From the potter’s wheel

Getting their hands dirty – literally – the artisans behind the beautiful earthenware and clay pots, which adorn your homes, have a story to tell.

August 28, 2014 05:24 pm | Updated 05:24 pm IST

Works of art. Photo: C. Venkatachalapathy

Works of art. Photo: C. Venkatachalapathy

All of us have, at some point, held clay in our hands and enjoyed moulding it. Have you wondered where clay came from? In India, the earliest findings of clay date back to 3000 BC from the hilly uplands of Baluchistan to pre-Harappan village communities.

Long time ago

Hollow forms in clay were discovered some 10,000 years ago, and it could have been by accident. Maybe early man’s footprints left on the wet soil which kept its shape when dry, led to the discovery of making clay vessels. Another legend has it that elephants while playing in the muddy water poured some of it over their foreheads. The muddy water dried leaving a layer of clay in the shape of the elephant’s forehead. In Sanskrit, both the elephant’s forehead and the clay vessel are called kumbha (earth).

You would have heard the story of the gods and the demons churning the ocean to obtain the elixir of life.

There was no pot to store it, so Vishwakarma drew the energy from the gods and made it into a pot which became the first kalsa or water pot.

Making pottery came much later. The pots made were used as cooking vessels, to store water and grain and as tumblers for drinking tea or water. When fire was discovered, kilns were made to fire the finished items to make them strong and last longer. Even today there are places in North India that serve tea in these pots that are discarded after use. The broken bits are recycled and used again, and as they are eco-friendly, it is good to use them.

The potter’s wheel is still being used. Clay is thrown on it and as the wheel turns, the potter uses his hands to fashion beautiful utility items for the home. The design of the potter’s wheel has been passed on from father to son for the past 4,000 years. The Kumbhars or potters now make decorative figures in terracotta, which adorn homes. They even make religious figures.

Mud Ganesha idols are made during Ganesh Chaturthy, and hundreds of earthen lamps are made before Deepavali. New mud pots are used to cook the pongal every year during the Pongal festival. All these relate to Mother Earth and even in this modern age, we need to respect the craft traditions of the potters and introduce them into our homes not only for beauty, but for utility as well.

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