Pottery has a long history in Nepali culture. The oldest recorded finds in Lumbini date back at least 2600 years. The large ceramic water pots can be found in almost every village in Nepal which are used to collect, store and transport water. These vessels also keep water cool. Clay goods are also essential to many Hindu and Buddhist religious ceremonies. During pujas small ceramic cups are used to hold candles and butter lamps. Traditional Newari rice wine called aila is made using a special ceramic set-up crafted just for distilling rice or millet alcohol: several clay containers of various sizes are used in conjunction with a large ceramic vessel with holes punched in the bottom. Without this special holed vessel the creation of potent aila would not be possible.
The skills of Nepali potters have been passed on from generation to generation. There are entire families that trace their heritage side by side with the occupation of pottery.
There are two major centres of pottery making in Nepal: Bhaktapur and Thimi. Thimi is a small charming town situated between Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. 95% of people residing in Thimi have the last name "Prajapati" which comes from the Sanskrit word "producer" and is the traditional Nepali caste of potters.
Ceramics made in Bhaktapur are considered superior to those made elsewhere primarily because they mostly use black clay which is called "Dyo Cha" literally meaning "clay of God" and is found only in one place. It is said to be supple and elastic in nature. Only the Prajapatis of Bhaktapur are allowed to dig for it and only once a year. To dig clay is a very hard and risky work. People go in groups and dig down to more than 10-12 feet. Then tunnels are made and clay is digged out. Sometimes lives have been lost as a result of cave-ins.
In any handcraft shop of Nepal there is a big variety of ceramics for sale: animal or deities figurines, bells, tea sets, mugs and cups, decorative panels. My personal favourites are owl candle stands, they are really so cute.