Baked-clay utensils were once an inherent part of our kitchens. With the advent of modern technology, metal has replaced clay. As low returns force the people associated with this trade to look for greener pastures, the mankind’s oldest known art is dying a slow death in Kashmir Valley.
By MANSOOR PEER
Kashmir is known for its beauty across the world. Popularly called as ‘Switzerland of the East’. our state is also popular for the well known handicrafts which have provided sustenance to our state in its formative years and continue to do so for the artisans associated with different arts in the Valley.
Pottery, which was once an artistic tradition of Kashmir, is losing its value and is on the verge of decline. The economic condition of the artisans associated with this art has forced them to look for other jobs. It was once a business for a large number of people from urban to rural areas but this culturally rich asset is craving for revival.
Among other artistic works like Kaleen Baphi (carpet-weaving) and Shawl Baphi, Pottery (Kral Kaem) is one of the famous arts of Kashmir. The art of making clay pots is as old as human race itself. There is an age old relation between clay and man. The simplest medium of expression easily available today is the soft clay. Since times immemorial, man has used this medium to express himself.
Pottery products are made across Kashmir catering to the needs of locals, but some places like Palhallan, Bandipora, Pattan and Baramulla have a distinction of making specialised pottery items, regionally and accordingly from their area.
“The basic raw material used to make pottery products is clay, but for Tandoor (Bakers’ Kiln), the clay is of different type,” said Noor-ud-din Kumar, from Palhalan, who has been associated with this art since last five decades. The sight of modern kitchens torments him.
The clay, the basic raw material, which is brought from mountains and slopes, is first dried, powdered and then mixed with water. Sand is exclusively used for making kiln to give it strength. “We sell these kilns to businessman to earn our livelihood,” Noor-ud-Din adds.
“The bread made in kiln is of good taste and quality,” said Javid Ahmad, a University of Kashmir student from Nowgaam. Tandoor is used by bakers across Kashmir. Thus, Tandoor has a good economic value. But the artisans who are associated with this business nowadays are reluctant to carry this art forward.
However, if pottery is living, it is among those families who make kilns for bakers. But those families, who make other products, like kitchen utensils, most of them have stopped work. They are reluctant to take this job forward and to make this as livelihood for their future generations.
“I am not ready to take this business forward. It has a poor economic value. I am preparing to establish any other business in near future,” said Farooq Ahmad Kumar, from Zangam.
Potter’s wheel which is usually made of wood is a round shaped and is supported by a strong stick to move it. This wheel is the basic tool to make pottery products. Every product is made on the wheel. “Wheel is the heart of pottery. Products like bowls, flower vases, fire pots, kitchen utensils, which were used earlier, are made with the help of the wheel,” said Mohammad Sultan Kumar from Zangam.
“After making the pottery products, they are kept in hot kilns to give them strength. Kilns are made of mud with fire inside. Cow dung, wood and coal are used as fuel in these kilns. After the products are ready to use, the artisans sell them in the market,” Sultan adds.
“On the other side, women in past would also sell these products by travelling long distances from door to door. Among some families of potters, women are still doing that work,”said Sara Begum, from Bandi Payeen in north Kashmir.
But new generation is not interested in pursuing this art. They are reluctant to think about this as business because it doesn’t fetch good returns, Sara adds.
“Though pottery is culturally rich in value, but the work is laborious. Potters across Kashmir work hard to meet their needs by working day in and day out but it has lost its days. The wheel which used to be the bread winner of these families is slowing down, because the younger generation is apprehensive to take up this art,” Bilal Ahmad, a teacher from a Kumar family, says.
“With the introduction of steel, plastic, aluminium and copper products in the market, pottery utensils have least takers. In modern kitchens, hardly one will find a pottery product now,” said Ghulam Mohammad, a potter from Palhalan.
Noted historian and poet, Zareef Ahmad Zareef, while expressing concern and anguish over the decline of pottery, also regrets that people have stopped using pottery products. “This has led to the decline of the culturally rich craft. People find it easy to use products other than pottery,” he says.
“Only some decades ago, pottery products used to be a household name in Kashmir. But with the advent of new utensils made of metals, people prefer metallic utensils over pottery because of strength and durability. We can`t avoid using new utensils but if we use pottery products in our homes, it would keep the art alive,” Zareef adds.
Whatever be the trends, the art of pottery may be on the back-foot, but some doctors and even some elders still vouch for pottery utensils as safer alternative from metallic ones. The wheel may stop but the misery continues, leaving behind the fight between survival and art. A potter’s wheel, which once carved out almost all of our kitchen items, has almost come to a halt, thanks to the ‘modern ways of life’.