Colour me bright & blue

Jaipur Pottery

Colour me bright & blue

The blue streaks & specs of Jaipur ottery are sure to enliven any pace. Brinda Suri narrates the legacy f this craft and its tales of revival.

The lineage of a vast number of arts and crafts prospering in North India can be traced to medieval times. One of these is Jaipur’s blue pottery. What you admiringly hold in your hand is a piece of legacy dating back centuries and spanning continents.

In the realm of pottery, the classic cobalt blue and white coalition has always held appeal. History tells us the combination took birth on Chinese porcelain. Oriental beliefs maintain that shades of azure symbolise happiness and calmness, as they denote the colour of sky and water, both fundamentals of life. Over time, it grew in demand across Renaissance Europe and also found favour in Islamic pottery. It began crossing lands rapidly, each shore adding its influence to the evolution of pottery.

First things first. Jaipur’s blue pottery is not made with clay as is widely misconstrued. Its main components are quartz and glass (or silica). It belongs to the school of quartz pottery that developed in and around Persia around the 12th century. The technique arrived in India with the Mughals and ultimately found a permanent address in Jaipur; one of the reasons also being the ready availability of quartz in nearby places like Ajmer, Beawar, Udaipur and Neem-Ka-Thana.

Artistically-inclined Rajput rajas patronised it. The finest examples of this skill, both as an architectural and décor element, can be noticed in the forts and palaces dotting the state. It’s said Sawai Raja Jai Singh II, founder of the Pink City (Jaipur), heard about the kite-flying prowess of two boys, who would add a quartz coating to their manjha or kite-string to strengthen it. As it turned out, the two were potters with a Persian lineage and used quartz to reinforce their products. Impressed by their skill, the Raja invited the two artistes to set up a blue pottery unit in his new city.

Design & form

Just as Chinese influences crept into Persian patterns, Jaipur blue pottery displays Arabesque as well as Indian motifs. The pottery found on shelves today usually has floral or geometric patterns. Each design portrays an arresting balance of line and form. These days, apart from using the patent blue and green colours, a selection of shades like yellow, orange, brown etc are being employed to appealing result. It’s the blue-white combination, though, that undisputedly remains haute.

To get a desired shape and design, the ceramic dough is set in mould and left to dry. It’s then hand-painted with ferro and oxide colours. Cobalt oxide is used to make the deep-blue-coloured outlines of the designs, while for filling the pattern a range of metal oxides are used. For example, copper oxide is used to achieve a turquoise-blue colour, while chrome oxide gives green, cadmium oxide yields yellow etc. Once the design has been completed, the product is dipped into a clear glaze before being kiln-fired at low temperatures. Upon being fired, the quartz melts, giving the item its lovely glaze.

Available as planters, urns, vases, coasters, serving platters, nut bowls, soap-stands etc, the variety is immense. In association with wood or metal, blue pottery is lending its character to towel hooks, photo-frames, mirror-frames, key stands, peg tables, bringing about a whole designer angle into an ancient art form and giving it a contemporary twist.

Maestro & a mission

This traditional technique would have all but disappeared in India, had it not been for one man — muralist and painter late Kripal Singh Shekhawat, a person celebrated for his revivalist efforts of blue pottery. His signature pieces are collector’s items today.

Hailing from Sikar, Rajasthan, Kripal grew up in a village where walls of homes were painted with murals done in the traditional Shekhawat style. An engineer by profession, he was drawn to painting and honed his artistic skills at Shantiniketan and Tokyo. In 1960, he was persuaded to head a school, sponsored by Rajmata Gayatri Devi, to revive dying crafts. It’s then he learnt Jaipur blue pottery, becoming renowned not only for reviving the art, but taking it to dizzy heights globally. He was awarded the Padmashri in 1974 and conferred upon with the title of Shilp Guru or a ‘treasured maestro’ in 2002. He passed away in 2008.

Carrying on the legacy of Kripal is Rural Non-farm Development Agency or RUDA. Established in 1995 with the mission of promoting sustainable rural livelihood in the rural non-farm sector, “it combines flexibility, autonomy with public accountability”, and is a distinctive experiment within the craft sector of the country. RUDA promotes innovation in all its activities and is a project agency for several externally-funded projects. While visiting handicraft fairs, you will notice a difference in a RUDA-assisted artisan’s design. Let your eye wander and choose a masterpiece for your home.  

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