Handicrafts, Pottery

Pottery in India: An Introduction [Updated 2020]

Amazing Pottery in India: An Introduction [Updated 2020]

Being a writer I’ve always had that strong observing power for the things happening around. One of the life lessons I learned is from ‘Pottery’ itself that I’ve quoted — “Motion can shape things. As the potter does while making a pot and maybe the reason things happening in our lives in rapid motion can shape our lives too. We just need to have that pace & persistence towards them.”

Pottery or ceramic art refers to the creation of objects that are made from hard brittle material produced from nonmetallic minerals by moulding them while the fabric is wet and then firing them at high temperatures in order to provide the desired shape. They are often made up of clay, porcelain, steatite, etc. There is a wide range of pottery in India.

Pottery plays a crucial role in studying culture and reconstructing the past. Historically with a definite culture, the design of pottery changed. It reflects the social, economic and environmental conditions a culture thrived in, which helps the archaeologists and historians in understanding our past. It holds significant value in understanding cultures where the script was either absent or remains undeciphered. Understanding of presence of hearth, cooking, storage, sedentary or migratory populace, stratification can all be developed via studying pottery.

Pottery has provided an opportunity to store, cook, transport, trade and essentially became an expression of artistic creativity that is going on from generations now.


Pottery is a major of two types


1. Handmade


2. Wheel thrown

Handmade pottery is rather primitive style pottery developed in early ages which with time transforms to wheel-thrown. The different motifs drawn on the surface plays an important role in understanding a culture and its beliefs.


The Essence of Pottery in India

Pottery in India is considered as one of the most iconic elements of Indian regional art that fluctuates as we move from one region to another. Not just its history, but its exquisite beauty and features have made pottery, a modern form of Indian decor. Evidence of pottery in India dates back to Indus Valley Civilization. Pottery is quite famous in most of the Asian countries and gradually is spreading all over the world.

History says that India is the place where pottery art took birth and was shaped thoroughly before spreading out in the world. In fact, there was a time when pottery was taken as the main source of income for the traditional Indian business class. Indian culture can be visibly seen in the forms of different pottery art. The art is considered to be a reflective epitome of Indian traditions and culture. The artists creating it put their blood and sweat with their souls to create such beautiful pottery art that leaves us spellbound.


History of Pottery in India

Shreds of evidence of pottery have been found during  the Vedic period, Indus Valley Civilization and also during the Mughal Period. Vedic pottery is the example of the handmade and unpainted form of pottery in India. In fact, the pottery in India created during the vedic period, is raw in nature and very tangible. These pots were used to store water during summer. Later pottery was also used to manufacture kitchen utensils like plates, glasses, cups, and even saucepans.

During Indus Valley Civilization, pottery in India saw a little upliftment, though the Neolithic age in India shows the origin of pottery. Clay, the main raw material used to make pottery is abundantly available in the Indian subcontinent. Hence, the rise of pottery in India is very evident. Handmade pottery like bowls, utensils, vessels, in different colors like red, orange, brown, and black was abundantly available in India. Gradually pottery in India became a profession for Indians.

With the rise of pottery culture in India, Indian pots were exported to different parts of the world. Red polished potteries are still widely found in Gujarat, Rajasthan and  West Bengal. The phase of painted pottery in India started during the 12 century, when Mughal period came into its existence. The Muslim rulers encouraged the potters from Persia, Central Asia and the Middle East to come and settle in India. It would be wrong to state that the rise of pottery actually started in India during the Mughal dynasty.


Different Potteries & Cultures


1. Vedic Period

Wilhelm Rau (1972) has examined the references to pottery in Vedic texts just like the Black Yajur Veda. According to his study, Vedic pottery is, hand-made and unpainted. Later, the Vedic people were acquainted with four types of pottery—

Black-and-Red Ware, Black- Slipped Ware, Painted Grey Ware, and Red-Ware.

The last sort of pottery was the foremost popular and is found most over western UP. However, the foremost distinctive pottery of the amount is understood as Painted Grey Ware.


2. Indus Valley Civilization

Indus Valley Civilization has considered as an ancient tradition of pottery making. Though the origin of pottery in India can be traced back to the much earlier Mesolithic age, with handmade pottery that involves – bowls, jars, vessels – in various colours such as red, orange, brown, black and cream. During the Indus Valley Civilization, the pottery in India being constructed in two ways, handmade and wheel-made.

The History whiteness two types of pottery cultures that acquainted from the Indus Valley Civilization– Rangpur Culture and Jhukar & Jhangar Phase Culture of Pottery in India.


3. Mughal Age Pottery in India

The Mughal Age Pottery in India also known as the phase of glazed pottery started in the 12th century AD, when Turkic Muslim rulers who encouraged potters from Persia, Central Asia etc to settle in Northern India. Glazed pottery of Persian models with Indian designs, dating back to the Sultanate period, has been found left their traces of exitence in Gujarat and Maharashtra.


Styles of Pottery

Over time India’s simple style of molding clay went into an evolution. Some of the most popular forms of pottery include unglazed pottery, glazed pottery & terracotta.


Unglazed Pottery

Unglazed pottery, this oldest sort of pottery is categorized into three types that are practised in India. First is thin pottery, biscuit-coloured pottery decorated with incised patterns. Next is that the sgraffito technique, the matka pot is polished and painted with red and white slips alongside intricate patterns. The third is polished pottery, this sort of pottery is robust and deeply incised, and has stylized patterns of arabesques.


Glazed Pottery

Glazed pottery began in the 12th century AD. This type of pottery often has a white background and has blue and green patterns. Glazed pottery is merely practised in parts of the country. Glaze is a form of glass, consisting basically of glass-forming minerals (silica or boron) combined with stiffeners (such as clay and fluxes) and melting agents (such as lead or soda). In raw form, glaze can be applied either to the unfired pot or after an initial unglazed, or biscuit, firing. The pot is then glaze fired; the glaze ingredients must melt and become glasslike at a temperature that is compatible to that required for the clay.



Terracotta (baked-earth) is a term used clay-based unglazed or glazed ceramic for ceramic sculpture made by it. Indian sculpture made heavy use of terracotta from a really early period. This allows relatively large figures, nearly up to life-size, to be made, especially within the Gupta period and therefore the centuries immediately following it. Several local popular traditions of terracotta folk sculpture remain active even today. Women often prepare clay figures to propitiate their gods and goddesses, during festivals.


Types of Pottery

Majorly, Pottery are divided into three different types of category.




Generally speaking, Earthenware is clay fired at relatively low temperatures of between 1,000 to 2,000 degrees. This results in a hardened but brittle material which is slightly porous (small holes through which liquid or air can go through). Earthenware can not be used to contain water. To remedy this, a glaze is used to cover the object before it is fired in the kiln for a second time and rendered waterproof. Afterwards, you can use glazed earthenware also to store liquids.




Stoneware is made from a particular clay that is fired at a higher temperature between 1,100- 1,300°C. This results in a more durable material, with a denser, stone-like quality that makes a reason to call in Stoneware. The finished product will be waterproof, opaque and unlike earthenware, does not need to be glazed. In its wild stoneware clay is grey but the firing process turns it light-brown or buff coloured, and different hues may then be applied within the sort of glazes.

The earliest stoneware was produced during the era of Shang Dynasty art in China; it first appeared in Europe in Germany in the 15th century & later in the 17th century, English ceramicists first began producing a salt-glazed sort of stoneware. Stoneware clay are used in the manufacture of commercial ware but also used by the artists in making fine art pottery.




Porcelain comes from a refined clay that is fired at very high temperatures of approximately 1,200–1,450°C and the distinction between porcelain and stoneware are rather vague. Chinese ceramicists define porcelain as any pottery item that provides off a ringing tone when tapped. Porcelain first appeared in China during the era of Han Dynasty art, whereas in the West it is distinguished from stoneware by its characteristic translucence when held to the light.

The result’s a particularly hard, shiny material often white and translucent in appearance. The earliest sorts of porcelain originated in China around 1600BC and this association popularized the term ‘fine china’, or china when the porcelain has had ground animal bone added to the clay, in order to create an even more durable material.


Indian Modern Age of Pottery

In modern days, pottery in India called as Terracotta painting. Though the Terracotta is a certain kind of material which is used to design different kinds of home decor items, pottery in India has also become a part of Terracotta handicrafts. The East Indian state, Orissa is the brand ambassador of Terracotta handicrafts. Earlier, pots were used to store water during summers.

However, pottery in india has become a mere source of earnings for Indians. In fact, the art of pottery has been included in the course curriculum of interior designing and sculpture paintings. The ancient art of pottery in India has today become a modern way to design and decorate traditional Indian homes. The touch of Terracotta Handicrafts creates an ambience of warmth inside the home.

Today pottery in India comes in a variety of shapes and patterns. The ceramic artists from all over the globe are trying to adapt to the Indian form of pottery. The ancient pottery art has become a contemporary form of Western pottery art. Though the Western style of pottery is a little different from that of the Indian time, both the forms are known as Modern Contemporary form of pottery in India.


The Dying Culture of Pottery in India

Even though the history of clay dates back to 9,000-10,000 BC at the time when clay vessels were used to store food and water, it is believed that the art of pottery is as old as humankind. The ancient art of pottery today is presumed to be crucial antiquity when it comes to the studies of anthropology and archaeology. With the numerous enhancements of forms, substances, methods and materials that have been tried and experimented with, the perceptions and mindsets of people have evolved alongside.

Each of these potters considers pottery as a passion more than a profession. They are deeply invested in the art form – mentally, physically and emotionally. Unfortunately, this profession does not allow them to earn a decent living, more so, because of lack of government funding and people moving onto the use of traditional handicrafts which is now being replaced by more utilitarian goods like plastic cups and vessels which are manufactured in China.

The Chinese market is conquering the Indian market that is leading the pottery business to a downfall. In 2015-16, it was recorded that “India’s exports to China were only $9 billion while the imports from China were a staggering $61.7 billion leaving a trade deficit of $52.7 billion” (Suneja 2017). Because of this, the potters and clay professionals are forced to practice other occupations to sustain their living, which includes welding, construction, fibre and steelworks or other agricultural activities.

In addition, the potters nowadays do not wish for their successors to take up this profession and instead get a stable job in a Multinational Corporation. With technological advancements and higher labour costs, it is rather sad to see the manual authentic art and culture being taken over by machinery, technology and new industrial innovations. This mechanisation seems to have taken a toll on the employment rate in India, leading to a massive reduction in the opportunity and exposure for talented and experienced artists and craftsmen.

It can be easily denoted that even though this fine crafts business takes up a huge chunk of time, effort and resources – it doesn’t seem to be very rewarding in its nature. The government support towards the declining clay business culture, providing the potters with some funding, recognition and access to a wider market, seems to be a saving grace for the revival of this beautiful, age-old tradition, that has a significant role in defining the Indian culture and its identity.

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