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