The black clay pottery of Nizamabad, a small village 86 km from Benares, is a rare craft and has been revived from near extinction in recent years
Words: Supriya Aggarwal
During a visit to a craft exhibition in New Delhi, I came across lustrous black pottery with intricate designs adorning the exhibition hall. Although pottery is common in India and has been done for centuries, what intrigued me was the final product. Before me was the black clay pottery of Nizamabad, a craft that is bearing the brunt of time and modern art techniques. This form of pottery received the Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2015, which gives the right to name the product only to a specific geographical area of origin. With the GI tag, Nizamabad’s black pottery has acquired a distinct identity and hence new popularity among craft enthusiasts.
In the exhibition, organised by the Indian Trust for Rural Heritage and Development (ITRHD), I found Sohit Kumar Prajapati demonstrating the art of making clay products on a potter’s wheel. Sohit is a state awardee of the craft and has become the unofficial brand ambassador of black clay pottery. He also displayed his craft at the 55th General Assembly of the International Bureau of World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva, Switzerland. Sohit hopes that with this recognition, the potters engaged in this industry will get more benefits for their work.
All the households in Sohit’s village in Nizamabad, in the Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh, earn their living by making black pottery. The craft originated from the Kutch region of Gujarat. Some potters of the region migrated to Nizamabad during the Mughal rule of Aurangzeb. Interestingly, it is the only place in India that makes black pottery with clay, unlike the stoneware from Northeast India. The silver-patterned wares of Nizamabad’s black pottery bear similarity to the bidriware of Hyderabad in which pots are decorated using silver wires.
Potters in Nizamabad use the locally available fine-textured clay from the nearby ponds. They transform the clay into products of different shapes and sizes on the traditional potter’s wheel, which are then baked in a kiln. The process of smoke-firing with rice husks in enclosed kilns gives the product its unique, shiny black surface. The clay ovens are completely covered to obtain a dark black colour. If the ovens are left uncovered, the objects might become reddish.
After the baking ends, the potters wash the clayware with powdered vegetable material and polish them with mustard oil. Using sharp twigs, the artisans decorate the pottery with floral and geometric grooves. They then fill the grooves with a silvery powder of zinc and mercury, after which they wash the pots again with water and polish them once more. The silvery powder gives a shiny hue against the black background.
Black clay pottery is, indeed, a unique product of Indian craft making. With the help of the ITRHD, the craft is set to bedazzle consumers with its beauty. Consuming food from earthenware has always been encouraged in Indian culture, and what could be better if it looks as good as its benefits.