Crafts India – Black Pottery

The Color Caravan featured on Prismma

The Color Caravan featured on Prismma

Excavations at Mohenjadaro and Harappa reveal that the history of pottery in Indian villages dates back to the Indus Valley civilisation, where many wonderful pieces of pottery have been found. Pottery in India both hand made and wheel made presents a wonderful amalgamation of design, concept and execution. There are two types of pottery styles found in India, namely, unglazed pottery and glazed pottery. Unglazed pottery are of three different styles, namely paper thin, scrafito and highly polished black pottery. Black pottery resembles Harappan style pottery.

The more popular and famous form of black pottery is that which is made by the Tangkhul Naga tribe of Ukhrul district, in Manipur where this craft is pursued by both men and women using a large number of natural materials. The pottery is such that it can be used on a open flame, in the microwave and is also dishwasher safe. This pottery has been imparted the fire-resistance feature due to use of serpentinite rock, which is a hydrous silicate of magnesium, available in the shade of green, black, reddish, yellowish and white. Chrysotile serpentine is also called as asbestos and is used for fireproofing and insulating material. Ukhrul district, in which the artisans of this black stone pottery inhabit is rich with serpentinite rock. This district comes under the ophiolite belt of Manipur, where this stone is profusely found in the deep bottom of earth layers.

The fireproof black pottery of Manipur has been successful in catching the attention of Indians as well as markets abroad. Due to immense craze towards this fire-resistant pottery, it’s range is consistently increasing and also contains other utility and decorative items in addition to pots. These products are made by hand from clay, which are locally available and are totally natural. The material used in is made from a mixture of black serpentite stone, which provides the strength and weathered rock which acts as a binding agent, which are mixed in a three to one ratio. The paste formed from this is then rolled by hand into desired shapes. The structures of these pottery products, are put in a kiln and set on fire for around five to nine hours till it reaches 900 degrees C. Thereafter it is polished with local leaves called pasania pachiphylla (‘Chiro Na’ in the local language) which provides the luster to its surface. Since no chemicals, machinery or potters wheel is used in the making of this pottery it is very hygienic. Its also known to prevent morning sickness for pregnant women. Besides its medicinal values it holds an elite status in Manipur and is used during major occasions like marriage and Luira festival. Unlike most pottery, black pottery does not resort to the potter’s wheel. All shaping is done with the hand and with the help of moulds. The potters of this area do not use a wheel and, instead, use the coiled method of making pots. The pots are functional and, more often than not, black in colour, a result of the process followed and of the smoke stains while firing. Manipuri black pottery is made with a mixture of clay and powdered stone. After a thorough kneading, a large slab is rolled out and shaped into a cylinder. The cylinder is placed on a circular board, which, in turn, is placed on a stool. The potter then actually moves around the clay himself, shaping and forming the pot. The pot is supported from the inside with a rounded stone and beaten to the desired shape and thickness. Great dexterity is required as the internal pressure and external movement must be well co-ordinated to produce a perfect pot. The pot is usually finished by rubbing the surface with the reddish-brown seed of a wild creeper and finally with bees wax.

The characteristic gray or black cooking pots, the stout kettles, quaint bowls, mugs and nut trays, at times with a pacing of fine cane are trademarks of Longpi( black pottery)but now fresh design elements are being introduced both to extend the product range to include table lamps, candlestick holders and office collectibles as well as to embellish the existing pottery. This craft has today become an absolute must for eco friendly enthusiasts, since with a black background and few motifs, this art form expunges the great divide of practicality and ethnicity.

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