Traditional pottery of India

Creating ceramics, India
photo courtesy Biswarup Sarkar

According to Indian mythology the first earthen vessel was made in a hurry by Viswakarma, the God of arts and crafts, when after the churning of the ocean a pot for keeping the nectar was urgently needed. And since that time clay craft has become one of the most popular handicrafts in India and earthenware has been an essential part of a daily life. Clay pots are used for storing water and grain, for churning butter or setting milk to make curds. A pot filled with water is a symbol of good omen and so it is often used in traditional ceremonies.For worship if no image of a deity is available, a water pot does the duty. A variety of earthen objects are used in rituals like lamps, drums, flower vases, musical instruments. Tiny earthen lamps are also kept near new-born babies for 12 days. Many objects are specially produced for festive occasions like lamps for Diwali or toys for Dusserah.

Making a clay deity sculpture. Photo Fergus Ray Murray

The figurines of divinities, murti, are also being made of clay. Each region, even each village sometimes, has its own vast amount of deities to be worshiped at special periods and on special occasions. Clay being at hand and inexpensive has become the main material for murti. Besides, as these divinities are believed to loose their divine qualities once they are worshiped they are left in some quiet spot to crumble back into mother earth again or drowned in a water pond to be dissolved. Very ecological indeed. In many ceremonies and rituals clay animal figurines are used, they are offered either in fulfillment of a vow, for warding off some disease or for obtaining some favour. The figurines serve as substitutes and are sacrificed instead of real animals.

Terracotta panel from the Hadal-Narayanpur temple. Photo courtesy Asis K. Chatterjee

Many temples in India are decorated with terracotta elements or sculpture which make them most distinguished. The use of terracotta plaques, medallions and wall panels as part of architecture is a specialty of West Bengal. The folk style images depicted are the epics and old legends.

Variety of Indian pottery

Distinctive feature of Indian pottery is its organic, simple yet attractive shape and ornamentation. There are a few special types however, depending on region. The Jaipur and Delhi blue pottery is quite famous. The Delhi pottery has a penetrating blue, bordering on turquoise colour, sometimes shot with green. The Jaipur pottery is quite unique as it is perhaps the only pottery produced without the use of clay. It is considered to be more hygienic for daily use cause it does not develop any cracks. It is decorated with arabesque patterns, interspersed with animal and bird motifs.

Indian clay figurines
Clay figurines from Delhi. Photo source

Jaipur blue pottery
Jaipur blue pottery. Photo source

Jaipur pottery
Jaipur pottery. Photo from here

The painted pottery of Bikaner is tinted with lac colours to which the gold shade is added. Alwar is known for its paper thin, almost sheer, pottery called kagazi (paper). In Uttar Pradesh Khurja pottery has unique style of its own. Floral designs in sky-blue are worked against a white background. Pottery in warm autumnal colours like orange, brown and light red can also be found here.

Indian khurja pottery
Khurja pottery. Photo courtesy Raj Kumar

Indian Kutch pottery
A white clay vase from Kutch

Kutch in Gujarat is noted for its beautiful earthenware both in shape and decoration, especially beautiful are their natural white wares. Karigiri pottery has highly artistic shapes and very original colours, the best known are green, yellow, brown and blue.

Traditional Indian pottery from West Bengal
Bankura horses, West Bengal. Photo from here

Besides traditional water jugs and pipes, many other items are made in this region: tea and dinner sets, ashtrays, vases, paperweights.
There are umpteen varieties of pottery in West Bengal. It is colorful and beautiful and is used not only for domestic purpose but in auspicious ceremonies, like marriages, birth rituals and other such ceremonies.

Indian West Bengal pottery
West Bengal pottery. Photo source

Indian pottery from Goa
Pottery from Goa. Photo source

Goa earthenware with its deep rich red velvety surface has a charm and style of its own as well. Apart from a large variety of water and flower pots, which are a specialty, a wide range of figures and panels are made. A popular item is a magic pot, which is filled up from an aperture at the bottom. But when the pot is back on its base the water stays in it and does not run out.
So, with such varieties of styles, colours and forms everyone will be able to find a lovable object to take home as a souvenir from India.