The Dying Art and The Forgotten Artists : Kashmiri Pottery

Abdul Rashid Kumar is one the few potters associated with the art of pottery in Budgam village of Charangam. Our CC visits this village and makes a video on how this potter makes his livelihood and struggles to survive. Similar other potters have given up this work and have switched their jobs. There is no data available with the state about the potters in J&K.

“One of the potter known by me give up this work few days back and switched to manual labour. When I asked him why he did so, he replied when he calculated the profit he earns only 25 INR a day” says Abdul Rashid.
“In our village we sell our pots mostly in exchange of paddy. Its only a few times we sell it against money”, adds Abdul Rashid.

Braving cold winter chill, Nazir Ahmad, a potter at Khanyar in old city, here, is hopelessly waiting in his shop for the customers. It is now evening but no customer has come for his earthen utensils and Ahmad as usual returns home dejected.
Ahmad’s case is no unique. The pottery– once a flourishing trade that would provide livelihood to thousands of potters in Kashmir—is now dying a silent death.
The potters attribute decline of this trade to the intrusion of modern metallic utensils and other articles that according to them have eclipsed the pottery.
Potters recall that three or four decades ago, pottery would adorn almost every kitchen in the Valley. “But now you will hardly find an earthen vessels in any modern kitchen,” they say.
The potters blame the government for not protecting this art. “It is not just the trade of pottery that has been affected, this wonderful and heritage industry that needed to be protected for the posterity, has been allowed to decline under the sweep of technology and modernism,” they rue.
Curiously, the decline of this trade has brought misery to the people associated with it and discouraged others who might have learnt this art.
“With the decline in demand for earthen vessels,even the established potters became jobless. The future generation is shying away from doing this trade although they prefer to do menial jobs,” said a potter.
Ahmad in his own way has seen it all in his life. He says that at one time he had more than 40 apprentices and workers working under him.
“The demand those days was high that we didn’t even have time to meet friends or relatives. We would get earn handsomely, more than sufficient to support our family. But the intrusion of modern crockery and lack of interest shown by the state government to protect this art and trade, rendered us with no work,” he said.
Pertinently, many areas in the old city, especially those in the vicinity of Khanyar, were known for the pottery and potters. But now these potters have become rare specie as the younger generation among them is not interested in taking up this line.
According to many people in old city, few decades back more than 50 households in Khanyar alone were involved in pottery business.  “But now the number has shrunk to mere few potters who are also planning to switch over to some other trade.
“The pottery is not lucrative anymore and it is very difficult to earn livelihood from this trade. So people now prefer to do some other jobs,” said Ajaz Ahmad Kumar.
The potter used to make numerous utensils in their workshop called Kral chrit. It is a wheel driven by hands. In the middle of it is placed a lump of clay from which pots are made. When desired pot is ready, it is then detached from the wheel by a special thread called kralpan. From large vessels to miniature cups, they are first baked in the potters miniature kiln and then decorated. After then they are carried to the markets where they are sold.
Pertinently, pottery has a long history in this land; articles of pottery had been used from earlier times. The archaeological sites of Burzhama in Srinagar and Gufkral in Pulwama which dated back 5000 years also revealed the evidences of ancient Kashmiri pottery.
The medieval sites of Avantipura, Devsar and Martand exposed the fragments of earthen vessels such as jars, gharas, handis, jugs and bowls. Incense burners, bottles and earthen lamps, cups and bowls of clay were also made for special occasions.
A senior official of Handicraft Department suggests that steps are required to identify the community and people who are still associated with this art. “There is a need to explore new market for this dying art and help it get a facelift.”
“We can start a drive and try to revive this art. We can encourage consumers to opt for the clay objects instead of copper, aluminum and steel utensils,” he said.

Courtesy by: greaterkashmir and kashmirunheard

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