Pondering Pottery

Most of us who passed by any Indian supermarket or flower store last month, during the Pongal festival, would’ve definitely eyed rows of full-figured, beautifully sculpted Pongal pots- some in their natural brownish orange colour and others beautifully hand painted in striking hues. Seeing such huge collections of earthenware so close to home, got us a little curious about the art of pottery.

While the usage of these pots is not as prevalent as it was in the past, the tradition has managed to survive till today. Tracing back to the Indus Valley civilization, pottery making is one of the oldest skills alive. Pottery making was mainly a utilitarian art as it was used to make practical items such as pots, vases, jugs, toys and figures of deities. However, it has evolved over the years. While earthenware has remained in the utilitarian section, more recent breeds of pottery such as porcelain and studio pottery have stepped into the realm of art.

The art of pottery making can be found in every state in India, each boasting its own unique characteristic and technique. Hence, some potters use the wheel while others rely on tools like bamboo implements and anvils or just their bare hands. The techniques that are being adopted can also vary with the product being made.

Here is a brief classification of the types of pottery ware that you can find in India.

Most potters in India would’ve taken almost a decade to master this trade, as the pottery making process is a long and arduous one. The typical progression usually involves 6 main steps:

  • Obtain sand from local riverbanks or reservoirs.

  • Mix sand and other ingredients such as water, fine sand, rice husks or straw to obtain the desired consistency of the clay.

  • Mould clay using appropriate technique (with or without wheel).

  • Bake. The product is usually dried under the sun before being baked in the kiln. Traditional kilns use straw, wood and dried cow dung (known as varati) as fuel.

  • Firing. Different firing techniques are used during baking. These techniques usually use high heat or low heat. The baking duration varies depending on the product made and the technique adopted.

  • The baked products are left to cool.

While potters held a very important role in ancient India, urbanization, modern technology and increasing crockery varieties have reduced the demand for traditional pottery work- especially earthenware. Hence, while there are about a million potters in India today keeping this age-old tradition alive, most of them are struggling to make ends meet. Thus many young people from the pottery making community are leaving the trade to find better paying jobs, leading to fears that this ancient craft may die off. The Indian government has implemented policies to protect these traditional artisans and is also promoting their works at fairs and seminars. However, this will not suffice. A change in the demand for these products can also help make a difference in the lives of the potters who are providing a crucial link to our past.


1. India Heritage . (n.d.). Creative Arts: Earthernware and Pottery. Retrieved 02 10, 2015, from India Heritage: http://indiaheritage.org/creative/creative_earthenware_&_pottery.htm

2. Marilyn P. Beaudry, J. M. (1985). Traditional Potter sof India. Expedition , 29 (3), 55-63.

3. Indian Mirror. (n.d.). Pottery, Terracotta and Papier Mache. Retrieved 02 11, 2015, from Indian Mirror: http://www.indianmirror.com/crafts/cra5.html

4. Crafts and Artisans`. (2010). Clay & Terracotta of Tamil Nadu. Retrieved 02 10, 2015, from The Craft and Artisans: http://www.craftandartisans.com/clay-terracotta-of-tamil-nadu.html

5. Arivanantham, R. (2013, 11 07). Festival of Lights bring no relief to pottery makers . Retrieved 02 11, 0215, from The Hindu: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/festival-of-lights-bring-no-relief-to-pottery-makers/article5324217.ece

6. Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Rural Industrialization. (n.d.). An Improved Pottery Kiln. Retrieved 02 09, 2015, from Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Rural Insdustrialization: http://mgiri.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/An_Improved_Pottery_Kiln.pdf

7. Bharti, G. (2013). The Origin and Development of Northern Black Polished Ware: An Indian Archaelogical Perspective. Indian Journal of Applied Research , 3 (11), 1-2.

As consumers, we can encourage the survival of this traditional art form by purchasing these artefacts whenever possible. We can also educate ourselves and learn to appreciate this art form. If you are interested in finding out more about traditional crafts such as these, contact Brainworks Education. We deliver traditional craft workshops that provide interesting and easy-to-do versions of ancient craftworks like Pongal pots and Agal Vilakkus! Drop us a mail now at enquiry@brainwksedu.com.

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