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.
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.
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.
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 When the rule was revoked, more than 80% of chimneys in Khurja became redundant.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.
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.
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 potter and Haveli gate
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.
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.
Award winning piece by Awardee Rashid Khan
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!!!