Into the Kilns & Furnaces – Origin of Pottery

The Gramodaya Sangh, Bhadravati

In 2009, I visited Chandrapur. A city with its vast coal mines and dense jungle of Tadoba. Along with its natural reserves, what intrigued me was a pottery barn in Bhadravati, a little town in 26 kms from rich city of Chandrapur. The Gramodaya Sangha is a centre which fabricates simple and beautiful pottery from the black soil of the Deccan plateau. During my visit, my aunt who comes from Vidharbha (east side of the state of Maharashtra) insisted upon making a trip to this place. Bipin & I being ardent lovers of any sort of art, we decided to stop by.

Bipin getting extremely excited about getting to play with clay

I know sometimes too much information of things get a bit boring so I won’t go too much into its depth but I surely think I should give credit to the late S.K. Mirmira winner of ‘Jamnalal Bajaj Award for Rural technology’ who laid the foundation of this institution in 1955, during the zenith of Bhoodan movement. Cluster of about 35-40 traditional potter families who reside in this area work on the traditional pottery. The rich red clay and good water sources helps in building high quality pottery in this deistrict.

An artisan working on shaping pots

Potters sorting out damaged pieces

It is hard to explain and define this tribal-like pottery. Its simple, yet intricate. It is colourful yet subtle. We had put aside couple hours for this place, we ended up spending almost half our day. The potters explained the process of making these pieces of art. We also got a chance to walk into a humongous furnace which was not lit at the time we visited. It was nice to interact with the locals and find out about their lives which were so closely connected to the creations of mud and clay.

Modest display of pottery

While talking to one of the artist, he told us a little story or a belief of the origin of pottery. He mentioned that since India is a land of elephants , while bathing them, they must have poured water with large clay contents on themselves. After these elephants were dried, the clay must have taken the shape of part of the elephants body which was mostly the head, where it was stuck. This might have given man the idea of using clay to make vessels for storage. Hence the name ‘Kumbha’ is related to the head of the elephant.

Postcard from Gramodaya Sangh

He also narrated the mythological aspect of pottery. He mentioned that during the wars of the Gods and demons, they decided to churn the ocean for wealth. The fierce churning yielded many precious things and among these was the nectar (also known as ‘Amrut’) which made the Gods immortal. Something was needed to hold this nectar. Vishwamitra, the celestial artificer extracted Kala or spirit from each God with which their bodies were made and moulded them into a pot. That is when the first pot was made. From the ‘Kala’ came the first word ‘Kalasa’ or water-pot.

Shaping the little jars

I was also very surprised since some of the people working at this place gave us a lot of information on origin of pottery. For example, he mentioned that ancient Egypt was the first country to prepare pottery of the highest equality. This was discovered after the excavation under the pyramids in 4000-5000 B.C. On the other hand, the Chinese ceramic was made in 200 B.C. The Tang dynasty in 1200 A.D. achieved perfection in porcelain. Numerous facts and stories were one of the treasures we carried home from this place…loved every moment of it!

The pots heading into the kilns for glazing

The Kiln

All this knowledge was showered upon us while walking through the creations. The conversation switched to more technical information on the types of kilns and ovens used. They also talked about how they try to attain temperatures without using a lot of fuel and help lower the disturbance caused to the environment. The discussion then went on about glazing products. Here he mentioned that different colours need different temperatures. For example dark red needs a temperature of 500 degress C while Orange needs 1200 degress C to change and fix its shade.

Aarti and I feeling quite bad to leave this place

It was a beautiful experience in Bhadravati to be among these potters. Not only we bought lots of pottery, we came home very fascinated with this from of art which was surely appreciated without much knowledge.

Pots on their way to kiln

Piece of Art, intricate work in Teracotta

Unknown Wonders of Vidharbha

Last weekend was spent in the part of Maharashtra which hardly seems like my state. Its not only culturally different but has an odd mix of Hindi and Marathi languages, which becomes a whole new dialect of its own. I had been there several times when I was young but had not noticed the variation. This time was different and had fun observing and learning about this side of the country.

My trip was very short, just two days. I didn’t have a very good idea of what was hidden in the box for me, whatever popped out, did surprise me to a large extent. In Vidharbha, we went to this small city of Chandrapur which has super thermal power plant, one of the biggest in Asia, and it is also known for its vast reserves of coal. They say that the entire city is dug up underground to excavate coal. The thought of having underground passages beneath you is quite an unimaginable feeling.

Mahakali Temple of Chandrapur

Tribal Carving of the Gond dynasty on Mahakali Temple

Carved ceiling of the Mahakali Temple

After lunch we decided to go to two places, the Mahakali and Anchaleshwar Temples. Though I am not a big temple person, I really enjoyed visiting them. The temples were built in the 1540 t0 1615 century by Dhundya Ram Sah a tribal king from the Gond dynasty. Both the temples were built of the east gates of the fort of Chandrapur. What amazed me was the architecture of the place. The sculptures on the Mahakali temple were a remarkable blend of Tibetan and Hindu figurines. For example, the lion sculpture had a strange mix of a dragons-like head. They were unlike Hindu carvings and depicted its tribal character. What I liked about the place was its very basic but at the same time bold and daring posts, pillars and structures. Though I did not enjoy the muck around the place, I did enjoy walking amidst the quaint shops selling vivid items like bangles, scarves, flowers, puja thalis, etc.

Trishul... Lord Shiva's weapon in the Anchaleshwar Temple

Display of bold and colourful bangles outside the Mahakali Temple

The next day was the most awaited trip, everybody was talking about it and was looking forward to it……it was the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserves and National Park. We started our day at 5 a.m. since a lot of people told us that there were sightings before day break. Our group split into two, one batch of slightly older people and the second one in an open Gypsy. The morning was crisp and frosty but that didn’t seem to bother us, after all we were excited to see the tiger!

The early hours of the Day in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserves & National Park

The grassland of Tadoba

We had an uninterested guide with us who gave us a little information about the forest. It is a deciduous forest of the Deccan Peninsula comprising of rich teak and bamboo trees. I was quite surprised to hear that the forest was as big as 625 sq/ km and had three gates – Tadoba-Andhari, Moharli and Kolsa. We decided to go to Andhari since it had innumerable water holes, therefore more chances of animal sighting. Our trip started on rubble roads along the Andhari Lake and grasslands as high as 6-7 feet. It was fascinating the see a strange mixture of tall grass on one side and dense foliage on the other. As soon as we got there, we spotted an old bison walking alongside the lake and enter the thicket. To my knowledge, bison live in groups and hence asked the guide about this one being by himself. He told us that when these creatures grow old, they are unable to catch up with the herd and tend to isolate. Even though they are isolated, they are not as often hunted by tigers due to their enormous strength and aggression unless a few decide to attack it in a group.

The old & lonely bison

Bison again...

A short while later, the guide asked us to stay quiet since we heard a screeching call perhaps from a monkey. He informed us that this kind of a call is let out only when there is a tiger on prowl. We waited for a while in silence but it was nearly impossible for us to see beyond 10 feet in to the woods. Since a lot of cars arrived during our wait, making a lot of noise, we did not catch any glimpse of the wild cat. Later we tried waiting along a few water holes but were not lucky enough to spot one. Though we did see the usual animals like the spotted deer, some more bison, crocodiles and peacocks. To think about it, there are only 43 tigers in the jungle of Tadoba and to spot one in 625 sq/kms of expanse is indeed difficult. Anyway though we did not spot one, we did have a fabulous time. We spent nearly 5 hours in the dense forest hoping to catch a sight of one!

Deer sighting

An Ancient Hanuman Temple in Tadoba

Our trip had more in store for us. That evening we decided to travel 20 kms north of Chandrapur to this little town called Bhadravati. Bhadravati is known for its 32 wells, 32 temples and 32 ponds. According to the residents of the area, a punishment was given to 3 brothers by one of the Gond Kings to build 32 wells, temples and ponds. It sounded more like a fable told to relate to the existence of so many wells, temples and ponds. We had 3 temples and Buddhist caves on our agenda for that evening. We started off with the most captivating part of Bhadravati, the 2000 years old Buddhist caves or Bodha Vaastu on the Vijasan hill. The caves have a very mystifying appearance. It is a cluster of 3 caves, all depicting the magnificent hand carved Buddha dug deep in to the rock of the Vijasan hill. The caves are basic, untouched and non-commercial, making them very appealing.

Bodha Vaastu of the Bhadravati

Followed by the Buddhist caves, we visited the Nag Mandir and the Bahavani Mata Mandir. Both the Nag Mandir and the Bhavani Mandir had underground tunnels which connect to the Mahakali Temple in Chandrapur which is almost 22 kms from there. The Bhavani Mata Mandir interested me a lot. Before we left for Bhadravati, a lot of people described the significance of this place. We were told that the temple was dug out very recently. The people had a fair idea about the passage but did not know the existence of the beautiful statue of the goddess that lay beneath the Bhadravati soil. A local named Mrs. Borkar dreamt of the deity and eventually the location was excavated. They not only found the majestic, 6 feet tall idol but also two more idols of a “Nag and Nageen”. They were fantastic, crude and jet black.

Bhavani Temple of Bhadravati

I was overwhelmed by the history and intensity of this place. The strangest thing I noticed is that there is so much heritage in this part of the country and hardly anybody knows about it! Most of what I have written is from the facts we picked up from the locals. How I wish this could all be rebuilt, restored and more could be known about this lost past.