The last generation of potters

The world of potters in India who make utility water pots, cooking utensils using local river bed clay is experiencing a slow death. It seems this is the last generation of this community. I had the opportunity to meet this particular community called ‘Prajapati’ who were enthused in their craft and earned their living since several forefathers ago.

Soon this will change. Their children are not following this tradition, not because they are not interested , but due to economics. Clay pots traditionally used for water and other clay ware replaced by plastci, glass and modern ceramics. The demand is slumping and the youth want to migrate to better life and professions where the future is brighter. Existing potters turn to farming or local jobs to sustain. One of them told me that girls would only accept men who had a ‘proper’ job even though their pottery business brings in more money!

As a studio hobby ceramicist, where I practice only for pleasure, it made me realise how important this change would affect their livelihood and their future generations. But, their resilience and willingness to accept this evolution really surprised me, and I was happy for that, but quite disheartened to see this beautiful craft going in the hands of mould making industry.

I began by finding out the source of the clay, and it’s journey to the potters wheel. They go to the local river or pond beds to dig the raw clay, dump it in this shallow water beds for a few days, sieve and filter out all the impurities. By this process the entire impurities are removed and the clay turned into fine quality clay. The fine clay is mixed with equal proportion of water and spread over a square shaped pit area (locally known as chowkri) for a day. Saw dust is used as tempering material to the clay. If the temper is not mixed properly then it loses its pliability and the pots can break.

Red clay called ‘gheru’ is often used to mix in with the fine clay. Terra-cotta is a term that refers to fired clay, typically unglazed, but it may also refer to the red-brown color that earthenware clays get after kiln firing to low temperatures

Fire wood, cow dung, bricks, broken pots, and hay/husk are materials used to make ‘natural’ or ‘traditional’ open kilns for ‘bisque firing’ earthenware so as to provide this fragile produce, with high durability. The process of building the open kiln, meticulously stacking the freshly made pots, plates , tumblers required lot of patience and experience. The whole family from grandma to the toddler engaged and excitedly assisted. Rice husk and twigs covered with broken pots helped to keep all in place. For me, the excitement was even more than a rather small pit firing I did in Oxford!I

I left the family and the burning pit in the evening, to return early next morning. The men were up early already assembling the fired pots and separating them out as we entered their alley way. To their relief, there was no damage, as all the stock was due to be delivered that afternoon. After a refreshing ginger ‘chai’ we left the Prajapati family to start their clay process all over again. I did promise I will come back to see them churning their wares on their wheels, not the traditional ‘chakdo’, but an electric one she said.

Ah well, I had to accept this change, and left glancing at the manual ‘chakdo’ – potters’ wheel lying in a corner, abandoned but not forgotten.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20211121_113943-3-copy-copy-1.jpg
Abondoned but not forgotten’

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