Pottery in the Indian subcontinent

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Modern pots for sale in Jaipur, India.
Storage jar. C. 2700-2000 BC. Mature Harappan period. Chanhudaro. Pakistan. National Museum, New Delhi

Pottery in the Indian subcontinent has an ancient history and is one of the most tangible and iconic elements of regional art. Evidence of pottery has been found in the early settlements of Mehrgarh from the Indus Valley Civilization. Today, it is a cultural art that is still practiced extensively in India and Pakistan. Until recent times all Indian pottery has been earthenware, including terracotta.

Today, pottery thrives as an art form in India, and it is slowly gaining awareness as a functional items as well. Various platforms, including potters' markets and online pottery boutiques have contributed to this trend.


Horned figure on pottery. Pré-Indus civilization. Kashmir.

Vedic pottery[edit]

Wilhelm Rau (1972) has examined the references to pottery in Vedic texts like the Black Yajur Veda and the Taittiriya Samhita. According to his study, Vedic pottery is for example hand-made and unpainted. According to Kuzmina (1983), Vedic pottery that matches Willhelm's Rau description cannot be found in Asia Minor and Central Asia, though the pottery of Andronovo is similar in some respects.[1]

Indus Valley Civilization[edit]

Indus valley has a great and ancient tradition of pottery making. The origin of pottery in India can be traced back to the neolithic age, with coarse handmade pottery - bowls, jars, vessels - in various colors such as red, orange, brown, black and cream. The real beginning of Indian pottery is with the Indus Valley Civilization. There is proof of pottery being constructed in two ways, handmade and wheel-made.[2] Harrappan and Mohanjodaro cultures heralded the age of wheel-made pottery, characterized by well-burnt black painted red wares.

Painted Grey Ware[edit]

Painted Grey Ware, Sonkh, Mathura (Uttar Pradesh) - 1000-600 BCE. Mathura Museum.

During first millennium BC, painted grey ware was found in parts of North India and the Gangetic plain. Decorated pottery becomes significant in the Shunga, Kushan and Gupta periods.[3]

Turko-Mughal period[edit]

The phase of glazed pottery started in the 12th century AD, when Turkic Muslim rulers encouraged potters from Persia, Central Asia and elsewhere to settle in India. Glazed pottery of Persian models with Indian designs, dating back to the Sultanate period, has been found in Gujarat and Maharashtra.


A roadside sale of water storage pottery earthenware Matka Matki on Jamnagar Highway. India.
Pottery paintig at Kolkata.
Clay pots in Punjab, Pakistan

Over time India's simple style of molding clay went into an evolution. A number of distinct styles emerged from this simple style. Some of the most popular forms of pottery include unglazed pottery, glazed pottery, terracotta, and papier-mache.[4]

Unglazed pottery[edit]

This is the oldest form of pottery practiced in India. There are three types of unglazed pottery. First is paper thin pottery, biscuit-colored pottery decorated with incised patterns. Next is the scrafito technique; the pot is polished and painted with red and white slips along with intricate patterns. The third is polished pottery; this type of pottery is strong and deeply incised, and has stylized patterns of arabesques.[4]

Glazed pottery[edit]

This era of pottery began in the 12th century AD. This type of pottery contains a white background and has blue and green patterns. Glazed pottery is only practiced in selected regions of the country.[4]


Terracotta is the term used for ceramic sculpture. Indian sculpture made heavy use of terracotta from a very early period (with stone and metal sculpture being rather rare), and in more sophisticated areas had largely abandoned modeling for using molds by the 1st century BC. This allows relatively large figures, nearly up to life-size, to be made, especially in the Gupta period and the centuries immediately following it. Several vigorous local popular traditions of terracotta folk sculpture remain active today, such as the Bankura horses.[5] Often women prepare clay figures to propitiate their gods and goddesses, during festivals. In Moela deities are created with molded clay on a flat surface. They are then fired and painted in bright colors. Other parts of India use this style to make figures like horses with riders, and other votives.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (see Edwin Bryant, Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture, 2001:211-212)
  2. ^ (http://www.culturalindia.net/indian-crafts/indian-pottery.html)
  3. ^ Keshav Chandra Gupta (1 January 1988). Progress and Prospects of Pottery Industry in India: A Case Study of U.P. Mittal Publications. pp. 18–. ISBN 978-81-7099-051-2. Retrieved 18 April 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d (http://lifestyle.iloveindia.com/lounge/indian-pottery-2141.html)
  5. ^ C. A. Galvin, et al. "Terracotta.", section 5, Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed July 23, 2015, subscription required
  • Jarrige, Jean-François: 1985, Continuity and change in the North Kachi Plain at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, in J Schotsmans and M. Taddei (eds.) South Asian Archaeology, Naples 1983. Instituto Universatirio Orientale.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bhagat, S. S. 1999. Studio potters of India. New Delhi: All India Fine Arts & Crafts Society.
  • Lal, Anupa, Anuradha Ravindranath, Shailan Parker, and Gurcharan Singh. 1998. Pottery and the legacy of Sardar Gurcharan Singh. New Delhi: Delhi Blue Pottery Trust.
  • Perryman, Jane. 2000. Traditional pottery of India. London: A. & C. Black.
  • Rau, Wilhelm. 1972. Töpferei und Tongeschirr im vedischen Indien Mainz: Verl. d. Akad. d. Wiss. u. d. Lit. - 71 pages.

(Abhandlungen der Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaftlichen Klasse / Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur in Mainz ; 1972,10)

  • Satyawadi, Sudha. 1994. Proto-Historic Pottery of Indus Valley Civilisation : Study of Painted Motifs.
  • Shah, Haku. 1985. Form and many forms of mother clay: contemporary Indian pottery and terracotta : exhibition and catalogue. New Delhi: National Crafts Museum, Office of the Development Commissioner for Handicrafts, Govt. of India.
  • Singh, Gurcharan . 1979. Pottery in India. New Delhi: Vikas.