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Ceramics – Art of Shaping & Baking Clay

Ceramics – the art of shaping and baking clay articles as pottery, earthenware and porcelain has today become a sophisticated art form of urban people. Its polularity can be vouchsafed fro the numerous categories and types one finds all over India.

The evolution of Indian ceramics began with the Harappan age. Except for a few examples which have been produced from a single mould, most of it is completely hand - modelled, a tradition carried over to the 20th century.

In the sub-continent, terracotta would perhaps be the epitome of Indian religious expression conveyed through clay. We can refer to pottery and earthenware as distinctly utilitarian and often decorative while porcelain and studio pottery belong to the realm of art.

Terracotta is mainly used for religious purposes such as votive of-ferings to the numerous gods in the Hindu pantheon. Hence, each region has a distinct desing content and bod. Terracotta is made by the potter. However it is not essential that a potter who produces earthenware also makes terracotta. In villages around New Delhi, there are about 50 centres where plain and painted earthenware is produced but there are no more than a dozen centres engaged in the production of good terracotta figurines.

West Bengal has perhaps the best tradition of terracotta. Most of these figurines, as mentioned before, have a ritualistic connotation. The Bankura horse, which is also the logo of the cottage Industries Corporation of India (C.C.I.C) in knew Delhi, is famous. Heavily decorated, this horse is made of a rich red clay and is offered to the gods and goddesses at religious ceremonies.

Mansa pottery, representing the goddess of snakes, is a quaint double curved pot with a face painted on it. Similarly, the Dakshinirai pots, found in the sunderbans area, are round pots with an edging running along the mouth signifying a crown. This is worshipped as the god who protects people against tigers. Such articles would be of interest to the tourist and though not readily available outside Bengal, one might find stray pieces at the emporia in the capital cities of India. Some pieces are available at the Cottage Industries Corporation in New Delhi.

Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, is famous for its ornately decorated terracotta horse. One would require some knowledge of Indian regional art forms to decipher the finer differences in the horse from West Bengal and Gorakhpur. Molela in Rajasthan is a village which specializes in producing reliefs of gods and goddesses, mainly Ganesh, the elephant god. These reliefs are painted in vibrant reds, yellows and pinks and the painting is done only after the figures have been fired. Because fuel costs are so high, a majority of potters fire their products very low using any kind of waste that they come across. The result is that most of lthe traditional Indian pottery is fragile and the buyer would be advised to ensure it is well packed before exporting it.

Every village in India has a potter (Khumbar) who ‘wheels’ out an amazing variety of household utensils and other objects of utility. They sit outside their huts, spinning their wheels with their hands and feet, while creating bowls, mugs, plates, urns, for storing and carrying water; flowerpots, foot-scrubbers, small pots and a myriad other articles required by an Indian household. With the spread of urbanization these settlements have now mushroomed on the outskirts of big cities and towns.

The capital is famous for its characteristic ‘Blue’ pottery. This particular art form is so called because of the ye-catching Persian blue dye used to colour the clay. Blue pottery is glazed and high-fired which makes it tougher than most of the other.

Jaipur pottery, made out of Egyptian paste, is thrown on the wheel and fired in wood-kilns, usually at very low temperatures. This naturally makes it fragile though few can resist the charm of the delicate white and blue floral motif which is painted onto the body after firing. The range of items is primarily decorative such as ashtrays, vases, coasters, small bowls and boxes for trinkets.

Khurja, three hours away from the capital is well known for its cheap but tough tableware. Most of it is mould production on a large scale. Fired at high temperature this pottery retains its mud colour. Due to the consequences of commercialization the design content, as in most other places has suffered greatly. The government has instituted a rehabilitation programme to reinforce the traditional art form in their craft.

Uttar Pradesh, which was the actual crucible of Indian pottery, produces some of the finest and most elaborately decorative pots, goblets, plates and other articles. Chunar, symbolized by its fine black clay pottery, is inlaid with silver paint in intricate designs. The articles are highly glossy and have luster. This art has been perfected in Nizamabad, where ‘kabiz’ is used to get the lustre. This powder is made from the mud of the rice fields and its formula is a closely guarded secret.

Going further south, lthe region famous for its pottery is Pondicherry. Here a few well known names dominate the market. ‘Golden Bridge Potteries’ for example make tableware on a commercial basis. Most of their products are moulded out of china clay and mature at very high temperatures.

Finally we come to the category that is distinctive of a particular individual. These are potters who work either in their own personal studios or at schools producing both traditional and modern earthenware, both utilitarian and purely dysfunctional!

In New Delhi one can find their work either at the Cottage Emporium or at the Garhi School in East of Kailash. Mugs, vases ashtrays, plates, tumblers etc. are on display.

Another outlet of studio pottery is ‘Valeries’ in West Bengal. Now functioning on a commercial basis, it produces semi-handmade earthenware and glazed tableware in various mud tones. It has been recommended for its good quality and reasonable price range.

Mr. Angad Vora works ;in his own studio, in Kottaikorai Pondicherry, producing slat-glazed pottery which has the texture of orange peel and in technical jargon s referred to as the Orange-Skin texture. Most of the painting is done before firing and mostof the tiems are utilitarian – starting with candle – stands to antwells to water filters and tableware.

These broad regional variations naturally cannot cove the whole range of ceramics in India. Every village potter inculcates into his art the regional characteristics and variations. Tribal art forms are varied and substantial but not easily accessible. A good representation of these various art forms can be found in the emporia in almost all the major cities of India.

On an average, Indian ceramics are cheaply available and most combine beauty with utility. To make your purchasing slightly more exciting you can make a trip to the outlets where one can buy the product right off the pavement which give you an opportunity to exercise your bargaining powers!

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