Blue pottery as a technique was mostly used to produce decorative items such as tiles, door knobs, pots, vases and plates. But now, the uses have evolved to include functional articles such as ashtrays, narrow mouth, beer mugs, candle stands, hukkah, coasters, various animal shapes, incense stick holders, jugs, napkin rings, pen holders, soap dishes, trays, trinket boxes, wall hangings, bathroom sets, tumblers and containers with lids etc.
Blue pottery is different from other pottery because it is the only pottery in the world that does not use clay. The 'dough' for the pottery is prepared by mixing quartz stone powder, powdered glass, Multani Mitti (Fuller's Earth), borax, gum and water. Another source cites 'Katira Gond' powder (a gum), and 'Saaji' (soda bicarbonate) as ingredients. The pottery has a distinct appearance as it is made out of Egyptian paste, glazed and low-fired.
Myths & Legends
The history of the art of pottery is as old as the history of mankind. Glass was discovered in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Syria, Iran and Indus Valley. It was further discovered that when alkaline soil was mixed with copper and heated it gave a turquoise blue color.
From Mohenjodaro and Harappan era right till the Gupta period glazed utensils, necklaces, beads and tiles were in vogue. This art greatly flourished during the Buddhist period.
The Central Asian and Middle Eastern glazing techniques came to India with the several successive Islamic invasions while the Chinese porcelain continued to be imported to the Indian courts (both pre-Mughal and Mughal). The Baburnama, commissioned in 1590 in the reign of Akbar mentions that "Babur and his friends were regularly served kebabs and pilaus from dishes and plates that are sometimes golden, sometimes green and sometimes blue and white.- The miniatures paintings of the era also depict the same.
Researches of the Archaeological Survey of India mentions the fact that the glazed tiles first appear in Delhi in the Tughlaq monuments dated between 1321 AD and 1414 AD. The designs of which are inspired from the Turkish patterns. Excavations at the Purana Qila have revealed glazed ware of the Sultanate period from 1206 to 1526. The pottery introduced to India in Delhi and Multan is believed to have come from Bokhara. Some of the earliest tile work can also be seen in Arab-ki-Sarai in Delhi near Humayun's tomb. The other centres of glazing and painting tiles opened up at Khurja, Agra, Meerut, Rampur, Bulandshahar due to the mushrooming of glazing kilns.
When the city of Jaipur was founded in 1727 by Sawai Jai Singh I, craftsmen from all over the country were invited to come and make their home in this new city. Royal patronage, lucrative offers and the attraction of living in a beautiful city led many artisans and craftsmen to come and settle in Jaipur. By the beginning of the 19th century the city was well established as a thriving art centre. In keeping with the traditions of his forefathers, Sawai Ram Singh II (1835-1880) set up a school of art and continued to encourage artists and craftsmen. Blue Pottery took an interesting route in finding its home in Jaipur. Ram Singh II attended a kite flying session and watched as his kite masters were engaged in battle with two brothers from Achnera (near Agra). When the ruler saw that the brothers managed to bring down the royal kites almost every time, he was intrigued. He asked the brothers their secret. They told him that they were potters by profession and had coated their strings with the same blue green glass that they used for their pots. Sawai Ram Singh II was impressed so he invited the brothers to stay in Jaipur and teach this unique form of glazed pottery at his new art school. On the Verge of Extinction Blue Pottery had enormous potential and should have flourished, but over the years master potters refused to share their trade secrets with their fellow craftsmen so there was an eventual lowering of standards and a gradual dying out of the craft. Over the years the craft was kept alive by her Highness Gayatri Devi who widely promoted Blue Pottery. The craft received a much needed boost in the 1960's as internationally renowned artist; Kripal Singh Shekhawat entered the field of Blue Pottery and raised the bar. His presence brought a new excitement to the craft as his designs began selling very well.
Most of the pottery is decorated with animal and flower motifs while some of it is semi-transparent. The color palette is restricted to blue which is derived from cobalt oxide, green derived from copper oxide and white, though other non-conventional colors, such as yellow and brown are also sometimes included.
The traditional patterns and motifs in blue pottery are of Persian origins, though craftsmen have developed contemporary patterns too along with the traditional ones. These patterns include floral, geometric designs, animals, birds as well as many deities like Goddess 'Durga' and Lord 'Ganesh'. Custom made designs are also sent in by the client and can be as experimental as cockroaches walking over a pot.
One of the major difficulties for the craftsmen is the presence of the raw lead oxide used in the glaze. Though the content is reduced to harmless amounts after the process of fritting, the presence of lead makes customers skeptical about buying.
The craftsmen also need bright sunlight for the drying required in various stages of the craft. Any excess moisture will keep it from drying and lead to collapsing from its own weight during firing. This is also because of the presence of sodium sulphate which causes water retention.