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Khavda Pottery - The Last Gasp

5 OCTOBER 2017 Deepa Shailendra
Samvit Sudha

Working on Kusumalankara and digging up stories of little known crafts like the Khavda Pottery was an eye-opener. We stand to lose ourselves, our sense of drama and our identity if we lose our Craft legacy.

One more off that 'ole wish list! The launch of the Coffee Table Book - 'Kusumalankara' brought out by the Ikebana International Hyderabad Chapter was a big personal milestone for me as well as a spiritual journey into the DNA of our beautiful nation. It was a unique project that combined the Japanese art of Ikebana with the ethnic beauty of Indian handicrafts, sourced from across the length and breadth of our chaotic Land. I had the good fortune to write the craft component for this beautiful book with my daughter Neha. The work showcased the floral arrangements of over 36 members, 86 ikebana arrangements and 96 Indian crafts.

Hastakarya or our handicraft is a symbol of our unique identity on this planet. The craftsman breathes his prana (life energy) into his work as well as the aspirations and cultural interpretation of his people. My buddy Krishna who had coaxed me into doing this beautiful project for II- Hyderabad chose a little known craft style for me which she felt would resonate with everything that she knew about me. And how right she was. What I learnt about Khavda pottery melted my heart!

Khavda is a small village at the rim of the Rann of Kutch. The craft village near Bhuj is the quintessential creative hub of the Kutchi craft tradition, where one can see excellent pottery, leather craft, Ajrakh block printing and embroidered handmade dolls. In the small village of Khavda, craftsmen continue the tradition of making earthen pots, that are similar to the designs that were unearthed in the Indus Valley excavations. Today the Khavda pottery tradition is carried on by Abdulla Kumbhar and his wife Rahima Behn, who are one of the two families that continue the craft legacy. One has to admire their tenacity and love for the craft; to stick to a path that is riddled with difficulties - meager incomes and extreme hardships that include the harsh desert temperatures of Kutch combined with the smoke, dust and back-breaking work of chopping wood for the bhatti, the baking kiln. Today, the craft is struggling to stay alive and it is thanks to the good work of organisations like 'Heart for Art' who are doing yeoman service in encouraging the craftsmen, that the Craft is getting a fighting chance to stay relevant.

The men do the throwing in this pottery craft while the women take care of the designing. The potter uses a specific type of mud called the “Rann ki Mitti” which is sourced from a lake near the village. This soft clay is molded into the desired shape by the male potter on a potter’s wheel and left to dry in the shade. In the next part, the painting and ornamentation of the pottery is taken care of by the Kumbhar women folk.

"Rang de tu mohe gerua"... Paint me the earthy color of ochre - goes the famous Bollywood hit, one of the most soulful songs that never fails to choke me up! The dark terracotta color of the geru, a watered down red clay is applied as a base coat on the pottery with bamboo stick brushes, to create dramatic designs and patterns with black and white clay based colors. The pot is then cleaned, sun-dried and baked in a furnace that is powered by locally available fuels of dry wood and cow dung. The pot is coated with a thin wash of geru. The terracotta red color is a type of soil (ocher/umber) and the black and white paints are made with natural materials.

The popular patterns are either geometric forms or stylized motifs of humans, birds, flora and fauna. The shape of the vessel and the design chosen is determined by the community it is intended for and the function it is to serve. The potter’s community crafts a wide variety of vessels, such as the matka for water storage, water bottles, urns, plates, diyas, boxes, ketli and kulhada to store buttermilk.

To stay rooted in a fast-changing world, we need to hang on to what's important. Inside our craft tradition lies the secret to what makes us what we are - the most mystical, crazy, loud, noisy and organic civilization on the Blue Planet.

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