CLAY CRAFT FROM CENTURIES

The art of making clay pottery is as old as human civilization. This age-old tradition of making clay pottery still exists in our societies and still possesses strong socio-cultural values in our livelihood. Despite of all influences of modernization and development, the potters of Kathmandu Valley still find their livelihood on their potter’s wheels.

Thimi, small Newar settlement in Bhaktapur District of Kathmandu valley is known for their clay art for centuries. Kumale, Prajapati and Awale are some of the Newar castes belong to the pottery profession. In Thimi, mostly Prajapaties are involved in making pottery. The art of making pottery is handed down from generation to generation as their family tradition and profession.

Stoneware ceramic tea pot
Stoneware ceramic tea pot

Despite the household use of the pottery, it has a significant meaning to the cultural and ritual affairs. From the birth ceremony to the death of people, clay pots are needed. On the forth day of the birth of a child, “Makal” a hearth, “Pala” or “Palcha”, a small bowl shape clay pot to light the oil lamp made with cotton thread is used. On the death of a person, “Bhajan” also known as “Handi” in Nepali, “Bhega”, pot for curd, “Kalash” and “Ampacha”, pots for holly water are used. Every ritual needs different pottery for different purposes. With out these clay pots, the Newar culture is not complete. Interestingly, for many ritual and religious purposes, the clay pots are painted by the “Chitrakars” the painters of Newar society and worshiped in rituals, without which no ritual is complete.

The most common traditional clay products are “Tepa”, large container for water or food storage, “Atha”, cloth washing tub, “Gha”, big jar for water, “Gamala”, flower planting pot, “Bhega”, curd making bowl, “Kalash”, pots of different shapes and sizes for ritual and religious purposes. “Koncha”, container, “Aga”, a large thick body water storage tank with large open mouth, “Palcha”, “Salin” small thin bowl for wine drinking etc.

Stoneware ceramic flower vase
Stoneware ceramic flower vase

Ceramic and glazing are not the part of traditional clay art of Nepal. It was not been in use til the Ceramic Promotion Project started in Bhaktapur. Though they use natural color coat to give smooth red finish in their products. Most of the clay craft is in terracotta in red color.

The Prajapaties, traditionally collect the clay in the first half June and stored in their courtyard or in the ground floor of their homes. The clay is mixed with rice husk, sand and other and make big heaps. They form pottery on the wooden wheel made of wooden disc, which is rotated upon a wooden shaft fixed in the ground. But, for large pots like “Tepa”, “Aga”, they just make half, and they make it by beating with a wooden hammer. After dried in shade, they coat red color and they make a pile and with straw, ash and wooden dust and other material, they fire the pots, usually in open place near by their homes.

 

GOBINDA PRAJAPATI, TRADITIONAL POTTER TO CERAMIC PRODUCER

Gobinda Krishna Prajapati, born in traditional potter’s home and learn pottery from his father. Since childhood, he has been working with father on clay and wheels. He used to go around the villages of Kathmandu valley as well as market places to sell the pottery that produced. They made mostly household products.

An accident in 1982 changed his livelihood completely. One day, while he was on his way to collect clay, his tractor stuck into mud. Then he tried to lift the front of tractor but unfortunately his index finger of right hand was chopped off by tractor fan.That set him back from work.

Govinda Prajapati working on wheel

However, at the same time, Team Leader of Ceramic Promotion Project (CPP) Mr. James Danish came into contact and offered him job as a traditional pottery trainer in CPP to train women from Janakpur. At that time Janakpur women used to paint Mithila on clay pots.

After the termination of CPP, he went to Janakpur Women Development Centre {JWDC) as a trainer. He spent 5 years in Janakpur then he came back to Kathmandu and started his own ceramic production unit with an initiation of Mahaguthi along with financial support worth Rs.50000. Initial years were full of struggles for the business due to limited understanding on quality, price and technique. However, his continuous endurance, enthusiasm and efforts are now showing results. At present he is running business of net worth of RS.700000 and employing nine local people under his supervision. He has three sons and a daughter; all are studying in colleges. One of his son is supporting him in production and in new product development.

Challenges are still there, problem in firing and glazing caused many troubles and losses, but his enthusiasm never fades and keeps the same spirit. Sure commitment and endurance are all he got and expect little support from rest to sustain and improve his business as well as livelihood. Best of Luck!