26th December 2020

Art and Craft

Pokhran Pottery: A Terracotta Wonder World

Manvar Resort and Desert Camp near Jaisalmer are replete with terracotta and clay art from all across Rajasthan. These are not just plenary showcases created for the entertainment of travellers but a true way of life. Walk into any village and the warm hospitable people would offer you tea on a cool evening or cold Chaach (buttermilk) or Lassi (thick yoghurt) on a hot day in a Khullad, a rustic clay mug. Here let us try and give a context and grounding for the pottery art of Rajasthan.

About 60 km away from Manvar, on featureless roads with the sand dunes quickly rising up ahead and sometimes flowing onto the roads, Pokhran is a nondescript town with many villages, away from civilization, deep in the desert country of Rajasthan. A humble fire burns here in the kilns of these villages for centuries, maybe millennia, as terracotta work from Harappa civilization not very far from here has artefacts dating back thousands of years. The fires of kilns burning night and day holding in their hearth red and white terracotta pottery toys and utensils that are famed and appreciated across Rajasthan, Gujarat and even up to Delhi. 

Anywhere between 200-300 families of potters have been practising the art of terracotta pottery for centuries but the waning interest and demand for clay utensils and toys has seen the fortunes of these families change for the worse. With very little opportunity, need and demand, the art that they have practised for generations, has become a burden rather than a provider for most. Many of them have moved out of their family homes and villages in search of labour, others are forced to sell vegetables and fruits.

Rajasthan has always been known for its clay art, from the blue pottery of Jaipur which has seen waxing and waning of its fame, but in recent years found international demand thanks to the push by Government, Co-operatives, Royal families and the travel industry at large to the Kagazi Pottery of Alwar which is a marvel of material science, being paper-thin. Bikaner is home to the painted pottery, tinted with lac colours, while stoneware of Jaisalmer is quite fascinating. Attractive terracotta wall plaques from Mulela generally depicting Lord Ganesha or local heroes. All these art forms are finding a voice and a revival in the last few years with Government, cooperative and in many cases, corporates too have shouldered the necessary burden of preserving, conserving and reinvigorating these artforms.

Pokhran terracotta and pottery is either white or red in hue marked by the signature feature of geometric designs. Recently the potters have started to include more contemporary or modern themes, inspired by the natural wonders of Indian subcontinent among others. These and other schools of pottery have gained a niche following among the foreign travellers who are mesmerised by the unbroken legacy and culture of the land. They acquire these rustic artworks as a memorabilia of their travels in the exotic countryside of Rajasthan, in turn supporting the artisans.

To this end, KVIC, Khadi and Village Industries Commission inspired by the tenets set down by none other than Mahatma Gandhi for the emancipation of villages via a system of industry and economy rooted in the sustainable and traditional practices of the region, has launched “Kumhar Sashaktikaran Yojana” (Potter Emancipation Scheme) in Pokhran under which the potters’ families are provided with 80 electric potter’s wheels and 8 blungers which can churn out 800 kg of clay ready to be moulded in 8 hours. Egged by the ban on plastic cups among others has seen the demand for clay cups rise. Pokhran is one of the aspirational districts identified by the Niti Ayog. 400 railway stations selling eatables only in earthen/terracotta pots include Jaisalmer and Barmer, the two major railheads in Rajasthan that are closest to Pokhran. The state KVIC unit facilitates the sale of the pottery at these railway stations given the high tourist footfall in these cities.

Soon, Pokhran will be known as the pottery paradise and Manvar, an experiential luxury resort and desert camp near Jaisalmer and Jodhpur being a showcase of the indigenous way of life around the Thar have adopted and promoted may of the terracotta products for everyday usage as well as collectables for Indophile travellers who patronise Manvar desert camp near Jaisalmer

Featured Image Credits: KRC Times

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