The technique of using blue glaze on pottery made from Fuller's Earth, was first developed by the Mongolian craftsmen.
The beautiful craft of making blue pottery, originated in Central Asia, in the 14th Century. This technique of using blue glaze on pottery made from Fuller's Earth (Multani mitti), combined with Chinese glazing technology and Persian decorative designs painted on them, was first developed by Mongolian craftsmen. For many centuries this technique was used only to make tiles to decorate mosques, tombs and palaces in Central Asia.
Jai Ho Jaipur
The Mughals, copying the structures from beyond the Samarkhand mountains, imported this craft to India. Kashmiri potters began using this blue glazed work for more than just architectural accessories.
Gradually the craft travelled to the plains of Delhi and finally in the 17th century, it reached Jaipur. Apart from royal palaces being decorated with blue pottery tiles, this tedious craft was not very popular and soon it died down.
In the early years of the 19th century, during the rule of Sawai Ram Singh II, an art school was set up to encourage various arts and crafts. Many traditional artists travelled to and settled down in Jaipur. It was due to this initiative that blue pottery was revived and soon became a popular traditional craft of Jaipur.
The semi precious stone, quartz, which is an important ingredient for this craft is easily available in the Jaipur belt of Rajasthan, hence Jaipur has become the hub for blue pottery.
“The tedious process used at Jaipur to make the blue ware is still the same as it was centuries ago. However, today various other decorative household items like ashtrays, vases, coasters, bowls, tea sets, plates, glasses, jugs, urns, napkin rings and trinket boxes are made and are more popular too,” says Saurabh Agarwal, the Managing Director of Heritage India, an organisation that promotes this craft in Jaipur, with the help of award winning artists.
The clay for blue pottery is made of ground quartz, green glass, fuller's earth, borax and katira gum; mixed together in a specific proportion. This is kneaded, flattened and pressed into open moulds, the top and bottom parts of pots are made on a potter's wheel. Once dry these pieces are joined together to make the final product. The smallest mistake could lead to the pieces breaking up or even turning black.
The products are then hand painted with oxide colours and dipped into clear glaze before they are fired in wooden kilns. The glaze used to coat these hand painted pieces is made by the painters themselves.
After this the pieces are fired between 800º and 900º centigrade, for many hours, in a closed kiln fuelled by charcoal. “The name comes from the eye-catching Persian blue dye used to decorate the products. As each piece is hand painted, it is very difficult to make identical replicas of any product.
Hence, no two pieces can be the same and most often it is not easy to be fully sure of what the final product will really be like,” says Mr Agarwal.
Products made with this time consuming, expensive and tedious process take at least 15 to 20 days to finish. Moreover, the final product is not necessarily what was originally planned.
These aspects of the craft are what keep's craftsmen interested in continuing to keep this craft alive.
Painting is done with squirrel- tail brushes made by the painters themselves. Cobalt oxide is used to make the outlines of the designs. Other metal oxides provide the other colours that are filled into the outlines. Cobalt oxide provides the colour blue, copper sulphate provides turquoise blue, chromium oxide provides green, cadmium oxide provides yellow and iron oxide provides brown. Animal, bird and flower motifs are the most common designs used to decorate these craft items.
“The name comes from the eye-catching Persian blue dye used to decorate the products. As each piece is hand painted, it is very difficult to make identical replicas of any product. Hence, no two pieces can be the same and most often it is not easy to be fully sure of what the final product will really be like,” continues Mr Agarwal.