Historical records say that Uttar Pradesh was excavated by Muslim invaders in and around the 17th century. As a result the pots of the state had a pronounced Muslim influence in them. The highly decorative silver inlay incorporated into the pottery in Uttar Pradesh has developed through the influence of bidri metalwork brought in by the Muslims from Hyderabad. There are about 45 families still living in the colony which is gradually diminishing in the recent times. Production of clay ware is on two levels - domestic pots, oil lamps, chillums (pipes), incense holders and containers for massage oil are made for the local customers, and the decorative items which are black fired are exported to urban centres. The clay wares in Uttar Pradesh are known for their innovative engraved designs.
Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh has it own status and black pottery is hugely practised in this area. The craftsmen make articles out of the light-yellow and olive coloured clay which has a very fine texture and shapes very well to different forms. The artisans of this place create a wide variety of items ranging from terracotta marathons or jars to surahis or long-necked and spouted vessels, lamps and containers, sometimes betel leaves and even ink are imparted with a lustrous black colour. After the clay mould is given a desired shape, the items are baked in fire and then are washed with a slip, powered mango bark and crude carbonate of soda. The surface is then burnished with mustard oil after which a sharp twig is used for decoration. After following these procedures, the clay wares are then set to smoke firing which gives them the black lustre. After creating the objects, the items are rubbed with oil and then baked once again. The grooves of the design are then filled in by hand with a fine silvery powder that is a mixture of lead, zinc and mercury. When the silvery powder is washed with water and polished, the clay wares exude a silvery hue against the black background of the terracotta. The craftsmen of this state create an array of black pottery items that include vases, cups and saucers, water jugs, plates, jars, and flower pots etc. Various beautiful floral and geometric designs are then itched to it.
The clay crafts of Uttar Pradesh are also known for the Khurja pottery. This state has been remaining the centre for Khurja pottery for years. The potters involved in this craft incorporate their own skills and ideas with the distinct style of the state itself. The tradition of Khurja pottery is relatively new in comparison with other trends of pottery trends. The artisans follow the basic form and texture of the article along with their own creative excellence while making the objects. The fine blend of vibrant hues makes the Khurja pottery of Uttar Pradesh eye catching. The excellent designs, the texture of the crafted items and the choice of colours add a touch of beauty to these claywares. The craftsmen create a special pitcher-like form which is designed with thick slip into a light relief.
Sometimes to sport floral designs, the artisans use sky blue motifs against a white background. A special kind of water pots, which is called surahis in colloquial language, are one of the well admired pots of Uttar Pradesh, stand uniform for green-blue glazes with plain surfaces. The base of this pot is made of red clay. Chunar is also well known for creating excellent variations in clay crafts. Following the pace of modern trend, the potters use dark brown slip to render the items desired hue or the items are left chalky white coloured.
The clay crafts are prevalent in almost all parts of Uttar Pradesh including Meerut and Hapur. These zones of Uttar Pradesh are known for creating excellent water containers. They stand out with their striking designs of flowing lines and floral patterns on the containers. Chinhat in Lucknow and Mausalia are the other centres for creating admirable claywares that include tableware and other items that are skilfully decorated with colour. Mausalia produces a special kind of clay ware with a dark lustrous body. This sheen is obtained by dipping it into a solution of clay and vegetable matter, dried, then rubbed with a vegetable oil, and then baked in fire. This process renders a lustrous effect to the vegetable matter. Silver ornamentation is done on the baked surface and later it is rubbed with mercury and tin. The use of this type of wares is however limited due to the fact that the clay wares are fragile as the clay is baked at a low temperature.
Apart from creating these items the clay crafts of Uttar Pradesh include other traditional items like water jugs which are superbly shaped and gorgeously coloured. A clayware which is well acclaimed by the local inhabitants is the magic pot, which is filled up from an opening from the bottom. But when the pot is back on its base, the water stays in it and does not run out. This type of pot is generally created in fresh olive green and limpid blue colours. Many new tableware items including tea sets and dinner sets are now made keeping in mind the modern trend with exclusive designs and the superb use of colours. Items like ashtrays, flower vases, some highly decorated with figures are also made as paperweights and other decorative pieces are made with excellent artistry.
In Uttar Pradesh the clay comes from two of the local lakes. Lumpy coarse clay from one lake is mixed in equal parts with fine sandy clay from the second lake. The two clays are stored on a piece of land close to the house.
The various items of clay ware which are made in Uttar Pradesh are several sizes of lidded containers, beakers, jugs, vases, incense holders, and plates which are all turned so that they have a highly regular symmetrical appearance. Ritual pots are an important part of the death ceremony and most potters keep a supply in stock. Several egg shaped containers are very common in Uttar Pradesh.
In Uttar Pradesh it is believed that at the time of Creation, Lord Brahma created Prajapatis, or the potters, and assigned them the task of making pots. Lord Vishnu gave his disc to them to serve as the wheel, Lord Shiva gave his lance to turn the wheel, and Brahma gave a string from his sacred thread by which a finished pot could be detached from the wheel. Prajapati is the male, he operates the wheel and creates; the earth is female, the substance from which Prajapati creates.
In the recent times the potters are not given many facilities in the state. Sometimes their houses lack the basic amenities of life. They use several areas of their house for working. The roof terrace is used for pot storage, the throwing area and wheel are in the courtyard, and the clay preparation area is outside the front door.
In conclusion it can be said that clay crafts of Uttar Pradesh have a distinct quality that can be defined with the usage of colours and the style that are followed by the local artisans. Khurja pottery is famous all over the country and is now carving its own niche in the market of aboard as well.
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