Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Jaipur Blues: A Tale of Glazed Blue Pottery of India

This winter I was in Jaipur for a few days. Since I am a Dehli'ite, this was obviously not my first trip to the Pink City.

Therefore, I steered clear of the tourist circuit and went searching for local flavors in handicraft shops and decided to visit Blue Pottery workshops.

Blue Pottery meandered its way into India in the 1700s all the way from Egypt via Persia and Kabul through Mongolia and pretty much most of West Asia. There are many stories around this craft - some as colorful as the pottery itself and all available on the Internet. So, I'll not get into it at all.

The Mughals and the Rajputs took to them with equal fervor. Many mosques and mausoleums were beautified using these 'Turkish tiles' in 18th and 19th century India.

Blue Gumbad in Delhi at Humayun's Tomb crossing
If you have the interest in looking for the obvious, you can find it on plenty of domes and walls dating back from Mughal rule scattered all around.

Of course, the Blue Mosque in Afghanistan is the most spectacular of the lot and the most photographed as well. One cannot not close their eyes and not see that one shot by Steve McCurry that slays all shots taken of the mosque before or since. Everything clicked since come out looking like a fake of that iconic picture - if that is possible! :D

Steve McCurry's Iconic Picture of Mazaar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan

Anyhow, I took an auto-rickshaw from my hotel by the famous Jal Mahal and went to town and found myself in shop that also was a workshop owned by the Doraya family called, Blue Craft Studio. I met there, Anil Doraya who is a National Award winning craftsman and the ninth generation practitioner of this craft.

Now into the 10th generation, the entire Doraya family practices, designs, teaches and sells blue pottery. The place smelt more of passion than business as Doraya showed me how the pottery is made from scratch.

A funny fact about Blue Pottery - it is the only pottery in the word that is not made with clay!

The basic ingredients used are the same as was used by the ancient Mongols and Egyptians and in Persia and Mesopotamia.

A mixture of, ground quartz stone, powdered glass, katira gond (glue), eatable gond, Multani mitti (fuller's earth), Saaji (soda bicarbonate/bentonite), maida (wheat flour),  Borax, zinc oxide, potassium nitrate and boric acid and water is ground in a stone grinder (the same kind as used for wheat) to make the 'clay'. Hey! What???

However, since I love colors and glittery exteriors - I'm not complaining.

It is made almost the same way as it was in ancient Egypt. Go figure that!

The Blue Glazed Pottery is not only ancient, it is also immensely usable as crockery, tea service, water jugs, pegs and as wall tiles. Yes, it is expensive. But, I just told you how many ingredients are used to make the dough. After the dough is prepared, it is molded, cleaned, shaped, if required, a base is added using a potter's wheel, then, smoothed and coated with a layer of powdered glass, ground quartz and maida. Mind you, all the above steps are done manually!

Then, the product is hand-painted painstakingly.

Finally, the piece is glazed using a mixture of powdered glass, Borex or suhaaga, zinc oxide, potassium nitrate and Boric acid. This mixture is heated in the kiln till it melts. On cooling, it turns into small pebbles. It is then ground into powder in the grinding machine. This is then, mixed with water and maida (for an adhesive) and the solution is coated on the vessel - all by human hands.

At the end, the pieces are baked in a kiln.

That sounded like a long and painful process but, that is the reason why we need to pay for craft.

Another reason to buy Blue Pottery is of course fear of extinction. Like most other crafts, blue Pottery in India too has almost met with extinction more than once.

It came with the Mughals and flourished during their early regime. They used these tiles extensively to beautify the palaces and mausoleums they built across India. However, during the reign of Aurangzeb when all Arts came under the scanner, this craft also got the axe. However, it was the Rajput kings of Rajasthan, especially the Jaipur dynasty that gave it another lease of life hence, it is called Jaipur Blue Pottery now!

The Hindu kings invited the craftsmen from Delhi to come to Jaipur and work there. There are again many stories here and all available on the Internet. However, this craft was revived once more in the last decade since it had again gone into decline after the abolition of Royalty once India became a democracy!

And even if that doesn't make you want to stock some up, you obviously either don't like the color blue, art or you have skipped the paragraphs and only looked at the pictures.

If you have NOT gone, hopping, skipping and jumping and have loved all the pictures here and love history and art then, go and buy some for your home and get that Royal feeling.

For all those who are planning a visit to Jaipur this year, I'd suggest that you look into one of the Blue Pottery workshops that dot the city. It would be something new to do and off the normal tourist trap.


  1. Nice post! And lovely photos. Thanks for writing this up.

    1. Thanks Amy for stopping by and reading. I am trying to showcase the dying crafts of India through my series here. This was the first. next, I am planning on Dokra. Do join on emails so you can keep getting updates of the latest blogs. :)


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