Many years ago, when I was doing my internship with a leading publication house in Delhi, I was commissioned to cover a pottery exhibition organized by a close friend of my publisher. I first thought it to be a promotional activity between two friends but that coverage proved to be much more than that. Besides, it impressed me to a large extent. That day, I realized that almost every second ceramic product that we all use in our household comes from Khurja. The exhibition was a means to promote the highly skilled artisans and the stunning art form from Khurja, a small town in the Bulandshahar district of U.P.
After taking some pictures of the colourful products, I decided to wait for some quotes from the organizer. As I sat quietly in a corner, I got a chance to converse with one of the potters, Ram Kumar, living in the bylanes of Khurja. As we chatted on the topic, he told me that the art of making this beautiful pottery is passed down from generations in his family. His forefathers descended from Multan (now in Pakistan) during the Mughal period and settled in Khurja. Ram Kumar felt proud as he narrated a well-known story that during World War II in 1940, the British ordered the artisans of Khurja to manufacture few ceramic loo seats for their soldiers on the battlefield. They were so impressed by the craftsmanship of these artisans that the British decided to promote the pottery art and this small town of Khurja came to be known as the ceramic hub of India.
Khurja pottery has a satisfactory domestic demand, though the industry continues to thrive majorly on exports. The ceramic products range from daily utility items such as crockery, kitchen, and bath accessories to home décor items like pots, vases, lamps, and showpieces.
Ram Kumar proudly says, “My grandfather was very particular with his art. A slight mistake in any of the processes involved was a reason enough to make him angry.” He further added, “Making these ceramic wares is a complex process and if not done carefully, the products are prone to many errors. Then we need to discard these products. This means a loss of time, money and health. To craft a masterpiece, we need to give our complete attention and dedication.”
Among the most popular glazed pottery forms, Khurja pottery is a lead-free pottery art and the process of making these ceramic wares is quite complex involving laborious tasks such as clay mixing, moulding, colouring, and finally glazing the coloured products in kilns.
Today, Khurja Pottery is not just limited to basic utility and decorative items only. Most of the pottery units in Khurja are involved in manufacturing HT/LT insulators, ceramic tiles, grinding balls, switches and electronic goods, sanitary ware, certain scientific goods, bone china crockery, and chemical porcelain.
Modernization in the pottery industry has caused exports to rise and gain new heights. Countries like the USA, UK, UAE, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada are the major export hubs for Khurja Pottery. Besides several initiatives being taken by the government of Uttar Pradesh, many designers and art connoisseurs are taking both professional and personal interests to renew the art by training these potters to meet the demands of modern consumers.
The growing interest of both domestic and international markets in this timeless art has put a lot of pressure on the artisans to increase their production. This has led to a large-scale imitation and production of cheap substitutes of this traditional pottery from Khurja. To preserve the uniqueness of this art form and the rights of Khurja Potters’, a Geographical Indication certificate (GI tag) was awarded to Khurja Pottery in the year 2015.