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Black days of Nizamabad’s black pottery

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Nizamabad –a backward town around 20 kilometers away from the district headquarter of Azamgarh, boasts of one of India’s oldest hub of traditional black pottery. This peculiar cast features a shiny black surface with engraved silver embroidery. It is said that the craft is more than 500 years old and that it flourished in the times of Mughals to its fullest. Unlikely so today, the potters of Nizamabad are either giving away their cultural profession or are living in extreme poverty. The Second Angle visited Nizamabad to meet these potters. Here’s what we learned:

The history of Nizamabad’s black pottery:

While there’s no written record of its origin available unlike other Indian crafts, this traditional and unique artistry is said to be more than 500 years old. In the book Homemade in India which is edited by Aditi Ranjan and MP Ranjan, the editors’ noted, ‘according to historical accounts the art of black pottery came from Gujarat. The ancestors of these potters accompanied Abdul Farah Nizamabadi to the village during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, 400 years ago’. It is possible that given the patronage of the emperor, this art flourished.

“In 1905, there is a certificate given by the British for a product made here using Naqqashi technique”, told Anand Prajapati, a potter from Nizamabad, to The Second Angle.

The Black Pottery:

The potters of Nizamabad make distinctive fashioned black pottery incised with silver motifs. The black color of the pottery is the outcome of a clay slip and reduction firing. The clay slip contains among other things, mango bark and bamboo leaves, all of which carbonize in the firing.   Subsequently, these clay wares are washed with powdered vegetable matter and rubbed with mustard oil. Further, they are decorated with floral and geometric patterns using sharp twigs. Lastly, after some more baking, the clay wares are then designed with silvery powder of Zinc and Mercury. A variety of household and decorative items are made using this technique, including vases, plates, bowls, mementos and even 32-pieces dinner sets.

The black days:

Anand Prajapati is awarded four times for his outstanding pottery, but the government award hasn’t made his life any easier. He lives in his small two-storey ancestral house with his family. All his family members work with Anand to make both ends meet.

“Isko karne mein ab labh nahi reh gaya hai”, says Anand when asked if he is happy doing the business.

He further adds, “The condition has come to this that even people of our potter community buy plastic glasses in their weddings, it’s a shame for us”.

The ever-increasing rates of raw-materials, the unavailability of mud and declining demand for these items have pushed many potters away from the art. Many of them have started doing other odd jobs for livelihood.

“Koi bitiya tak nahi deta hai apni ham logo ko, kahte hain inke yaha biyaah karayenge to bitiya ko mitti ka kaam karayenge”, says Shivratan Prajapati, who has left pottery and has started driving auto in the outskirts of the town. He says he earns better than what he used to earn out of pottery.

While people like Shivratan are giving up the job, Anand’s 23-year-old daughter Bandana Prajapati has 15 state awards, and she is very hopeful about her fate in the art of pottery. She’s currently enrolled in a graduate course in a nearby college and aspires to start an online business with her products.

“Yahan nahi khareedta hai koi, bides mein bahut bikega. Hum sab online kar denge”, says Bandana.

While young guns like Bandana are taking up their family’s traditional art, the government must look into it and provide aid to these potters who have kept this traditional art alive.

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