Do Maratha's Work Mahoba

Source studies on Indian history until 1858


TRUEST to nature, in the directness and simplicity of its forms, and their adaptation to use, and purest in art, of all its homely and sumptuary handicrafts is the pottery of India; the unglazed rude earthenware, red, brown, yellow, or gray, made in every village, and the historical glazed earthenware of Madura, Sindh, and the Panjab.

Unglazed pottery is made everywhere in India, and has been from before the time of Manu: and the forms of it shewn on ancient Buddhist and Hindu sculptures, and the ancient Buddhist paintings of Ajanta, are identical with those still everywhere thrown from the village hand -wheels. In the sculptures of Bhuvaneswar the form of the kalasa, or water jug, is treated with great taste as an architectural decoration, especially in its use as an elegant finial to the temple towers. In the same sculptures is seen the form of another water vessel, identical with the amriti, or "nectar" bottle, sold in the bazaars of Bengal.

It is impossible to attempt any enumeration of the places where unglazed pottery is made, for its manufacture is literally universal, and extended over the whole and to every part of India. Mr. Baden Powell, however, cites the following places in the Panjab as worthy of special mention for their unglazed earthenware: Amritsar, Cashmere, Dera Ghazi Khan, Dera Ismail Khan, Gugranwalla, Hazara, Hushiarpur, Jhelam, Kangra, Kohat, Lahore, Ludhiana, Montgomery, Rawalpindi, and Shahpur. I Bengal the village pottery of Sawan in Patna, of Bardwan, of Ferozepur in Dacca, and Dinajpur in Rajshahye are noted: and in [p. 388] Bombay that of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, and of Khanpur in the collectorate of Belgaum.

The principal varieties of Indian fancy pottery made purposely for exportation are the red earthenware pottery of Travancore and Hyderabad in the Deccan, the red glazed pottery of Dinapur, the black and silvery pottery of Azimghar in the North-Western Provinces, and Surrujgurrah in Bengal ( Bhagalpur), and imitation bidri of Patna and Surat in Gujarat, the painted pottery of Kota in Rajputana, the gilt pottery of Amroha also in Rajputana, the glazed and unglazed pierced pottery of Madura, and the glazed pottery of Sindh and the Panjab. In all these varieties of Indian pottery an artistic effect is consciously sought to be produced.

The Azimghar pottery, like most of the art-work of the Benares district, and eastward, is generally feeble and rickety in form and insipid and meretricious in decoration, defects to which its fine black color, obtained by baking it with mustard oilseed cake, gives the greater prominence. The only tolerable example of it I have ever seen is the water-jug in the India Museum, which attracts, and in a way pleases, because of the strangeness of look given to it by the pair of horn-like handles. The silvery ornamentation is done by etching the pattern, after baking, on the surface, and rubbing into it an amalgam of mercury and tin; thus producing the characteristic mawkish and forbidding effect, which, however, the unsophisticated potter of Azimghar does not attempt to mystify by calling it by any of those artful, advertising "cries" wherewith so much ado about nothing is sometimes made in English high art galleries . Very different is the glazed pottery of Sindh and the Panjab. The charms of this pottery are the simplicity of its shapes, the spontaneity, directness, and propriety of its ornamentation, and the beauty of its coloring. The first thing to be desired in pottery is beauty of form, that perfect symmetry and purity of form which is

"When unadorn'd, adorn'd the most."

[S. 389]


Also, never more than two or three colors are used, and when three colors are used, as a rule, two of them are [p. 390] merely lighter and darker shades of the same color.


The potter's art is of the highest antiquity in India, and the unglazed water vessels, made in every Hindu village, are still thrown from the wheel in the same antique forms represented on the ancient Buddhistic sculptures and paintings.


The only exception is the glazed pottery of Madura, and of Sindh and the Panjab, which alone of the fancy varieties can be classed as art pottery, and as such is of the highest excellence.

Plate 76 (b)

The Madura pottery [Plate 76] is in the form generally of water bottles, with a globular bowl and long upright neck; the bowl being generally pierced so as to circulate the air round an inner porous bowl. The outer bowl and neck are rudely fretted all over by notches in the clay, and are glazed either daik green or a rich golden brown.

Plate 70.

Plate 71.

Plate 73.

Plate 74.

Plate 75.

The glazed pottery of Sindh [Plates 70-75] is made principally at Hala, Hyderabad, Tatta, and Jerruck, and that of the Panjab at Lahore, Multan, Jang, Delhi, and elsewhere.1 The chief places for the manufacture of encaustic tiles are at Bulri and Saidpur in [p. 399] Sindh.

 1 The master potters known to me by name are Jumu, son of Osman the Potter. Karachi; Mahommed Azim, the Pathan, Karachi; Messrs. Only; Mahommecl, and Kadmil, Hyderabad; Ruttu Wuleed Minghu, Hyderabad; and Peranu, son of Jumu, Tatta. Mr. Kipling sends me the name of Mahommed Hashim at Multan.


It is found in the shape of drinking cups, and water bottles, jars, bowls, plates, and dishes of all shapes and sizes, and of tiles, pinnacles for the tops of domes, pierced windows, and other architectural accessories. In form, the bowls, and jars, and vases may be classified as egg-shaped, turband, melon, and onion-shaped, in the latter the point rising and widening out gracefully into the neck of the vase. They are glazed in turquoise, of the most perfect transparency, or in a [p. 400] rich dark purple, or dark green, or golden brown. Sometimes they are diapered all over by the pâte-sur-pâte method, with a conventional flower, the seventy or lotus, of a lighter color than the ground. Generally they are ornamented with the universal knop and flower pattern, in compartments formed all round the bowl, by spaces alternately left uncolored and glazed in color. Sometimes a wreath of the knob and flower pattern is simply painted round the bowl on a white ground [Plate 72].

Plate 72.


It is a rare pleasure to the eye to see in the polished corner of a native room one of these large turquoise blue sweetmeat jars on a fine Kirman rug of minimum red ground, splashed with dark blue and yellow. But the sight of wonder is when traveling over the plains of Persia or India, suddenly to come upon an encaustic-tiled mosque. It is colored all over in yellow, [p. 401] green, blue, and other hues; and as a distant view of it is caught at sunrise, its stately domes and glittering minarets seem made of pure gold, like glass, enameled in azure and green, a fairy-like apparition of inexpressible grace and the most enchanting splendor.

In giving the following receipts of the different preparations used in enamelling Sindh and Panjab pottery, it is as well to say that they are of little practical value out of those countries. It will be noted that a great deal is thought, by the native manufacturers, to depend on the particular wood, or other fuel used, in the baking, which, if it really influences the result, makes all attempts at imitating local varieties of Indian pottery futile.

In the glazing and coloring two preparations are of essential importance, namely kanch, literally glass, and sikka, oxides of lead. In the Panjab the two kinds of kanch used are distinguished as Angrezi kanchi, "English glaze," and desi-kanchi, "country glaze."

Angrezi kanchi is made of sang-i-safed, a white quartzose rock 25 parts; sajji, or pure soda, 6 parts; sohaga telia, or pure borax, 3 parts; and nausadar or sal ammoniac, 1 part. Each ingredient is finely powdered and sifted, mixed with a little water, and made up into white balls of the size of an orange. These are red-heated, and after cooling again, ground down and sifted. Then the material is put into a furnace until it melts, when clean-picked shora kalmi, or saltpetre, is stirred in. A foam appears on the surface, which is skimmed off and set aside for use. The desi-kanchi is similarly made, of quartzose rock and soda, or quartzose rock and borax, or siliceous sand and soda. A point is made of firing the furnace in which the kanch is melted with kikar, karir, or Capparis wood.

Four sikka, or oxides of lead, are known, namely, sikka safed, white oxide, the basis of most of the blues, greens, and grays used; sikka zard, the basis of the yellows; sikka sharbati, litharge; and sikka lal, red oxide.

[S. 402] Sikka safed is made by reducing the lead with half its weight of tin; sikka zard by reducing the lead with a quarter of its weight of tin; sikka sharbati by reducing with zinc instead of tin; and sikka lal in the same way, oxidizing the lead until red. The furnace is always heated in preparing these oxides with jhand, or Prosopis wood. The white glaze is made with one part of kanch and one part sikka safed (white oxide) well ground, sifted, and mixed, put into the kanch furnace, and stirred with a ladle. When melted, borax in the proportion of two chittaks to the ser (1 chittak = 1/16 ser; 1 ser = 2 2/5 lbs. Avoirdupois) is added. If the mixture blackens, a small quantity of shora kalmi, or saltpetre, is thrown in. When all is ready, the mixture is thrown into cold water, which splits it into splinters, which are collected and kept for use. All the blues are prepared by mixing either copper or manganese, or cobalt, in various proportions with the above white glaze. The glaze and coloring matter are ground together to an impalpable powder ready for application to the vessel.

The following are the blue colors used:

  1. Firoza, turquoise blue: 1 ser of glaze, and 1 chittak of chhiltamba, or calcined copper.

  2. Firozi-abi, pale turquoise: 1 ser of glaze, and 1/24 of calcined copper.

  3. Nila, indigo blue: 1 ser of glaze, and 4 chittaks of reta, or zaffre (cobalt).

  4. Asmani, sky blue: 1 ser of glaze, and 1½ chittak of zaffre.

  5. Halka-abi, pale sky blue: 1 ser of glaze, and 1 chittak of zaffre.

  6. Kasni, pink or lilac: 1 ser of glaze, and 1 chittak of anjani, or oxide of manganese.

  7. Sosni, violet: 1 ser of glaze, and 1 chittak of mixed manganese and zaffre.

  8. Uda, purple or puce: 1 ser of glaze, and 2 chittak of manganese.

  9. Khaki, gray: 1 ser of glaze, and 1½ chittak of mixed manganese and zaffre.

The rita or zafifre is the black oxide of cobalt found all over Central and Southern India, which has been roasted and powdered, [p. 403] mixed with a little powdered flint. Another mode of preparing the nila, or indigo blue glaze, for use by itself, is to take:

  • Powdered flint: 4 parts.

  • Borax: 24

  • Red oxide of lead: 12

  • White quartzose rock: 7

  • Soda: 5

  • Zinc: 5

  • Zaffre: 5

All are burnt together in the kanch furnace as before described.

The yellow glaze used as the basis of the greens is made of sikka zard, white oxide 1 ser, and sang safed, a white quartzose rock, or millstone, or burnt and powdered flint, 4 chittaks, to which, when fused, 1 chittak of borax is added.

The green colors produced are:

  1. Zamrudi, deep green: 1 ser of glaze, and 3 chittaks of chhil tamba, or calcined copper.

  2. Sabz, full green: 1 ser of glaze, and 1 chittak of copper.

  3. Pistaki, or Pistachio (bright) green: 1 ser of glaze, and 1½ chittak of copper.

  4. Dhani, or Paddy (young shoots of rice), green: 1 ser of glaze, and 1/125 chittak of copper.

Another green is produced by burning one ser of copper filings with nimak shor, or sulphate of soda.

The colors, after being reduced to powder, are painted on with gum, or gluten. The vessel to receive them is first carefully smoothed over and cleaned, and, as the pottery clay is red when burnt, it is next painted all over with a soapy, whitish engobe prepared with white clay and borax and Acacia and Conocarpus gums called kharya mutti . The powdered colors are ground up with a mixture or nishasta, or gluten and water, called mawa until the proper consistence is obtained when they are [p. 404] painted on with a brush. The vessels are then carefully dried and baked in a furnace heated with ber, or Zizyphus, or, in some cases, Capparis wood. The ornamental designs are either painted on off-hand, or a pattern is pricked out on paper, which is laid on the vessel and dusted with the powdered color along the prickings, thus giving a dotted outline of the design, which enables the potter to paint it in with all the greater freedom and dash. It is the vigorous drawing, and free, impulsive painting of this pottery which are among its attractions. The rapidity and accuracy of the whole operation is a constant temptation to the inexperienced bystander to try a hand at it himself. You feel the same temptation in looking on at any native artist at his work. His artifice appears to be so easy, and his tools are so simple, that you think you could do all he is doing quite as well yourself. You sit down and try. You fail, but will not be beaten, arid practice at it for days with all your English energy, and then at last comprehend that the patient Hindu handicraftsman's dexterity is a second nature, developed from father to son, working for generations at the same processes and manipulations.

The great skill of the Indian village potter may be judged also from the size of the vessels he sometimes throws from his wheel, and afterwards succeeds in baking. At Ahmedabad and Baroda, and throughout the fertile pulse and cereal-growing plains of Gujarat, earthen jars, for storing grain, are baked, often five feet high; and on the banks of the Dol Samudra, in the Dacca division of the Bengal Presidency, immense earthen jars are made of nearly a ton in cubic capacity. The clay figures of Karttikeya, the Indian Mars, made for his annual festival by the potters of Bengal, are often twenty-seven feet in height.

The Indian potter's wheel is of the simplest and rudest kind. It is a horizontal fly-wheel, two or three feet in diameter, loaded heavily with clay around the rim, and put in motion by the hand; and once set spinning, it revolves for five or seven minutes with a perfectly steady and true motion. The clay to be molded is [p. 405] heaped on the center of the wheel, and the potter squats down on the ground before it. A few vigorous turns and away spins the wheel, round and round, and still and silent as a "sleeping" top, while at once the shapeless heap of clay begins to grow under the potter's hand into all sorts of faultless forms of archaic fictile art , which are carried off to be dried and baked as fast as they are thrown from the wheel. Any polishing is done by rubbing the baked jars and pots with a pebble. There is an immense demand for these water jars, cooking pots, and earthen frying pans and dishes. The Hindus have a religious prejudice against using an earthen vessel twice, and generally it is broken after the first pollution, and hence the demand for common earthenware in all Hindu families. There is an immense demand also for painted clay idols, which are also thrown away every day after being worshiped; and thus the potter, in virtue of his calling, is an hereditary officer in every Indian village. In the Dakhan, the potter's field is just outside the village. Near the wheel is a heap of clay, and before it rise two or three stacks of pots and pans, while the verandah of his hut is filled with the smaller wares and painted images of the gods and epic heroes of the Rayamana and Mahabharata. He has to supply the entire village community with pitchers and cooking pans, and jars for storing grain and spices and salt, and to furnish travelers with any of these vessels they may require. Also, when the new corn begins to sprout, he has to take a water jar to each field for the use of those engaged in watching the crop. But he is allowed to make bricks and tiles also, and for these he is paid, exclusively of his fees, which amount to between 4 l. and 5 l. a year. Altogether he earns between 10 l. and 12 l. a year, and is passing rich with it. He enjoys, beside, the dignity of certain ceremonial and honorific offices. He bangs the big drum, and chants the hymns in honor of Jami, an incarnation of the great goddess Bhavani, at marriages; and at the dowra, or village harvest home festivals, he prepares the barbat [p. 406] or mutton stew. He is, in truth, one of the most useful and respected members of the community, and in the happy religious organization of Hindu village life there is no man happier than the hereditary potter, or kumbar.

We cannot overlook this serenity and dignity of his life if we would rightly understand the Indian handicraftsman's work. He knows nothing of the desperate struggle for existence which oppresses the life and crushes the very soul out of the English working man. He has his assured place, inherited from father to son for a hundred generations, in the national church and state organization; while nature provides him with everything to his hand, but the little food and less clothing he needs, and the simple tools of the trade.


[S. 416]

The Bombay School of Art Pottery we owe chiefly to the exertions of Mr. George Terry, the enthusiastic superintendent of the school, who has a quick sympathy with native art. He has introduced some of the best potters from Sindh, and the work Mr. Terry's pupils turn out in the yellow glaze in Bombay is now with difficulty distinguishable from the indigenous pottery of Sindh. It is only to be identified by its greater finish, which is a fault. The School of Art green and blue pottery always betrays its origin by some inherent defect in the glaze or clay used. Mr. Terry has also developed two original varieties of glazed pottery at Bombay, the designs in one being adapted with great knowledge and taste from the Ajanta cave paintings, and the popular mythological paintings of the Bombay bazaars; while in the other they are of his, or his pupils' own inspiration, and derived from leaf and flower forms. Examples of all these varieties of the [p. 417] Bombay School of Art Pottery, of the imitation Sindh and the Terry ware, have been put together in a separate case in the India Museum.The glazed pottery which comes from Bombay of Sindhian designs on Chinese and Japanese jam and pickle pots are a violation of everything like artistic and historical consistency in art, and if they are not ignorant productions of the pupils of the School of Art they are a most cruel slander on them. "

[Source: Birdwood, George C. M. (George Christopher Molesworth) <1832-1917>: The industrial arts of India. - London: Chapman and Hall. -- 20 cm. - (South Kensington Museum art handbooks). - Vol. 2. - 1884. - pp. 387 - 417. - Online: - Accessed on 2008-03-24. - "Not in copyright".]