Clay calling at Matka Market

Delhi is home to some of the most unique markets a city can boast of. Leave alone first-generation Delhiites, not even many long-residing Dilliwallas can claim to know the Matka Market near Sarojini Nagar Bus Depot.

As the name indicates, Matka Market over the years has become a sanctuary for potters from all over the country. And now, you can find not just simple matkas here but Jaipur’s traditional blue pottery, Azamgarh’s Kagzi, Manipur’s indigenous hand-modelled black pots and much more.

Finding Matka Market, or Matkewali gali as it is also called, does not require much effort. You can also ask for the place by its other well-known name ‘Scindia pottery’. In the early 1930s, when the Scindias – the royal family of Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh – bought some property here, they started a pottery unit akin to the one they have back home. As potters from different places came to work at the unit, Rajmata Vijayraje Scindia herself
provided them quarters and they settled here.

Some years back, the kiln was shut down for environmental reasons and pots could no longer be made here. But the potters continued to get their wares from different parts of the country, painting and embellishing them before selling them here. Effectively, the Matka Market is almost as old as the history of British New Delhi, and the age-old tradition still continues.

Pratap Singh, a young potter sitting amidst piles of colourful ceramics, vases, planters, lanterns and earthen wind chimes, informs us, “From December to February, we sell gamlas mostly as this is the season for planting saplings. Then March to July, it’s ghade-matke for the hot Delhi summers. But our main business begins from August, when we start preparing for the line-up of festivals culminating in Diwali.”

This business, potters say, includes clay idols, diyas and home decoration pieces. Lilavati, an elderly potter, tells us, “The best Laxmi-Ganesh come from Bengal. The clay there is very fine which ensures smooth-textured idols and the artisans are experts at drawing the eyes. The diyas - in more than 200 designs of leaves, flowers, shells, swastik etc – come from Gujarat; and the terracotta horses – which are a hit with homemakers – come from Gorakhpur. You will find them in all sizes – from that of a finger to a one-storey house.”

Equally impressive are vases and surahis from Jaipur made of black clay. It is said that this particular clay keeps the water cool, lends it a certain earthy fragrance and gives the ware its distinct colour as well. Koonda, which is used to make curd, and the large vessels used for churning butter from milk also utilise the Jaipur clay. Beautiful clay pillars with female figures on them are also worth a second look and good buy.

Bhure Lal, another potter, advises us, “You should come around Diwali time. Right now you see only a handful of shops. At that time, there will be no less than 100 potters with the most exquisite earthenware from every corner of India. Just as Sadar Bazaar is the best wholesale market in the city, Matka Market is ‘the’ place for all kinds of pottery. The glory of Matka Market has to be seen at Diwali, to be believed.”

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