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
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
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!