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Blue Pottery History
The Arts and Crafts of India traditionally have been divided chronologically on the basis of culture or ruling dynasty, dominant religion and further classification by media, tools, techniques, geographical conditions, purpose and utility. India has always been known for its diverse culture and regular adaptation of new things. There are many examples of long line of people who kept coming in continuous streams, settling down, getting mingled with the indigenous people, exchanging knowledge, experience and skills. Blue Pottery is also a symbol of the same adaptation and has an influence of Persian, Turkish and Chinese Pottery.

The history of the art of pottery is as old as the history of mankind. Glass was discovered in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Syria, Iran and Indus Valley. It was further discovered that when alkaline soil was mixed with copper and heated it gave a turquoise blue color. From Mohenjodaro and Harappan era right till the Gupta period glazed utensils, necklaces, beads and tiles were in vogue. This art greatly flourished during the Buddhist period. Around this time orthodox Hinduism revived. Herein, earthen utensils used once had to be discarded as they were considered impure. Now, glazing the simple pots would increase the price and who would wish to throw them away. Hence there was a total decline of this art. In Iran, utensils made out of a shining soil flourished. This was in practice even before the advent of Islam. Being of Blue color it was highly acceptable to Islamic culture. This discovery of “Gila- Lazwart” or cobalt oxide did wonders to the earthen pots. It was used to glaze and paint pots which on heating assumed a deep blue color. This soil is found in a small village called Goojar close to Teheran. This is made into balls and sold to the chemist who heats them and when it gets cool, grinds them into a fine powder which is further passed through a very fine sieve. Then it is sold to the gila- lazwart artist.

Pottery is shining and flourished successfully in China too. The Chinese had further discovered porcelain and celadon but without the vibrant blue color the pottery looked dull and lifeless. In 1301 AD Abdul Quasim Qasani wrote a book on the art of evolving colours and painting on pottery.

During this period, the Chinese learnt all about Gila- lazwart from the Iranians. The Chinese were prepared to pay the price of gold for this wonderful element. Much later, Arab merchants would buy Gila- lazwart from Ajmer in India and sell it in China. A new name “Muslim blue” was also tagged on.In the 15th and 16th centuries, Chinese porcelain was in great demand in Europe. Ship loads of the stuff were regularly dispatched from China. Seeing this, Iran’s ruler Shah Abbas (1587- 1620) thought of a shrewd scheme. He invited 300 artists/ potters from China. Their leader was Manuhar and they found that Iranian soil was unsuitable for making porcelain. They along with their Iranian counterparts found a new alternative and thus was born ‘Blue Pottery’. This title was conferred by the British. In Iranian language it is known as ‘Sangine’ or ‘Aatike’ and means ‘made out of stone’ or ‘old fashioned’. The ties between India and Iran are ancient. Mughals enjoyed an unbroken relationship with Iran. Humayun took refuge there and Noor Jahan hailed from there. The Sultans of South India had a deep bond with them.The technique of applying yellow lead oxide in the tiles of the Golconda Palaces came from Iran. This art crept into Afghanistan and then to Multan, Lahore, Delhi and Agra.

History of Blue Pottery in Jaipur

The art of making blue glaze pottery came to Rajasthan via Kashmir, their entry point to India. The name comes from the eye catching blue dye used to color the clay. The Jaipur blue pottery made out of an Egyptian paste, is glazed and low fired. This pottery is opaque and mostly decorated with animal and bird motifs. Being fired at low temperature, it is fragile and easily chipped. Blue Pottery is Turko- Persian in origin, but today is widely known as one of the distinctive craft of Jaipur.

When the city of Jaipur was founded in 1727 by Sawai Jai Singh I, craftsmen from all over the country were invited to come and make their home in this new city. Royal Patronage, lucrative offers and the attraction of living in a beautiful city led many artisans and craftsmen to come and settle in Jaipur. By the beginning of the 19th century the city was well established as a thriving art centre. In keeping with the traditions of his forefathers, Sawai Ram Singh II (1835-1880) set up a school of art and continued to encourage artists and craftsmen for practising this craft.

Blue Pottery took an interesting route in finding its home in Jaipur. Ram Singh II attended a kite flying session and wateched as his kite masters were engaged in battle with two brothers name Churaman and Kaluram from Achnera (Agra).

When the ruler saw that the brothers managed to bring down the royal kites every time, he was intrigued. He asked the brothers their secret. Sawai Ram Singh II was impressed so he invited the brothers to stay in Jaipur and teach this unique form of glazed pottery at his new art school.Both were appointed head of the department in the Museum and School of Arts. For the next 100 years this department was solely under the control of their family. They told him that they were potters by profession and had coated their stings with the same blue green glass that they used for their pots.

On the verge of Extinction Blue Pottery, had enormous potential and should have flourished, but over the years master potters refused to share their trade secrets with their fellow craftsmen so their was an eventual lowering of standards and a gradual dying out of the craft. In 1952 the art school was closed down and all handicrafts vanished from the scene including blue pottery.Over the years the craft was kept alive by her Highness Gayatri Devi who widely promoted Blue Pottery.

He revived this craft by understanding, experimenting and then disseminating the skills to the unemployed youth of the nearby villages such as Kot Jewar, Mehla, Mohana, Sanganer, Jamdoli and Neota, etc.The efforts of the Kala Kendra were futhered by the training centre of Neota Development Association, an agency established by Birlas in the village Neota. The craft received a much needed boost in the 1962s when Smt. Kamla Devi Chattopadhya, the President of the all India Handicrafts Union asked to Shri Kripal Singh Shekhawat as internationally renowned artist to open a school for Indian Art and Paintings. One section was assigned to Blue Pottery. He was appointed as an incharge of Shilpa Kala Kendra and raised the bar. His presence brought a new excitement to the craft as his designs began selling very well.

Some Other Related Stories

In the absence of concrete evidence it

would be hazardous to venture a precise data for the beginning of blue and white pottery in India. But the evidence suggests that glazed tile making preceded blue pottery. Research conducted by the Archeological Survey of India points to the fact that glazed tile first appeared in Delhi in Tughlaq monument dated between AD 1321 and AD 1414. These are of Turkish inspiration. Excavations at Purana Qila have related glazed ware of Sultanat Period (1206- 1526) both of Central Asian affinities and local manufacturers.

Turkish Sultan Iltutmish and his successors who ruled from Delhi during this period welcomed the scholars, poets, architects, and master craftsmen who had fled Mongol persecution in Khorasan, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the new arrivals were not Turk but Tajiks, Persian speaking intellectuals. Since these Turk- Afghans brought with them new architectural features- the dome, the arch and minaret- they could hardly be expected to leave out the decorative elements like painted and incised lime for interiors and glazed tiles to liven up facades.

Beautiful glazed tile work is also found in the Man Palace of Gwalior, considered a masterpiece of Hindu architecture. This was build by Man Singh (1486- 1516) after the Turks had subjugated Gwalior and ruled for over two centuries (1194- 1404). The foreign influence in the Gwalior glaze can, therefore not be ruled out.

The medallions and gateways of Sher Shah Suri’s Purana Qila (1538- 1545), the Sabj Burz- Nila Gumbaj near the tomb of Humayun’s tomb (1565), the Chini Ka Ranza in Agra, the Jehangir Mahal at Orchha (after 1612), the Amanat Khan Caravanserai in the Punjab (1640- 1644) and the chaburji and the fort in Lahore are some of the better known examples of Kashani work.

The tradition of using glazed tiles- mainly blue but also yellow, crimson, orange, dark gamboge, light vermillion, white , ochre, green, red continued through the Mughal period. This work was called Kashani after Kashan in Persia even though Lahore and Multan were the renowned centres that possibly fed India at that time. The art of glazing and painting tiles travelled from Persia and Samarkand to India which then included the cities of Multan, Peshawar and Lahore.

The Tao- i- chin- lio (Chinese text of 1349) and the writings of Ibn Batuta (who visited during the reign of Mohammad bin Tughlaq) which mention large quantities of blue and white wares entering India.

They kept India in direct contact with Chinese porcelain which was unearthed in the Purana Quila excavations. It bears the inscription made in the great Ming dynasty of the Cheng Hua era (1465- 1487) on a round piece and is inscribed as a fairy tale in Chinese verse.

Tracing the path of influence, it can be said the Central Asian and Middle Eastern glazing techniques came to India with several successive Islamic invasions while Chinese porcelain continued to be imported to the Indian courts, both pre- Mughal and Mughal, even though the exact origin of blue and white pottery in India is not known. Its transition in technique and design can be deduced. It would be difficult to say with certainty if the travelling armies, or trading convoys carried glazed tiles for architectural purposes from Lahore and Multan.

The Jaipur story is much clearer. Man Singh (1550- 1614) was the first to bring the art of blue pottery to Jaipur subsequent to his interaction with the Mughals and through his campaigns in Afghanistan. This was possibly temporary. The second Maharaja who brought the art from Delhi was Ram Singh (1835- 1880).

The extensive use of Blue Pottery tiles in mosques of Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and historical monuments of India tell about the journey undertaken by this craft to finally settle down in Jaipur due to Royal patronage in the early 19th century.

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