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, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Until recent times all Indian pottery has been earthenware, including terracotta.

Hindu traditions historically discouraged the use of pottery for eating off, which probably explains the noticeable lack of traditions of fine or luxury pottery in South Asia, in contrast to East Asia and other parts of Eurasia. Large jars for the storage of water or other things form the largest part of traditional Indian pottery, as well as objects such as lamps.

Today, pottery thrives as an art form in India. 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 culture 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] Harappan 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]

Red Polished Ware (Gujarat)[edit]

The Red Polished Ware (RPW) is found in great quantities in Gujarat, especially in the Kathiawar region.[4] Commonly, it consist of domestic forms like cooking pots, and it dates to around first century BC.

But this type of ware also is widely distributed in other places in India. It is found at Baroda, Timberva (Surat), Vadnagar, Vala, Prabhas, Sutrapada, Bhandaria, and many other places. The use of this pottery continued for many centuries.

Early on, the scholars considered this pottery as a diagnostic marker for ‘Indo-Roman trade’, showing the possibility of the Roman empire influence. Also, this type of pottery was identified at sites bordering the Persian Gulf, so it became significant for the research on the Indian Ocean trade.

Red Polished Ware was first identified in 1953 by B. Subbarao.[5] According to him, a "high degree of finish led to consider it as an imported ware or at least an imitation of the Roman Samian Ware".[6]

But in 1966 S. R. Rao in his report on Amreli rejected this possibility of a Roman influence. He insisted on an indigenous origin as none of the forms shared the shapes of Roman prototype.[7] He presented a broad variety of vessel types consisting of clay suitable to that definition. Instead he referred to a similarity of vessels of Black Ware with polished surface [Black Polished ware] from the same site noted in layers beyond the first occurrence of RPW.[8]

According to Heidrun Schenk, the pottery defined as RPW consists of two very distinct functional groups. Thus, the subject needs more precise classification and dating.

One group belongs to the local pottery development of a region around Gujarat -- mostly domestic vessels like cooking pots. The core area of this group is western India, but it is also distributed elsewhere on the western littoral of the Indian Ocean.

The other group are the very specialized types of the 'sprinkler' and 'spouted' water jars, that often go together. This special group is widely found in the eastern region of the Indian Ocean, throughout the South Asian subcontinent and South East Asia with many different fabrics. This group represents a later development continuing well into the Middle Ages.

In particular, in Tissamaharama, in the Southern Province of Sri Lanka, a good stratigraphy is found.

Early Red Polished Ware is often associated with the Northern Black Polished ware (NBP), and goes back to 3rd century BC.[9]

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 present-day Northern India. Glazed pottery of Persian models with Indian designs, dating back to the Sultanate period, has been found in Gujarat and Maharashtra.


Main Production Hub for Ceramic Matka (માટલા, ઞેારા) is Thangadh,Gujarat,India. There are many type ans size of these matka (matla) are available.
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.[10]

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.[10]

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.[10]

Terracotta sculpture[edit]

Terracotta is the term used for unglazed earthenware, and for ceramic sculpture made in it. 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 modelling for using moulds 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.[11] Often women prepare clay figures to propitiate their gods and goddesses, during festivals. In Moela deities are created with moulded clay on a flat surface. They are then fired and painted in bright colours. Other parts of India use this style to make figures like horses with riders, sometimes votive offerings.[10]

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. ^ Patel, A. and S.V. Rajesh (2007) Red Polished Ware (RPW) in Gujarat, Western India – An Archaeological Perspective. Prãgdharã 17 (2006-07): 89-111
  5. ^ Subbarao, 1953: 32
  6. ^ Sankalia, Subbarao and Deo, 1958: 46-47
  7. ^ Rao, 1966: 51
  8. ^ Heidrun Schenk, Role of ceramics in the Indian Ocean maritime trade during the Early Historical Period. In: Sila Tripati (ed.) Maritime Contacts of the Past – Deciphering Connections Amongst Communities, pp. 143-181. New Delhi: Delta Book World, 2015 www.academia.edu
  9. ^ Heidrun Schenk, Role of ceramics in the Indian Ocean maritime trade during the Early Historical Period. In: Sila Tripati (ed.) Maritime Contacts of the Past – Deciphering Connections Amongst Communities, pp. 143-181. New Delhi: Delta Book World, 2015 www.academia.edu
  10. ^ a b c d (http://lifestyle.iloveindia.com/lounge/indian-pottery-2141.html)
  11. ^ C. A. Galvin, et al. "Terracotta.", section 5, Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed July 23, 2015, subscription required

Other sources[edit]

  • 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)