Monthly Archives: August 2016

Pottery tour in Khurja & Vallauris in Making Innovative Travelling in Uttar Pradesh

My curated pottery tour to Khurja, a traditional town in Bulandsahar District of Western Uttar Pradesh about 75 kilometers from Delhi, consisted of a heritage walk, interacting with the traditional master potters, and debating making Khurja in an indigenous Vallauris.



Ride Back- Khurja
Navina Jafa with participants entering Phoota Darwaza

Presenting out-of- box heritage experiences can be a challenge. Researching narratives, creating surprises, building community participation, but most of projecting advocating re-positioning and re-valuing traditional skills and heritage ecosystems. All these and many more form important components of travelling and academic experiences I have been creating for the last two decades.

the potter Amir
Traditional potter Amir

Oral historical perceptions related to potters of Khurja say that groups of potters migrated from the West of the Indian subcontinent – Sindh and as far as Afghanistan around 16th-17thc. Evidently, this is also the period which saw significant Afghan clans migrating to this fertile area of Doab which included the Rohilla Afghans.  The original families live in a mohalla called – Phoota Darwaza (the broken door). The potters were important for roaming Afghan clans since they created special urns which were used in burial rituals. Families initially worked in terracotta, but now they largely work in stoneware. The paintings on the pots were geometrical and floral designs in blue, hence traditional Khurja pottery came to be famous as Blue Pottery.

ride back    Vases of a master

On approaching Khurja, the excitement builds up when one is confronted with several chimneys dotting the skyline along  with layout of large number of  pottery ‘emporiums’ lining both sides of the road. Little one knows the truth. In the late 1970s and early 1980s a principal was enacted which said that coal will be sold at a subsidized rate only to those who owned chimneys, many of which were associated with making bricks for construction. Overnight, in many parts of India, chimneys were built, coal was bought and resold to large agencies including the railways.  Khurja was no different. When the rule was revoked, more than 80% of chimneys in Khurja became redundant. Those which function still run on coal and add to air pollution. Presently most pottery is factory based, and the traditional potters remain confined to a backyard neighborhood called Mohalla phoota darwaza.

2- Vases of a master the pottery-2

terracota masterpiece by president awardee Rashid Khan, and his pottery

This article advocates the introduction of innovative pottery tourism in Khurja in mohalla Phoota Darwaza along the lines of making it into a Vallauris a pottery region in south-eastern France, near Cannes where Picasso came in summer and today it is famous as an art tourism village. The negotiation and challenge are while Vallarius is an idea or an inspiration, the Khurja experience will need to be indigenized.

The lane in phoota darwaza     People in the pottery -2

mohalla Phoota Darwaza and space in the traditinal pottery

My heritage walk in Khurja included narratives on sociology of the traditional communities, methods of production, debating creating events where heritage skills can be presented as contemporary art. The walk in mohalla Phoota Darwaza incorporated presentation of elaborate houses, histories of some old families such as one who were horse trainers with the Scandia rulers of Gwalior. Number of havelis can be converted in homestays, and programs and workshops on pottery can be organized in the spaces of traditional potteries.

Zaheer and his potteryOrnate gate

Zaheer potter and Haveli gate 

Haveli darwazathe pottery

Haveli Gates and exotic handmade pottery by traditional potters

Avant-garde ideas can range from dialogues between contemporary artists and those with traditional skills. Many years ago, I invited pon one occasion noted contemporary painter Anjolie Ela Menon to Khurja. She had worked with potters in Chinhat near Lucknow. Anjolie was willing to work with traditional potters and develop special glazes and was willing to collaborate to create a signature series of platters and other kinds of inventive decorative and utility objects. Notable master craftsman can be commissioned to make masterpieces which can be sold or auctioned in galleries of modern art.

Jade Contemporary vase

Contemporary Glazes and contemporary designs handmade pottery led free

Traversing spaces of traditional potteries drew the participants into another world. There was the story of President Awardee Rashid Khan whose masterpieces lay in one corner of the courtyard, then there were turquoise tall vases, which were commissioned by Bollywood actor Sanjay Khan for his show titled Tipu Sultan, but after the potters made the jars, the Bollywood Actor neither took them nor were the artists paid.

The master

President's award  Carving on award vase

Award winning piece by Awardee Rashid Khan

pots and tipu sultan  Hamid-1

Lying Urns for Bollywood actor Sanjay Khan and masterpiece by Mastercraftsman- Hamid

The skills of these artists AND NOT artisans is such that they mold the world of time past with contemporary vibrancy and tastes. L


ooking around these spaces there was only one thought – So much can be done, an energetic art tourism waiting to be tapped  where there is a calling – May your hands be full of clay, and your hearts be full of imagination —- let the mother earth be molded into an urn of void and realization!!!

people in the pottery



This too is Mumbai – My Friends Conserving Heritage – Travels in the Deccan -The Kanheri Caves

Kanheri Caves, with over 50 inscriptions captures the human imagination. These are narratives on networks of power, economics, religion, retreats and endless aspirations on the horizons of the Arab…

Source: This too is Mumbai – My Friends Conserving Heritage – Travels in the Deccan -The Kanheri Caves

This too is Mumbai – My Friends Conserving Heritage – Travels in the Deccan -The Kanheri Caves

Kanheri Caves, with over 50 inscriptions captures the human imagination. These are narratives on networks of power, economics, religion, retreats and endless aspirations on the horizons of the Arabian Sea in the Indian Ocean…

 Kanheri environment- 2Kanheri caves


Sitting beside Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan year after year, one had the luxury of listening to a Zen master on Indian art and culture for nearly four decades. Once when conversing on archaeology she remarked:

“The basis of Archaeology and its Art history has to begin from geological heritage, after all one has to ponder on the history of the material from which the tangible is created…. Another point to note…How can anyone approach conservation of buildings without paying attention to epigraphic inscriptions on the bodies of the monuments…the inscriptions are the voice of monuments?… if any built heritage site has epigraphic inscriptions the first thing a conservationist has to do is comprehend those writings. One has to understand the holistic significance of a heritage site…”[1]

[1] Navina Jafa in conversation with Kapila Vatsyayan, Delhi, 1991

Kapila ji

I had first heard of the Kanheri caves from my other teacher Dr. M.N. Deshpande, who told me that it was one of the richest sites for epigraphic inscriptions evident in multiple ancient languages which include Prakrit, Pali, and Brahmi and reveal knowledge on trade networks, communities, patronage patterns and much more.

 Dr. Deshpande taught me about a subject that had captured his mind, body and soul all his life, they were the rock cut caves  emerging out of the volcanic basalt rock in the Deccan plateau- Badami, to Ahihole, Elephanta to Ajanta, Ellora and Kanheri and as an exception his lectures were also on the Bamiyan Buddha.  He worked in the Archaeological Survey of India and later served as Director General of the Survey.  Dr. Deshpande, ate, breathed and slept rock cut cave architecture.

Between these two masters, the caves routes in the Deccan caught my imagination, and it is with that breathlessness I recently approached the site of the Kanheri Caves in Bombay/ Mumbai. Situated in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the site is the largest collection of cave excavations on a single hill almost 90 in number. One can view similarities with the caves in Ajanta.

 inscription -1      unfinished painting

The caves date back as early as 3rd century BC, and seem to have been in use until 11thc AD. Among the imperial patrons the most significant were the Deccan rulers – Satvahanas (2nd BC to 1st AD). The vast number of inscriptions describe complex human networks of castes, merchant guilds and also refer to sources of donations for the site.

Similar to the Ajanta Caves, the site appears as a sublime location of monsoon retreat, for amidst the strewed caves is the lush greenery, chirping birds, innumerable waterfalls, rippling rivers. The site has viharas – or places to stay for Buddhist monks and chaityas -prayer halls.  It differs from Ajanta when one encounters an amazing program on hydraulic engineering with cisterns in several caves and a funerary space (location around cave number 85and 90). The most important feature of the site is a recall value of its links with economic heritage since it was close to important ports like Sopara.

Kanheri Environment   Inside caves- Kanheri-3

Dr. Deshpande had referred to artefacts such as Greek ivory combs which were recovered from this site. The site as a retreat and a safe haven is evident when one sees among the sculptural representation the friezes on the eight perils which a traveler could encounter. These are called Ashtobhaya and include – attacks by wild elephants, by lions, robber, serpents, captivity, demons/evil spirits, shipwreck and conflagration. A similar representation occurs in Ajanta in Cave 1  as well and is located in the outer verandah as a sculptural relief.

Inside caves- Kanheri-2       Alokiteshwar

Like Ajanta and Ellora, the Kanheri site has sculptures, paintings and architecture. Impressive chaityas with pillars and vaulted roofs, stupas, and friezes of the Buddha among which the two standing Buddha figures and the 11 headed Alokesteshwar are unique. One is definitely amazed at the immense beauty and richness of the site and the bounty of natural environment, a rare space in the present globalized city of Mumbai!

Cave entrance    Inside caves- Kanheri



There are two aspects that need mention: One, at this point of time there is a dearth of linguistic specialists on ancient languages in India, and those who are alive are in advance age. There is an urgent need for the Ministry of Culture to initiate a mentorship program.  Linked with this is the presence of the large number of scrolls which were photographed during the colonial and post-colonial period from monuments in India which are lying in the inscription office of the Archeological Survey of India in Mysore, the question is the linkages between conservation practices on tangible heritage and the promotion of linguistic heritage.  ( please read )

Secondly, while local citizens in Mumbai are aware of this absolutely stunning site, especially in the Monsoon, not many tourists visiting Mumbai are even aware or have ever heard of the Kanheri Caves or Vasai which remain potential for the tourism in Maharashtra.

India as an experience is just so immeasurable, like the coiled kundalini it keeps uncoiling endlessly and one life is not enough to know this expression of human history. One has to retreat, and then come back into its organized chaos – just like the caves in Kanheri where the monks realized the eternal essence of hope in the idea of Alokesteshwar – the Boddhisatva of compassion, and who absorbs human suffering.