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As I solemnly vowed to explore the beauties unbounded by time, I gracefully land in a small historic town in north-eastern Uttar Pradesh, Khurja to outshine in glory refracted from the Ceramics City. Although, the Ganga and the Yamuna flow on its either sides of this town at a distance of 45 km but barren in terms of agriculture, God had a different plan with Khurja. Tracing the history of its origin is difficult, given that there are no certain historical or archaeological entities authenticating the antiquity of the Khurja pottery. According to legends, Taimur Lang, infamous for sacking Delhi in 1938, had a band of soldiers, who apart from being vigorous warriors were also skilled potters. Some of these potters stayed back and settled in Multan (now in Pakistan) and near Delhi region. During the reign of Mohammed-bin-Tughlak, these potter families moved from Delhi to Khurja.
Dadu pottery is one of the famous potteries of this region. The city also hosts one of the two Central Ceramics and Glass Research Institutes in India (CSIR). Khurja supplies a large portion of the ceramics used in the country. Its skyline is dotted with chimneys. Khurja is the hometown of the Pathans and has a large area called Pathanwada (Pathan’s place) where the Pathans live. The cluster serves more than twenty-five thousand jobs manufacturing ceramic products like stoneware crockery, sanitary ware, H.T. and L.T. Insulators, hospital-ware, chemical-porcelain, kiln furniture, special ceramics, decorative wares, toys, figurines and bone china. The government of India has identified the Khurja Ceramic Cluster as the growth centre for export. However, away from the factory-outlets, I reserved my time to the traditional potters now confined in a small area known as Mohalla Phoota Darwaza. The skills of these artists are such that they mould the world of time past with contemporary vibrancy and tastes. Looking 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 moulded into an urn of void and realisation!
The name ‘Khurja’ is derived from the Urdu word kharija meaning, cancelled or condemned, as the revenue for this town was waived owing to numerous swamps and the agricultural possibilities were rare. Origin of Khurja’s pottery highly debated. Oral historical perceptions related to the potters of Khurja say that groups of potters migrated from the West of the Indian subcontinent – Sindh and as far as Afghanistan around 16th-17th c. CE. 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. Pottery-making Cultures and Indian Civilization mentions, "Khurja in Bulandshaher is one of the oldest centres for glazed pottery in India…These potters often call themselves as Multani Kumhars suggesting that their origin was Multan.” Ever since the potters of Khurja have been bestowing us with their alluring creations. Starting with red clay pottery they moved on to blue glaze and on red clay articles with engobe of white clay, painting floral designs with cupric oxide and applying a soft glaze containing glass and borax etc. There are about 15,000 artisans as official employees while about 25,000 unofficial employees who work in 500-odd units and nearly 400 factories, making worldwide famous pottery or ceramic items. Experts from Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute, a Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) lab, played a key role in establishing the uniqueness of the Khurja Pottery. If you are looking for traditional potteries devoid of factory manufacturers, walk into the traditional potters’ community at the backyard neighbourhood called Mohalla Phoota Darwaza and don’t forget to visit the master craftsman President Awardee- Rashid Khan’s house among the indigenous potters’.
Production and types
As you walk in the streets, shops to buy ceramics, you are enthralled by the quality galore of the inventories. The shops are well equipped with varieties of items for your daily needs; glazed ware, porcelain ware, earthenware are a few of these. Khurja is one of the oldest centres for glazed pottery in India where potters have the monopoly of making highly artistic blue pottery. Various main raw materials such as kaolinite, plastic ball clay, quartz, potash feldspar, fire clay, Bikaner clay, Kundan clay are used for production of crockery wares, art wares, electrical goods, sanitary wares, tiles, household items; while zinc oxide, zirconia, barium carbonate, chromium oxide and soda feldspar chemicals are used as auxiliary raw materials. A series of steps enables many users to use a variety of handcrafted pottery products to satisfy their myriad demands. Be it a coffee mug, a vase, soap dispenser or a planter, studio pottery appeals its consumers to display their likes to the outside world. The clay batter is created initially and is made into circular sheets. These sheets are again churned to a uniform mix. Now, the mix is made into cakes and transferred to handset into different cavities shaped in mugs, bowls, etc. Next, the clay form is taken out from the cavity and thereafter taken to the artists who give them colour. After painting the forms, they are left to dry a bit and further sent to Kiln for baking at 1200 Centigrade temperature which takes the product to a level making it micro wave proof.
Recognition and Market
The tradition of pottery in Khurja, an urban hamlet near Bulandshaher, has been acknowledged by the Geographical Indication (GI) Registry of India by awarding a GI certificate. Khurja pottery has a well-established market in India and foreign countries. There are nearly 23 export oriented units and they are exported to foreign countries such as the United Kingdom, USA, Australia, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, etc.