Pottery has been one of the earliest inventions of humans. It has been around us for centuries and humans have always strived to make them aesthetic, and at times a rare, well-guarded trade secret. The history of blue pottery work goes back to 14th century under the Mongols. It could be seen in the mosques, palaces and tombs all across Central Asia.
There are no literary texts which suggest the beginning of blue tile work in India. Though the archaeological evidence suggests its use as back as 1321 CE, during the Tughlaq dynasty in India.
The blue pottery travelled from Persia and Afghanistan to the courts of the Mughal emperors. It further spread to the provincial courts of Kashmir before being popularised under the reign of Sawai Ram Singh of Jaipur. Various blue pottery works can be seen in the museum of Rambagh Palace.
The legend says that Sawai Ram Singh met the brothers Churaman and Kuluram during a kite flying competition in Agra. He was intrigued by the fact that the brothers managed to bring down the royal kites every time. He learnt that the brothers, potters by profession, had used the blue-green glass used to coat the pots as a cover for their strings. He invited them to settle in Jaipur and practise this craft form in the pink city. He established the Schools of Arts and Industries in Kishanpole Bazar for the same.
The blue pottery gets its name from the deep blue color which is used to adorn it. It is hand painted and different from the river-bed ceramics as it does not crack. The reason for this is the composition of the dough used to prepare the blue pottery. It is a mixture of quartz stone powder, powdered glass, Multani mitti, katira gond powder, saaji and water. The characteristic shine of the blue pottery is because of the use of powdered glass. The dough is set using open moulds, which are then filled with ashes to retain its shape. It is then painted and glazed using glass, borax and lead oxides. It is then fired in a kiln for at least eight hours, but is removed only after at least three days.
Traditionally, the motifs are of Persian origin, geometric patterns, floral patterns and arabesque designs. Although rare, but we can also find the indigenous designs in the forms of deities such as Durga and Ganesha.
The colours used in blue pottery are obtained from various oxides. Cobalt oxide is used for blue; copper sulphate for turquoise; chromium oxide for green; cadmium oxide for yellow and iron oxide for brown.
The art of blue pottery was on the verge of extinction, if not for the efforts of Padma Shri Kripal Singh Shekhawat. He not only reintroduced and popularised the art style, but also made significant efforts to develop it from the traditional two shades to as many as 24 shades. It was also encouraged by Maharani Gayatri Devi, a known figure for the promotion of Indian arts. The blue pottery of Jaipur has been given the Geographical Indication tag by the Government of India. The GI tag would help the artisans to further develop their identity and global recognition.
Written by ~ Misha Jaswal