Bangalore's potters find themselves as businesspersons, not craftspersons

In a shed in Pottery Town, where firing ovens lie in disrepair, hangs a board proudly announcing that “A potter's work is God's work”. With the ovens last being used decades ago, and successive generations of potters in the colony giving up the traditional occupations for more lucrative jobs elsewhere, the message on the board seems to have faded into irrelevance.

Flanked by the posh Benson Town and Williams Town, Pottery Town, established more than 80 years ago, encompasses nearly 40 Kumbara families over a few streets. Tens of hundreds of pots, of all shapes and sizes, greet the visitor — with prices ranging from Rs. 4 for clay lamps to huge tandoori pots going for over Rs. 2,500. Of course, all prices are subject to bargaining.

Outsourced

With pots lining every square inch of the road, it may be easy to believe that the trade is thriving. But underneath the lustre of the glazed pots lies the sad truth — they have been sourced from elsewhere. With the growth of the city eating into the little space they had to dry pots, or to fire the clay ovens, potters have replaced turning wheels with bills and receipts.

“We now get the pots from Hoskote or Doddaballapur, villages where people of our community (Kumbara) still have the space to fashion the pots. We only hawk them to other dealers in the city,” said S. Raju, who has been managing a store there for the last 15 years.

Lakshmamma, who has been manning a pottery store for the last 45 years, said with residential buildings coming up in the area and with traffic on the narrow roads increasing, the potters were forced to put out their clay ovens. “Residents complained of the pollution when we fired the ovens; and when we left the clay out to dry, they complained about obstruction and the dust. After some time there was enough pressure for us to stop,” she said.

Rapid urbanisation

Ruing this loss of heritage, where due to rapid urbanisation traditional occupations such as pottery are pushed to the sidelines, Satya Prakash Varanashi, Conservation Architect and convenor of INTACH, said: “During heritage seminars, only buildings are talked about instead of the people themselves. Potters, like the weavers, form an important part of local tradition, and the areas they work in have a feel of heritage,” he said, and called for government intervention to protect these livelihoods.

However, Mr. Raju pointed out: “Whom do we ask to protect us? It's a small community, and politically, no one cares about us.”

Loss of a tradition

The first ovens closed around 20 years ago, and more ovens followed. Now, only the smaller ones function, and they are used to make small diyas. With the potters now becoming traders, old-timers rue that the tradition of fashioning the pots — which they say is more art than business — has slowly died.

While Lakshmamma's daughter Divya said that she has learnt the basics of making small pots, her younger son Raghavendra has not. “More than lack of interest to do so, there is no opportunity for him to learn how to make pots here. He has to go to the villages for that,” she said.

Business paradox

However, even with diminishing members of their community participating in pottery, potters there said that business has not dulled.

“People from across the State buy pots here as there is so much variety, and even schoolchildren come for their arts and craft projects. During festival seasons, our big plaster-of-Paris idols and smaller clay idols sell very well,” said Bhagya, who has been working there for 16 years.

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