Crafts in India >>  Pottery


Pottery: The Beginning of Civilization
Among the various media chosen by man for expressing his joy through art, music or literature, the simplest has been soft and malleable clay. Nimble fingers mould the most beautiful form and expression. Clay is such a fascinating medium that if a lump of it is given to a child, he instinctively creates things out of it.
In a warm country like India, with the economy built on agriculture, pots for storage of water and grain were in demand. The Indus valley pottery was mostly decorative. The combination of design, concept and execution made it beautiful.
Pottery: Its Past
There is evidence of pottery making, both handmade and wheel-thrown, from all over India. At Harappa and Mohenjodaro, pottery has been excavated showing that potter's place was quite an important one in society. The craft was well advanced. Rectangular kilns for firing the product were in use. Seals and grain and water containers were made that were put to use effectively.

The place of the potter in the craft tradition of India is unique. India has more than a million potters. They are exquisite masters - men and women alike. Despite the hi-tech that has invaded the Indian scenario, it is doubtful if it will ever destroy the potter's inherent creativity. Hopefully, new generations will perceive the worth of pottery.

Pottery: Legends

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

India is diverse in many aspects. And one can easily find this diversity in profusion in the domestic pottery that is found in innumerable shapes and sizes. This aspect is almost inseparable from any Indian scene.

There are immense variety of objects specially produced for the occasion like lamps for Diwali, toys for Dussehra, pots for seedling at Sankranti and the gaily-painted pots for marriages.

Common pottery comes in a bewildering profusion. Being functional, each has a special use. The differences between two pots, which superficially look alike, are subtle.

Besides their normal use, some products are also used for decoration as well. These are generally made with special attention by putting intricate designs (Karigari) on it. These are termed as Karigari pottery. Ashtrays, flower-vases, tea sets, paperweights, decorative animal figures are a few examples of Karigari pottery.
The Indus valley civilization had a rich craft tradition as well as a high degree of technical excellence in the field of pottery making, sculpture (metal, stone and terracotta), jewellery, weaving etc. A lot of material information from excavations at Harappa, Mohen-jo-daro etc. substantiate the craft tradition of the Indus valley civilization. The craftsmen not only catered to all the local needs but surplus items were sent to ancient Arabian cultures via ancient sea routes. The Indus Valley Civilization was followed by the Vedic age (1500 B.C.), when the Vedas were written. There are numerous references in the Vedas on artisans involved in pottery making, weaving, wood crafting etc. The Rig Veda in particular refers to a variety of pottery made from clay, wood and metal. It also refers to weavers and weaving.

The period between 1st century B.C. and 1st century A.D. was a period of political turmoil as a result of foreign invasions from central Asia. The impact of these intrusions can be seen in the Buddhist sculptures from Taxila, Begram, Bamiyan, Swat valley etc (all from the present day Pakistani North West Frontier province) which show a high degree of Greek influence. The depiction of Buddha, having curly hair and wearing draperies, until date is the result of this Greek influence. The sculpture of the Kushan king Kanishka from this period depicting him wearing leather boots and a heavy warm coat amply reflects the influence of the central Asian Culture on Indian craftsmanship. Jewellery, sculpture, textile making, leather products, metal working etc. were the main crafts that inherited these foreign influences and assimilated them in accordance with the Indian milieu.
The Gupta (AD 320-647) age is referred to as the classical period in Indian history. The points in the field of craft include the rock cut temples of Ellora and the Ajanta murals. These murals give us a realistic view of the lifestyle of that time. The craftsmen of this period, under royal patronage excelled in jewellery making, woodcarving, sculpture, stone carving and weaving.

The Mughal era was the golden period in the history of Indian art, craft and culture. The Mughals not only invaded India and ruled it but also brought with them a rich heritage, which they had acquired from Persia. They introduced new techniques like inlay work, glass engraving, carpet weaving, brocades, enameling etc. The Mughal miniature paintings influenced many schools of Rajasthani paintings and the Kangra Pahari schools of miniatures. The famous Peacock Throne of the Mughals is one of the finest examples of gem inlay work and metal craft, having few parallels in world art. They also laid the foundation for the famous Mughal miniature painting, Petra dura or inlay work, enameled jewellery and a host of other craft traditions many of which continue today.