Text: Kusum Mehta
Pottery has been called the lyric of handicrafts because of its irresistible and universal appeal. But it is the association of religion with this very humble object that has given it a deeper significance and wider dimension.
A water pot filled with water has, from time immemorial, been a symbol of good omen, and is indispensable in any ritual. A variety of earthen objects are used in rituals, like lamps, earthen drums, flower vases, musical instruments, etc.
Pottery from various states
In Bengal, surai, the common jug, is not made on the wheel, but four pieces are joined together with a decorated disc for the top, an ordinary one for the lower part, and the base. The neck alone is made on the wheel and attached to the body.
Delhi has a very old tradition of its famous blue pottery which is very distinctive. The base is powdered quartz mixed with gum to make a kind of soft paste to be moulded, and is vitreous and semi-transparent. While the products turned out have a Persian flavour, it is in reality quite original in its composition, claiming kinship with porcelain.
The Jaipur blue pottery is equally famous, but is quite unique, for the base is prepared out of the material from which the slip is made, and no clay is used. It is perhaps the only pottery produced without the use of clay – a couple of factors rather simplify the procedure. One, all the materials that go into the composition, quartz, raw glaze, sodium sulphate, fuller’s earth locally known as multani mitti, all require the same temperature, and the pottery needs to be fired only once, unlike other pottery. The other is that the slip does not develop any cracks. It is also more impervious, and therefore more hygienic for daily use.
In Uttar Pradesh, Khurja has evolved a style of its own by raising the pattern with the use of thick slips into a light relief. It also works out its own shades in warm autumnal colours like orange, brown and special light red. Floral designs in sky-blue are worked against a white background. A speciality of Khurja is a type of pitcher like a pilgrim‘s bottle decorated within relief by a thick slip.
Rampur surais (water pots) are noted for their uniform green-blue glazes with plain surfaces, the base being prepared from red clay. Chunar is also famous and at one time used to glaze its wares with a brown slip, interspersed by a number of other tints. Excellent water containers are made in other parts of Uttar Pradesh, like Meerut and Hapur, which are both turned and moulded. A very special kind of earthenware peculiar to Nizamabad, Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh, is distinguished by its dark lustrous body.
Kangra in Himachal Pradesh is rich in clay wares all through the valley. They are mostly black or dark red but in a wide range, all for domestic use, traditional in form and most attractive.
Potters from Gujarat, who have settled down in Mumbai form a big colony at Dharavi called Kumbharwada.They make many new functional items, but the traditional base is retained because of their attraction and popularity.
Goa’s earthenware with its deep rich red velvety surface, has a charm and style of its own. Apart from a large variety of domestic ware which include attractive water and flower pots which are a speciality, a wide range of figures and panels are made.
The southern pottery
Khanapur in Belgaum district of Karnataka is known mostly for its large-sized containers and jars,and a variety of articles for storage and preservation. Because of the excellence of the local clay, a thin variety of pottery has evolved with design, etched or stamped on the body.
The South has several centres of noted glazed pottery. Vellore in North Arcot has black and red wares. Usilampatti in Madurai district has black pottery painted over with a special yellow substance which has an old tradition. Panruti in South Arcot is famous for a large variety of clay work, large and small figures of deities, toys, etc., and Karigiri in South Arcot is the most famous.
Pottery from Karukurichi in Tirunelveli district is popular. It is technically superior and with novel and attractive shapes. Red grey and black clay are used for the base. The clay body looks brighter after a coating of red ochre.
One may say that the most unlettered of potters display an innate sense of aesthetic qualities.