Uravu Bamboo Workshop, p.o, Thri...
Terracotta art has left behind a diverse array of archaeological evidence in India, spanning various historical periods. This art form was utilised to create a plethora of objects, ranging from children’s toys and household decorations to religious items utilised in worship and rituals.
As water containers- One of the prime objects crafted and sold by Khavda potters are pots. Since they are made out of clay, they help keep water inside them cooler for a long time. These pots have a distinct shape- they have a round base but a flat and slating top which connects the base to the mouth. They have a smooth finish.
As kitchen utensils- Potters also make plates, bowls and other kinds of kitchen utensils. These are painted in traditional design and have a rich aesthetic.
As decorative items- In recent years, potters have also started making decorative items such as diyas, lanterns and showpieces. These decorative items have a distinct and modern design which is unlike the traditional vessels made using this poetry technique. A knife tool is used to carve holes in the items so that a lit candle or diya kept inside radiates its light evenly outside. Urns, vases and attractive showpieces are also crafted by the potters.
As bottles- Khavda pottery is used to make clay-based bottles. These are wide at the bottom and become narrower at its mouth. It has two small holes, through which a thread is passed and tied. Then, the bottle can be carried around the beck. These bottles are mostly used by farmers and shepherds in rural areas. Since pottery helps keep things cold for a long time, farmers and shepherds find these bottles especially useful.
As toys- Often, potters also make coiled toys for children who visit them. Nowadays, children prefer plastic toys over wooden ones but nonetheless, clay-based toys are shaped by hand and sold by Khavda potters.
These objects trace, reflect, and celebrate the cultural heritage of the area.
Haku Shah mentions in his book “Pottery is made from clay which is locally referred to as ‘mati’. The word ‘mati’ can also be used to refer to a man. Gujarati language has a handful of phrases and idioms which illustrate the close relationship shared by man and clay. According to one saying, if a person is born without a limb, it is said that god must have run out of clay to mould a limb in their body. Similarly, if a woman cannot beget a child, it is said that god must have run short of clay. This linguistic relationship between the two words is quite poetic and equates man to clay.”
A large bulk of terracotta objects has been yielded from these sites, indicating both religious and utilitarian use. The objects were aesthetically made, maybe used for ritualistic purposes or for children’s toys, and decorated with colours to make them attractive for buyers or household use. A large number of animals and bird figurines have been found compared to human figurines.
The most popular items include human figurines, animal figurines, pots, toys, jewellery, and more than five hundred terracotta wheels, which were most probably used as attachments to toy cart frames/chassis. Khavda pottery is unlike any other pottery form- it traces its origins to the Indus Valley civilisation. Harappan pottery is remarkably significant- pottery-making was at its peak during this era. Archeologists and researchers have found quite a few similarities between Harappan pottery and Khavda pottery. This indicates that the craft is a continuation of an age-old practice from a civilisation that is deemed to be quite ahead of its times.
In 1968, Khavda was discovered as one of the fifth largest archeological sites of the Indus velly civilisation. There are many similarities between Kutch pottery and terrractora ware of the civilization, which were traced back from rituals and customs still followed by some communities in the region. Not only does the art form’s historical importance increase its value, its various uses also enrich its significance. Khavda pottery is not merely limited to the production of pots. Artisans craft toys, decorative items and various other kitchen utensils too.
Khavda pottery is unique because all materials used in crafting it are derived from nature. From the clay that is used to mould the pot to the paints that decorate its surface, pottery is made using soils found nearby the village. In this time and age, where more people are becoming environmentally conscious, this craft can serve as a great alternative to wasteful materials such as plastic, silicon and ceramic.
The origin of pottery in the world can be traced back to the start of agriculture in the Neolithic period. The form at the time was crude and fragile. By the Mesopotamia times (around 6000-4000 BC), the potters’ wheel and kilns had been invented. This elevated the art form and made it more sustainable. It became the beginning of an era in the field of pottery. The industry peaked during the Harappan civilization.
During the Indus Valley civilisation, the art of pottery making was at its peak. According to a few sources, from Dholavira only, more than 100 potter wheels were found! Three types of pottery were produced during this period. They are glazed, plain and painted pottery. Most of the pottery produced was wheel-made and barely any pottery was made by hand. This points to the sophisticated approach to pottery that was being applied even during that day and age. Even though plain pottery was more plentiful than painted pottery, the latter bears resemblance to the present-day craft of Khavda pottery. Known as black painted ware, the red base of pottery was painted over with black to make beautiful geometric designs, shapes and patterns.
Dholavira, where one of the largest Harappan excavations took place, is only separated from Khavda by the Rann of Katch lake and is located 1 hour away. Dholavira was thought to have been occupied from 2650 BCE to 2100 BCE. Later, it was re-occupied in 1450 BCE. Artefacts excavated from Dholavira include terracotta, ornaments, animal skeletons, gold, silver, bronze utensils and pottery. The site was also a booming trade centre in Gujarat and items were exported to Sindh and Punjab from here. It is quite possible that the traditional Khavda pottery originated during the Harappan civilisation in Dholavira and quickly spread to other parts of Gujarat, like Khavda. There are many similarities between Kutch pottery and terracotta ware of the civilisation, which were traced back from rituals and customs still followed by some communities in the region. Nani Rayan in Gunthri Gadh has evidence of early history pottery from the Khavda taluka dating back to the 1st century. The two main types of pottery found there were coarse red ware and painted black on red ware, with the latter being more popular.
Black on red ware pottery consists of pots with thin walls and carefully drawn geometric designs. While the pot itself was reddish-brown in colour, the designs were drawn in black. Black on red ware has a close association with a form of pastoralism in Western Iran. It is also considered to have evolved from Rangmahal ware, which had a red background with black designs, but the designs were centred around plants and animals. The black on red ware found in Kutch was globular in shape and had geometrical designs, instead of ones depicting nature. The distinctive feature of this pottery is that it is painted. The aforementioned geometrical designs were often abstract shapes such as triangles, lines, cross hatched patterns, etc. Other types of pottery found were stamped pottery and incised ware.
Khavda potters do not limit themselves to the creation of pots only. Other items like cups, mugs, bowls, plates, diyas, bottles and toys are also made.
Before the pottery is painted on, they are coated with a layer of Geru (reddish-brown) soil. Geru soil is mixed with a bit of water and due to its bright pigmentation, it gives the pottery a natural reddish-brown colour. Then, once the colour dries, they are embellished with beautiful designs.
The designs painted on Khavda pottery are influenced by nature. The artisans take inspiration from the plants, trees, and animals around them. Beautiful patterns containing waves, flowers, leaves, birds and even fish can be seen intricately painted on the surface of the pottery. However, the silhouettes of such designs are only dotted by paint. They are unique as the paintings are dotted, so from afar, the meaning of the design is not immediately apparent. This gives it an abstract feel. Upon closer observation, one can see that the dots are carefully and meticulously arranged in repeating patterns. Paint colours used for these designs are derived from naturally occurring white and black soils. These soils too are mixed in water and then used as colour. Traditionally, the ends of thin twigs were used to paint, but these days, womenfolk use brushes to attain careful accuracy.
Similar designs have been found in ancient archeological sites of the Indus Valley civilizations, which shows the rich history of this ancient art form. Pottery ageing from that civilisation too was decorated with geometric patterns in red, black and green colours. Seldom, white and yellow colours were also used.
Khavda pots also have a distinct design. They are rounder at the bottom and then taper in slant lines towards the mouth of the pot. The outside surface of the pot is beaten evenly and its rough edges are smoothened by using a flattening tool.
The working conditions of the potters are rough. They work under extreme temperatures in the Kutch region. They also face some serious health risks due to the intense physical work and their exposure to dust, gas, and smoke from the bhatti (pottery baking kiln).
Moreover, in the contemporary scenario, the potters are suffering because people prefer steel and brass vessels, as opposed to traditional earthenware. The former are mass produced, have higher durability, lighter, and easier to access. These very qualities also make these vessels a symbol of financial superiority in rural areas. The potters themselves do not use their own items in their houses as much. This leads to a unique juxtaposition for the potters of continuing tradition and modernising.
Additionally, due to the change in climate, the quality of the clay has changed and become more saline in nature. The potters are unable to employ the techniques that have stood the test of time for many centuries, until now. It has led to many issues in production which have been difficult to resolve. It consequently has also led to the next generation of potters having a desire to break away from their family job and find employment in urban settings
The process of making Khavda pottery can be roughly divided into three stages- shaping, painting and baking.
The process of making Khavda pottery can be roughly divided into three stages- shaping, painting and baking.
Shaping- The potters get the mud for the pottery from a particular acre (lake) nearby. This mud is called rann ki mitti. The mud is quite soft due to its proximity to the water source, which makes it easy to mold. The mitti is most often dug up during dry seasons by the potters themselves. During this time, it is sticky. Therefore, the potters leave it out in the sun for a couple of days until the lumps have dried. After they harden, they are kneaded (by hand or foot) and then crushed with a wooden stick. They are then passed through a sieve to remove small rocks and leaves. Next, it is placed on the cemented floor and the middle of the clay pile is hollowed out to pour water for mixing. Then, it is kneaded until it is smooth and sticky.
The potter’s wheel is called chak in Kutchi, Urdu, and Hindi. Two chaks are used in this form of pottery. One is the spokes wheel and the other, the stone wheel. The former is more common. Spokes wheels are lighter and easier to handle. They are used to make small, intricate objects whereas the heavier stone wheels are used by more experienced potters.
Once the clay is placed on the spinning chak, the shape of the earthenware is achieved via the throwing method. The potter molds it by applying a precise amount of pressure with wet hands. It is the oldest and simplest method and is usually employed to make items such as diyas, small cups and bowls. After the clay is shaped into pots on the wheel, the pots are placed on a long wooden bench and left to dry in the sun before they are decorated.
Some earthenware is thrown into a rough shape and then beaten. It helps make the pottery uniform and gives it strength, and it requires a tremendous amount of dexterity. Beating requires a wooden paddle called phaglo, a stone anvil called kunehra, and wood ash. The potter places the rough shape of the pot on himself while seated on the floor, sprinkles wood ash on it, and places the kunehra inside the pot for support. He then shapes the pot by pushing it down with the phaglo. The process is time consuming as the potter has to constantly rotate the pot to ensure uniform thickness. Once the pot is complete, it is placed upside down and left to dry. This method also helps to improve the thermal shock resistance of the pottery, making it an ideal method for creating cooking utensils.
Painting- The men of the community handle the making of the pots, while the women focus on decorating them with paint. The paints used by the women are all-natural and clay-based. The primary colours used in Khavda pottery painting are white, red, and black. The rock form of the clays are brought and soaked in water for a day. Next they are ground using a pestle and mortar and pushed through a sieve. The process takes 2 days, after which the power is mixed with water to create a paint. First, they coat the pots in a thin layer of geru. This gives the pot an even, red base and helps the designs stand out more. Then the artisans create patterns by using a combination of dots and stripes. The brushes used by the artisans are also made with a precise process of cutting the tip of the wood vertically and then crushing it to create bristles. The width and length of the brushes vary according to the designs and size of the pottery. Many similarities have also been observed between the designs used in Khavda and those found at excavation sites.
Baking- After the earthenware dries, they are hardened by baking. This can be done using pit firing or in brick kilns. Pit firing is widely used in the area and involves a large triangle-shaped pit dug in the ground. Potters are able to fire between 100 and 200 pots at once, however the size of pots decides how many can be fired at once. For fuel, natural substances such as cow and goat dung, twigs, leaves, and household rubbish are used. Larger pots are placed on layers of dung, with smaller earthenware spaced out between them. Then, the pit is packed with more dung and the other substances used for fuel. The kiln is covered in shards of pottery to absorb the harsh heat and then sealed with water and mud. Then the potters light the fire and begin the process of smoking, which is slow, but makes the earthenware less prone to breakages. This takes 2-3 days and the temperature in the pit can go up to 900°C. Since the pots close to the fire are at risk of melting, old or broken pots are often placed closer to the flame.
Brick kilns are also used to harden pottery. The kilns used for pottery are very different from the ones used for handicrafts because of pottery’s unique requirements. The clay used in pottery has low heat conductivity, so the kilns must be able to generate extremely high temperatures very slowly, so as to not damage the pots.
The fuel is added to the designated fireplace in the kiln, which flows into the main chamber as it heats. The chamber is made from firebrick and its shape depends on the type of fuel used in baking. The fireboxes used also vary according to the form of pottery. The excess gases from cooking then exit via the chimney.
Two types of brick kilns are used in pottery– periodic and continuous. The former has a low construction cost and has more flexible usage. The units are small, so they are generally used by artisans. However, it consumes large amounts of fuel, has uneven heating and the repeating heating and cooling of the kiln has a damaging effect on the bricks. Due to these reasons, continuous kilns were invented. Their advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, however, most artisans cannot afford continuous kilns.
Pottery making involves working with clay, which is a natural resource that is abundant and renewable. However, there can be material waste in pottery making at various stages of the process. specially during the firing stage, pottery is heated to high temperatures to harden it and make it durable. However, not all pottery survives the firing process. Pieces may crack, break or explode due to various factors such as air pockets, uneven drying, or temperature fluctuations. This can result in waste material that cannot be salvaged.
List of craftsmen.