Pottery is an ancient art and craft that continues to dominate human civilisation despite the modern kitchen culture based on new material and technology. The roots of pottery can be traced to prehistoric times as is revealed by the excavations at Burzhama, Mohenjodaro, Sindh and various other sites. The pots are made of clay or mud of earth. Our food, flora and fauna also come from earth.
The art of pottery is our cultural heritage. Many people are connected with this art and earn their livelihood from it. Earthen pots are found in many marketplaces and homes even now, though in a smaller number. Many people have given up this profession as it is considered less profitable as compared to other professions.
“Tambaknaare” and “Noote” are famous Kashmiri musical instruments made by potters. Kangris, toys, flower vases and decorative items, the Kashmiri hubble and bubble, the incense pots, water pots, milk pots, piggy banks (big waer), etc, are still in great demand. Earthen pots and other objects of art made of clay are commonly seen at places of pilgrimage during melas and other festive occasions. Tourists also evince much interest in them. Pottery is integral to Kashmiri heritage and an important handicraft. Machines cannot match handicrafts, so we cannot totally write off this important Kashmiri art from our social and cultural fabric.
The art and handicraft of pottery is prevalent all over the valley. Many mohallas of Srinagar and other villages are named after this craft, like Kralwari, Kralateeng, Kralapora, Kralyar and several Kumar mohallas. One can see potters shaping their artefacts at various places but their buyers are far and few between. The prices at which they sell are very low as compared to the hard work of moulding the clay into beautiful pots and art pieces. Moreover, this art needs total concentration and single-mindedness of the artist while at work.
The art of pottery is almost dying and the potters are turning to more lucrative professions. No support is provided to them for carrying on with this profession. The earthen pots and utensils are in less demand owing to the boom in stainless steel, ceramic, copper, aluminium, plastic and a variety of other machine-made crockery items. People prefer to have modern types of utensils and items of crockery, forgetting that their use is not as healthy and sustainable. Items like Tambaakhnaar, Kangri pots, flower vases and other decorative things made of clay are still in great demand. The raw material needed for this trade is also scarce and very costly. This craft requires a special kind of clay which is not found everywhere. This clay needs to be free from sand and other foreign particles. It is dried, powdered and then sieved. It is then mixed with water and kept for two days and then repeatedly treated and pounded with hands to make it fit to be put on to the wheel. The hands and the fingers of the artist then come into play and wonderful items are brought out and separated from the wheel with the help of a special thread called “Krala pan”. “Krala pan” has been mentioned in the poetry of a great Persian saint-poet called Gani Kashmiri (Moyee miane tu shuda ast Krala pan, Karda juda kasai sar ra ze tan).
The items so made are then dried in the sunshine, baked in the kiln in a definite sequence and hardened in fire of about 600 degree C. Making pottery items involves much wear and tear. Great care is taken that the raw pottery does not get wet due to rain. Some pots get deformed in the kiln while baking them, over which the potter has no control and this is generally regarded as an act of God, who created mankind out of clay. This phenomenon of baking deformity is also mentioned in the poetry of great Sufi poets of Kashmir, praising God for making us but praying not to make us deformed. The products are breakable and some breakage happens also while making and transporting them. It causes further loss in a situation of meagre returns. It becomes very difficult for the potter to make both ends meet and he always lives in a hand-to-mouth condition. Often he looks for other sources of income and even prefers to work as a labourer.
Nevertheless, mud pots have some inherent benefits and advantages over all other pots. Some of the mud pots are still considered essential for certain ceremonies, like henna pots, earthen lamps, Tumbakhnari and milk pots. Tumbakhnari has now reached to other states of our country where it is a much sought-after item in marriages solemnised by Kashmiris. Food served in mud pots is considered clean and matka (pitcher) works like a refrigerator and keeps the water cool. Despite all these merits, the art, which is integral to Kashmir’s heritage, is on the verge of extinction and needs to be revived by giving it a modern look and by adopting modern techniques.
The potters sing while working on the pottery wheel. The Kashmiri Sufiana poetry is replete with the mention of pottery. In fact, pottery and poetry are synonymous. Kralakoor (potter girl) is a folk song of Kashmiris. Similarly, “Aab noot” (water pitcher of clay) ghazal of Habba Khatoon, the iconic poetess of Kashmir, is on the lips of Kashmiris who become nostalgic while singing it (Ghar bo draes aab natis, nout me phutmo malino ho/ Yaa me detoom noute nouta nut nat che haar malinoo). The clay from which the pots are made is at the core of the sacred poetry of the famous and most revered saint of Kashmir, Hazrat Sheikhul Alam, Sheikh Nooruddin Wali (RA). In fact, his abode, Charar-i-Sharief, continues to be the main hub of pottery. One great saint poet of Kashmir is named Souch Krall (krall meaning potter in Kashmir).
Therefore, pottery is not just a profession but poetry, our noble and sacred cultural heritage which should be preserved. It has been well said, “Keep calm and play with clay.”
The writer is a retired telecom engineer. [email protected]