian sub-continent. Cord-impressed style pottery belonging to the Mesolithic ceramic tradition was found at the site of Lahuradewa. This is the oldest known Indian pottery tradition of South Asia –dating back to 7000-6000 BC. Pottery was also an important part of Indus Valley Culture. Evidence of both wheel-made, as well as handmade pottery, has been unearthed at the sites of Indus Valley Civilization.

Terracotta pottery of Bankura

Pottery making is also an inseparable part of the handicrafts culture of West Bengal. Potters are popularly known as ‘kumors’ in West Bengal. Traditionally there are 4 types of potters in West Bengal –the Radhi, the Varendri, Chourasia, and Khottai. The terracotta or red-colored clay pottery and artwork of the Bankura district are arguably the most popular in West Bengal. The most common type of terracotta  Indian pottery is of course the red-washed clay wares. However, at some melas and haats, we find intricately painted wares inspired from episodes from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata as well. 

Blue Pottery of Rajasthan

Blue glazed and intricately designed pottery is a staple fare of the pottery culture of Jaipur, Rajasthan. The origin of this pottery can be traced back to Central Asia. 

Most of the blue pottery is made from polished Quartz. 

Karnataka’s Bidriware

This strikingly beautiful pottery is sure to make you fall in love at first sight! Intricately designed with mostly white/silver motifs on black-colored ware this type of pottery is a sight for sore eyes and will grab the attention of neighbors and friends when they visit your house. Once a favorite of the Bahmanid rulers of Bidar ( the ancient capital of Deccan) this pottery is an inalienable part of Karnataka’s handicrafts culture. The creation of bidriware follows a process called ‘damascening’ wherein silver designs are carved into items made of an alloy of zinc, earth, etc. Then the items are dipped into a soil mix containing soil from Bidar fort, after which the items are oxidized into a rich black shade. After this intricate silver motifs – which may vary from geometrical patterns, human figures, or flowers are carved into the pottery. You can get a long-necked pot known as ‘mehatabi’ or a wider type of pot called ‘tarkashi’. Both are extraordinarily beautiful. 

Uttar Pradesh’s Black Polished pottery 

This one is a must-have if you are a diehard craftwork connoisseur. Mostly found in Nizamabad, this black-hued clay pottery came with the potters from Kutch who migrated to Uttar Pradesh in the reign of Aurangzeb. This polished black pottery is known for its simplicity and elegance. The items are washed with mustard oil and then sharp twigs are used to etch out patterns. The pottery is then thoroughly smoke fired in enclosed kilns until it gains a polished, black hue. The pottery is later baked and the grooves are filled with shimmery zinc or mercury powders and polished for one final time. 

Longpi pottery Manipur

This pottery originated in the Longpi village of the Ukhrul district, Manipur. Its USP is its amazing sturdiness and ability to last long. This pottery is made from black serpentine stone and local clay. The handles are covered with an exterior made from bamboo/cane. 

Gujarat’s ‘Khavda’ pottery

This one-of-a-kind pottery is made from a special kind of local clay known as ‘Rann ki mitti’ found in the Bhuj region. Interestingly this Indian pottery coincides with the pottery culture of the Indus Valley Civilization very closely. These are fired in brick kilns and then thoroughly coated in a was of local soil –‘geru’ which lends an earthy red tinge. Then the pottery is designed with clay-based paint in simple motifs inspired by nature. 

These few traditions however are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Indian pottery culture. Our country is home to many other diverse styles of pottery and handicrafts as well as vibrant communities of master craftsmen. With the advent of technology and the emergence of the era of factory-produced pottery ( most of which are carbon copies of each other), Indian pottery culture is sadly on the brink of extinction. It is time for us to make some space in our home for these handmade masterpieces. This way we can preserve an important part of our cultural heritage as well as save the artisan community from impoverishment. 

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