Pottery is among the most timeless living craft traditions of India. From wall hangings, artefacts and idols, flower pots, terracotta chimes and much more to the thirst-quenching suraahi and matki, pottery is practiced across the length and breadth of the country. Bengal and Rajasthan are home to a bustling and happening industry. Terracotta horses, dolls, vessels, pots and pans are very much in demand today among households.

A casual visit to the countryside could lead you to “potter’ villages” that speak volumes about the economic relevance of this ancient craft. In many parts of India, along with subsistence agriculture, people engage in pottery making using traditional manual potter’s wheels and kilns, making earthenware an integral part of haat, bazaars and urban market spaces, especially during the festive season. “Right from Ganeshotsav to Durga Puja, Diwali and Ekadashi, little oil-lamps made of clay, sculpted idols, temples, and toys dot the markets. Terracotta utensils, kitchenware, and other clay furnishings dominate consumer choices, making pottery stalls quintessential in any festive ‘haat’ bazaar”, says an informed blogger, “A traditional art form using ‘Rann ki Mitti’, it originates in the village of Khavda, Rann of Kutch. The beautiful ochre / gerua shades give this art form an earthy feel with painted symmetric black and white designs. The special mud with which it is made is reportedly procured from near a lake. Many potters in Delhi markets procure colourful terracotta products from the colourful Rann of Kutch.”

Rajasthan’s very own Jaipur blue pottery has the Geographical Indication (GI) tag. This is a glazed form of pottery that uses a blue glaze and is typical of intricate designs in blue and white. Popular in crockery, décor, artefacts and other utility items, this finds pride of place in almost every pottery aficionado’s lair. Globally, the origins of this art form are traced back to Central Asia. Quartz forms the main ingredient for the clay used in blue pottery, which is reportedly found in abundance in this region.

Khurja in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh is another famous tourist attraction and clay make bazaar, thanks to the colourful pottery it produces. Also known as the ‘ceramic city’, the Khurja pottery, which the GI tag, boasts of a variety of tea-sets, crockery, and ceramic tile works. Among the most popular glazed pottery forms, the process involves a range of labour-intensive tasks such as clay churning, moulding, colouring, followed by glazing.

Longpi pottery owes its origins to the Longpi villages of Ukhrul district of Manipur. It has gained international prominence owing to its sturdy nature. Made from black serpentine stone and a form of clay which is found only in that area, the classic black exterior with bamboo/cane woven around handles give the clay-wares a unique identity. Longpi pottery can also be used for baking and is microwave-friendly.

In Madhya Pradesh black matkis, pots, utensils used for cooking and décor from villages of the Pench National Park in Seoni district, and terracotta works from Chattarpur district are very popular. Andretta pottery from Kangra in Himachal Pradesh has gained popularity. Glazed with fresh shades of blue and green, this has been popularised by the Andretta Pottery and Crafts Society. The colours used are reflective of nature, evergreen woods, and the mountains. The society also conducts regular workshops.

In addition to the above and many more, Kumortoli potter’s colony from Kolkata, Kumhar Gram in Delhi, potters from Bastar, Chhattisgarh, and women potters of the Kota tribe in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu are vital to enhancing India’s rich cultural repository of crafts.

But the romance hides the pain and grind of the industry. While popularising pottery forms is essential, it’s also a major challenge. For instance, many feel the processes are laborious and the payments meagre. Moreover, not every potter has access to technological advancements like the electric potter’s wheel. Additionally, pricing issues and stiff competition from cheaper substitutes like plastic and plaster-of-Paris décor are other challenges. The shortage of clay is fast becoming an issue plaguing the sustainability and livelihoods of potters and artists.

The blogger says, “To boost livelihoods and preserve pottery as an art and craft form, more eco-friendly consumption should be promoted in line with the targets of sustainable production and consumption targets under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #12. Initiatives like the ‘terracotta grinder’ to reuse wasted pottery launched by KVIC in Varanasi and initiatives like the ‘solar potter’s wheel’ must be popularised and made accessible. Additionally, workshops for potters on entrepreneurial skills and marketing must be regularly undertaken. Similarly, trends such as #PottersKiDiwali, large scale purchases made by government departments and corporates, and tax exemptions given to potters such as the one undertaken in Umaria district on the occasion of Diwali 2019 are other ways to nurture pottery as an industry.

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