08 Aug 2022

Mastering the Craft: A Journey into the Exquisite World of Pottery Making


From Varanasi’s pickings of Mirzapur’s black pottery… to Jaipur’s blue pottery… to Pondicherry earth-toned pottery…

Did you know that this living heritage of India’s potters’ craft is both a movement in ensuring the preservation of their sustainable development as much as it being an important resource for the livelihood of the village community?

So, now every time you are travelling through a village or in a shop, collecting that terracotta pot or vase, remember that you are doing your bit to keep these ancestral traditions alive.

Back in the 90s the glamorous Festival of India series held abroad was pivotal to the revival and promotion of several neglected Indian handcrafting traditions. In its wake came a movement for pro-active benefits to eco-tourism measures around the country. It was supported by private entrepreneurs of the world of commerce and craft, which also brought to the forefront the need to revive, nurture and promote some of India’s finest but rapidly dying crafts. Utilitarian and decorative too, this fabulous heritage showcases India’s creative inspiration, traditional skills and an intrinsic part of age-old rural lifestyles. But keeping in step with present-day needs there’s also a growing strength in terms of design development, skill upgradation, and marketing strategies for these beautiful products.

Did you know that Jaipur, known as the grid iron city, became a part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) in 2015 and was designated as a ‘City of Crafts and Folk Arts’? On your explorations of Jaipur’s high points and hectic shopping trips, an unmissable souvenir to take home is an elegant item (s) of the Jaipur Blue Pottery, exclusive to the region.

Join the Jaipur Blue Pottery tour with Offbeat Masters on which you will learn that this craft originated from Turko-Persian traditions. The Mughals are said to have imported this pottery style to India. Sources reveal that blue pottery came to Jaipur in the early 19th century under the rule of Sawai Ram Singh II (1835 – 1880). Apparently, maharaja sent off his artisans to Delhi to be trained in the craft. Sadly, by the 50s, the craft had almost disappeared from Jaipur. This unique pottery tradition, fiercely preserved, protected, and promoted by the muralist and painter Kripal Singh Shekhawat, was re-introduced in Jaipur by him with the support of patrons such as Culture Czarina Kamladevi Chattopadhaya and Rajmata Gayatri Devi.

Blue Pottery is created from a mixture of crushed quartz and sodium sulphate—with shades varying from light blue to deep indigo enhancing floral and arabesque and animal motifs.

What’s most distinctive about Jaipur Blue Pottery is that instead of clay, it uses the dough for the pottery; this is made by mixing Fuller’s Earth (Multani mitti) with ground glass, quartz powder, borax, gum, soda bicarbonate, and water. The pottery items are glazed and low-fired making them rather fragile. The items made are generally decorative. The name “Blue Pottery” comes from the eye-catching blue hues that define the pottery. Today Jaipur Blue Pottery is protected by the Geographical Indication (GI) tag as a traditional craft in the region.

The tour leads you to the factory where you will understand the step-by-step process of making blue pottery which has adapted traditional designs found now also in items such as tea sets, cups and saucers, plates and glasses, jugs, ashtrays, and napkin rings. Mingle with the local artisans, for whom it has become an important source of livelihood. Get a handle on the technique of making blue pottery and try your hands on the spinning wheel and make your own item of pottery. Colour it with the eye-catching blue colour. Pick up tiles, lampshades, and ashtrays, from the mesmerising range of accessories for your home and office.

Travel to one of South India’s most ancient cities, Madurai. Here you will experience pottery making of the traditional Indian village-style. Having had your fill of the city’s royal provenance of palaces and mansions spend time in a traditional potter’s village. On a tour with Story Trails to an archetypal Indian village – sun burned and sleepy, you will witness how humble clay gets fashioned into gods under the skilful fingers of artisans holding firmly to their ancestral skills. Watch how they carefully pack hundreds of dolls into a fire to bake them and observe their skill as they wield paint brushes to bring a blush on an earthen cheek. At the local Ayyanar temple, look out for the colourful terracotta horses mounted by fierce looking riders, a unique tradition in these parts. Deeply symbolic, these horses with their scary-looking riders are an intrinsic accoutrement of the temples in the rural landscape in Tamil Nadu. Ayyanar, an important addition to the Tamil village pantheon, is also referred to as a ‘viran’ or a brave one, a warrior who rides horses, brandishes a trident, and fights demons and protects the villagers. Most Tamil villages have an Ayyanar shrine. These terracotta horses come in various sizes ranging from small statues to almost life-sized, colourfully painted horses, often with warriors straddling them, as they are revered as the guardians of the villages. Votive offering of terracotta horses for a good rainfall and a good harvest are quite the norm in rural areas here.

In Kolkata, head for the Hooghly River embankments to uncover another unique pottery tradition which has evolved over the decades. Standing cheek-by- jowl with the Flower Market, which shares space here with the boatmen community, is Kumartuli, where the potter community resides. Be here around the time of Durga Puja and catch Calcutta Walks’ ‘Bringing the Goddess to Earth: Flower Market to Kumartuli- Life by the River Walk’ to watch the magical transformation of clay into the fantastic image of the Goddess Durga–reigning deity of the city and centre- stage patron of the Durga Puja festivities. Joyfully embrace the largesse of this city’s culture and heritage and history during the festival. Do this by joining the citizenry on a pandal-hopping jamboree to witness first-hand the fervent worship of these gorgeously attired Durga statues across the city.

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