Crafted in clay: The art of pottery in Delhi

  • Poulomi Banerjee, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 10, 2015 14:43 IST

It all started with the arrival of the Pathans to India. Though traditional village pottery in the form of utility ware would have existed before that, it was through the Afghan rulers like the Lodis that Delhi got its signature 'Delhi Blue' pottery.

In Pottery and the Legacy of Sardar Gurcharan Singh, a book that traces the history of pottery in India, Anuradha Ravindranath writes, "The blue colour came originally from Egypt where it consisted of a mixture of Nile sand, copper and borax. When the Persians conquered Egypt, they liked the copper blue and used it with their own Persian blue… From Persia it came to Afghanistan." From where it travelled to India. The name 'Delhi Blue' was given by the British when they saw the use of the blue tiles on the city's tombs.

It was sometime in 1918 that Sardar Gurcharan Singh was initiated into the art of making 'Delhi Blue' by his teacher Abdullah. Abdullah's ancestors were among the Afghan potters, who had been brought to India by the Pathan rulers to make blue tiles used in their construction. Years later, after training in ceramics in Japan and Korea, when Gurcharan Singh opened his own studio in Delhi, he named it Delhi Blue Art Pottery, and working with his teacher, created a "new Delhi Blue, different from the Egyptian Blue or Persian Blue."

With the opening of Delhi Blue Art Pottery, Singh is credited with having founded the culture of studio pottery in India. Today, potters in the national capital and their work is divided into two broad genres - the traditional village potters settled mainly in Uttam Nagar and the studio potters. But change has touched even the traditional potters hub. Har Kishan, a potter in Uttam Nagar, spent years working with boutiques to perfect the art of terracotta, which he has passed on to the other potters in the colony. After spending time at Delhi Blue Art Pottery, he is now mainly engaged in making glazed ceramic ware.

So engrossed are the potters in experimenting and creating artwork mainly in terracota, that shops in the potters' colony have started stocking earthen utility ware from Rajasthan and Bengal. Traditional matkas or diyas are only made during a few months every year. But whether it's earthenware, terracotta, ceramic or porcelain, it all starts with placing a lump of earth on the wheel. It's fascinating to watch the artist give shape to that lump with just the pressure of his fingers - here is tangible proof of creation, that often remains elusive in brushstrokes or written words. Which is why perhaps studios say they are finding an increasing number of people, from housewives to working professionals, queuing up to learn the skill.

Learn it here

Delhi Blue Art Pottery Trust
Delhi Blue Art pottery was set up by Sardar Gurcharan Singh in 1952 to promote studio pottery. The Trust was founded in 1991 and is one of the few places that has an institutionalised course dedicated to pottery. It offers six month courses, where classes are held everyday between 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm. Weekend classes and seasonal training is also offered. Classes are held at Delhi Blue Apartment, Safdarjung. The Trust also runs the Ceramic Centre at the Sanskriti Kendra, Anandagram, on the Gurgaon-Mehrauli Road.
Contact: 26190223

Manisha Bhattacharya
Bhattacharya learnt pottery at the Delhi Blue Art Pottery Trust, before honing her skills at Pondicherry, and during fellowship programmes abroad. She takes in students at her studio in Delhi's Model Town. Classes are held four times a week. Having moved away from functional pottery, Bhattacharya specialises in Raku.
Contact: 9810512560

Rachna Parasher
Another Delhi Blue Art Pottery Trust and Pondicherry alumna, Parasher teaches students at her Noida studio. Classes are held thrice a week. While she herself specialises in stoneware, she teaches all forms of pottery making to her students.
Contact: 9899888421

Madhur Sen
A sculptor from the Delhi College of Art, Sen teaches students pottery and clay and ceramic sculpture-making at her studio in Chittaranjan Park's B-Block. Classes are held twice a week.
Contact: 40562071

(Most art colleges offers pottery as part of their syllabus and some organisation offer periodic short-term workshops. There are other individual artists too who teach.)


Ceramics By BR Pandit and Abhay Pandit

Presented by Art Heritage, the works by the father-son duo include utility ware as well as sculptural forms. The Pandits specialise in three kinds of techniques - soda and Raku, the creation of the crystal glaze vases, and the oriental copper red felspathic glaze. The exhibition will be on till January 17 at Triveni Kala Sangam (205 Tansen Marg).

Contact: 23719470

Pottery Village Tour Organised By Indomania

Developed in association with the South Asia Foundation, the tour takes visitors to a traditional potters hub in Uttam Nagar and provides a glimpse into the pottery-making process, have a peek of the lifestyles, customs and traditions of the potters.

Contact: 8860223456

Collector's Corner

Where to buy pottery
* Central Cottage Industries, Jawahar Vyapar Bhawan, Janpath
* FABINDIA, Connaught Place, Select City Mall, Greater Kailash I
* GOOD EARTH, Khan Market, Select City Mall, Santushti Shopping Complex (Chanakyapuri)
* DILLI HAAT, INA, Aurobindo Marg, Pitam Pura and Janakpuri

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