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Blue Pottery of Jaipur, Rajasthan

Singh, Mitra a graduate of IICD, Jaipur has worked on several craft projects including ceramics, handmade paper, appliqué and others.

December 2012, Craft Revival Trust

History of the craft
Even though the exact origin of blue and white pottery in India is not known. Its transition in technique and design can be deduced. However, it would be difficult to say with certainty if the travelling armies, or trading convoys carried glazed tiles for architectural purposes from Lahore and Multan or whether craftsmen brought their techniques. Jaipur made its connection with the parent pottery traditions of China and Persia in the 14th century. Tracing the path of influences, it can be said the Central Asian and Middle Eastern glazing techniques came to India with the several successive Islamic invasions while Chinese porcelain continued to be imported to the Indian courts- both pre-Mughal and Mughal.

The extensive use of Blue pottery tiles in mosques of Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and historic Indian monuments tell us about the long journey undertaken by this craft to finally settle down in Jaipur due to Royal patronage.

The Jaipur story is much clearer. Man Singh I (1550-1614) was the first to bring the art of blue and white pottery to Jaipur subsequent to his interactions with the Mughals and through his campaigns in Afghanistan. In 1562 Maharaja Sawai Man Singh I offered his sister in marriage to Emperor Akbar, the first example of blue and white tiles in Jaipur is in the Nila Bury at Amber, which can be dated from this period.

Having gained from the Mughal alliance with Akbar, both in stature and in wealth, Sawai Man Singh’s able successor Sawai Jai Singh set about laying the foundation of Jaipur in 1727. Lucrative offers were made to craftsmen from everywhere. Those in the neighboring areas and from Delhi, Agra and Mathura were among the first to come. However the death of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II brought decline and stagnation to the development of blue pottery.
The second Maharaja to bring the art from Delhi was Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh (1835-1880).It was his initiative that the School of Art was established in 1866 at Jaipur and a great revival and rejuvenation of the arts was planned. This work was continued by his successor Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II (1880-1922).

During the reign of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II (1837-58) there is a record of a Persian potter at Delhi. It is believed that he taught his art to a potter named Bhola. The kite flying brothers Churamani and Kaluram from Bayana near Bharatpur, who had painted frescoes in Palace of Maharaja Bharatpur were sent to Delhi by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh to learn the art from Bhola. In Jaipur, the two brothers were given a home in Goonga Mehra ki Gals of Gangori Bazar. They were also given hereditary posts in Maharaja School of Art. Churamani’s son Jamuna Prasad and Kaluram’s son Sanwal Singh both worked and taught at the same school.

About Jaipur and Sanganer
Amber - Jaipur the craft capital of Rajasthan lies in the northeast of India. Ruled by some of the most enlightened rulers in Indian history, their patronage of art and architecture is vividly reflected in the works of their time. The city boasts of having some of the finest monuments in the world. Jaipur is called the “The Pink City”, for by law, all the buildings in the old city must be painted a deep saffron pink. Apart from being an important administrative, commercial and educational center, Jaipur has a variety of manufacturing industries. It is especially known for its arts and crafts like jewelry, enamel, hand painted fabric, stone sculpture and blue pottery.

The large numbers of unemployed youth from various places near Jaipur were trained at Maharaja Art School to enable them to take this craft as a mode of livelihood. When the school was suddenly closed by Government of India, those artisans had started their own work at their respective places. This is how the craft flourished not only in Jaipur but also in small villages near Jaipur. They are • Neota -28 km from Jaipur; Jamdoli - 20 km away; Mahala at a distance of 37 km; Kotjewar - 60 km and Sanganer the main center for Blue Pottery.

Sanganer is a hub of various handcrafts like hand block printing, handmade paper and blue pottery. It is 25 kms from Jaipur on the Tonk road highway. Kalayanpura is 2 kms inside Sanganer where the craft of blue pottery is practiced. It is well connected to Jaipur by road and easily accessible by bus.

50% of the population dependent on farming; however land is being cutup for housing and industrial projects. Land with better soil and water resources, grows both kharif and rabi crop and somewhere vegetables are also grown

Rajasthani or dhundhani is the local language here. Rajasthani dialects have the same roots as hindi, and therefore it is not difficult for locals to understand hindi. The preferred colors for costumes are bright red, dazzling yellow, lively green or brilliant orange, highlighted by embroidery withsparkling gold and silver zari or gota. Women wear cholies, lehnga or ghagra and odhani and some women wear saris. The men dress in dhoti, shirt or kurta, turban (safa). The women are usually veiled, the education level is very low, child marriage still exists in the villages of the Rajasthan and there is a strong caste hierarchy.

Production Process of Blue pottery


Form Design and colour
The form, colour and decoration seem to be directly influenced by Persian traditional art. It is found in the shape of drinking cups and water jugs, jars, bowls, plates and dishes of all shapes and sizes etc. They are glazed in turquoise, of the most perfect transparency, or in a rich dark purple, or dark green, or golden brown, or yellow. Traditionally the colour palette is restricted to blue, white and a lighter blue. Generally they are ornamented with the universal knot and flower pattern, in compartments formed all around the form, by spaces alternately left uncolored and glazed in color.

Raw material and Production Process
Raw material for the body (for an amount equivalent to 47 kgs of prepared body ) Quartz powder: 40 kgs.

Rajasthan is the highest producer of the quartz. It is widely available at the cost of Rs. 3 per Kg. Earlier it had to be purchased from Beawar but now is easily available in Jaipur and in powdered form.
White glass powder (cullets) : 5kgs.

These are pieces of non-colored glass which can be easily procured at the cost of Rs.14 per Kg. The pieces of glasses are first washed and then crushed. It is then powdered in a hand chakki/grinder and sieved through cotton cloth to avoid big particles.
   
Saji : 1/2 kgs.

It is commonly known as papad knar. An edible soda easily available at cost of Rs. 4-5 per Kg.



Multani Mitti ; 1/2 kgs.

Easily available at the cost of Rs 8-10 per Kg and purchased in bulk.

Katira Gum : 1kgs.

It is a resin of a tree and available at the cost of Rs. 150 per Kg.

Earlier green glass was used for the body composition that contained lead. It has now been changed to white glass culiets instead of green glass for a stronger, non-toxic body. According to the report, the body strength increased nearly four times from the improved composition and during firing the items do not get blackened. Firing range also becomes broader.


Joinery 1
After moulding and sun drying, it is cleared and then finishing is done with the sandpaper. Then the base of the item is made and attached on the potter’s wheel.

A vase, for example, will be madeup in four parts; a wheel turned neck; two molded hemispheres; and a wheel turned base.

Every joinery requires sun drying so, article is again kept to sun dry for a day.

Lisai and ghisai

After sun drying for a whole day, the article is rubbed on a stone and then coarse sandpaper is used for finishing. This is called ‘ghisai’. The finishing is planned in such a way that would require joineries are made thinner than the rest of the body.

After sun drying, the finishing is done with the thin solution of basic composition (body) to fill minute cracks and gaps from inside and outside of the item. This is called ‘lisai’.

Joinery 2
Then the two or three pieces to be joined are aligned and stuck with the basic body composition and excess paste is removed from inside. It is leveled using a scale. After the joinery is finished and dried, the exterior is coated with the body slip and finished in the same manner as the interior. The final finishing is again done with finer sandpaper. Once finished, the pieces are coated with asthar (engobe).


Frit

Raw material

In 50 Kg of white glass powder we needed other ingredients in given below quantities for the preparation of frit.
  • White glass powdered: 52 kgs.

  • Boric Acid : 15 kgs.

  • Borax : 35 kgs.

  • Potassium Nitrate : 5kgs.

  • Zinc Oxide : 3 kgs.

Preparation of frit
Each ingredient is finely powdered and sifted, mixed with a little water, and made up into white balls of the size of an orange. It is then put in a graphite crucible with a hole at the base. It is heated to a very high temperature in a kiln. Coal is used for firing so that can be reached at the high temperature. Borax reduces the melting point. When all is ready, the mixture is thrown in cold water, which splits it into splinters, which are collected and kept for glazing. This frit is then ground by the women folk of the house.

Glazing
The ground frit is mixed with water to form glaze. Here the consistency is important as too thin glaze will leave the pores exposed and too thick would make the finish matte instead of shining. The items are dipped in the glaze and swirled to remove excess glaze forming an even and uniform layer and then left for drying. These are carefully dried, sometimes indoors to avoid dust and other particles sticking on to the glaze Once the articles are dried it is again checked and glaze is put where it is missing. The article is now ready for firing.

Preparation for firing
The kiln furniture consists of plates and props. These are made of locally available terracota clay and fired. Now a days some craftsmen are also using cordierite plates. These new plates claim to reduce the breakage of articles while firing. An added advantage is that these plates remain undamaged for a longer period of time i.e. They have a longer life. The plates are flat and rectangular in shape. Before every firing it is necessary that kiln has to renovate.
Props are of clay only and in cylindrical shape which are broader at one end. The height of the props varies according to the height of the article that needs to be fired.

The object is placed on the plate and then three props are put and they support the next plate that comes on top. In this way all the articles are stacked before firing. The plates have to be coated with a layer of quartz powder before any object is placed on it so that the molten glaze would not stick to the plate. To load a kiln one put has to go inside for the placement of articles. The loading of the kiln, being to centered takes too much time and labour. The central core has to be kept free for heat to move freely.

Firing
The traditional kiln which is used for firing is up-draft kiln. In this kiln nearly 600 kg of wood is required for one firing. It has two fireboxes from which from which the burning wood is charged. The heat then travels through the center of the kiln and heats up the kiln. This firing has to be controlled to be gradual, so the items placed inside do not receive a thermal shock. After the required temperature is reached, the charging of wood is stopped as the oxidation starts inside. The heat then travels within the firing chamber from downwards and the open top serves as the exhaust.


In approximately 4-5 hours, the firing is completed. The temperature of kiln reaches to 800° - 820 ° Celsius. To check the progress of the firing, small windows are there around the kiln which remains sealed during the firing. The kiln is left to cool for whole two days and it is opened on the third day. The firing is oxidation firing. The colour is transformed into bright colour by firing.

A new down-draft kiln has been developed. This kiln is made up of fire bricks that can be heated upto 1300 degrees. These bricks are good insulators and hence no heat is lost and anyone can stand comfortably close to kiln while firing.

Limitations
  • Craftsmen do not practice craft in rainy season as sun drying is required after each step in the process.

  • The throwing skill of artisans is limited because of the material constraints resulting in problems for making thrown moulds for new design.

  • No standardization of the raw material hence increases in the number of rejections.

  • Still practicing traditional forms, patterns and colours.

  • Limited colour palette.

  • No quality check after each process.

  • Craftsmen are not involve in packaging.

  • They use traditional kiln for firing the products.

  • Craftsmen are not able to control temperature of the kiln resulting in damage to products.

  • No proper costing



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