Keeping the Pottery tradition alive

Vishnu Kumbhar from Senapati Kapashi village of Kolhapur district belongs to the 13th generation of Kumbhar family and makes sure that the art form is kept alive in modern times. 


May 8, 2017 | Sanket Jain

Senapati Kapashi is known for its Pottery and Kolhapuri Chappal industry. The potters from Kapashi are locally addressed as Kumbhars.

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Senapati Kapashi is the hotspot of authentic pottery industry in Kolhapur district.

The village has a tradition of passing the pottery art from one generation to another. Vishnu Ketru Kumbhar, 70 year old potter, belongs to the 13th generation of the Kumbhar family whose art work started back in 1857.

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Vishnu has been working for 55 years now.

Vishnu, who works 16 hours daily, starts his work at four in the morning. On an average, he makes 25 pots daily of 20 litres each.

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He proudly says, “I am an artist and a sculptor, though illiterate, but I do all the calculations of the business.”

It takes 2-5 days for making a pot. The clay used for it comes from Belgaum and some of the varieties used include tambdi mati, bhing mati.

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Different types of polish are used depending upon the demands of customers.

This oven (Bhatti) is used twice a week where 300 pots, each of 15 litres are baked together. It takes almost 5 hours to bake these pots.

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After baking, the pots move to the next stage where they are polished. 

Horse manure is mixed with clay so that the utensils develop a better tensile strength.

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Vishnu travels all the way to Nipani to get the horse manure.

He has passed these skills to next generations. Vishnu’s son, Prakash works in the nearby factory and also helps continue this tradition by assisting the family.

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He proudly says, “My natu (grandson) who is 10 years old made this pot. He isn’t muscular enough to beat the pot properly, so the pot is not that strong.

Entire Kumbhar family is involved in the pottery art.

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From left to right: Omkar Kumbhar, Vishnu Kumbhar, Prakash Kumbhar, Saritha Kumbhar.
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Grandson Omkar is in grade one and helps in making a few pots occasionally.

Kumbhars say that they haven’t witnessed a decline in their business, but the number of artists has reduced considerably. Vishnu recalls, “There were 180 artists in 1964, but now only 4 of them are into this business.”

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Vishnu says, “One of the reasons why number of artists has decreased is that we artists need alcohol and it is impossible to survive without an addiction. Hence, we artists don’t live longer.”

The pottery art work continues throughout the year, but kumbhars are also good sculptors. Three months before Ganesh festival, they start sculpting statues as there is a huge demand for the same.

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The statue has been made with organic materials.  

Several varieties of pots are made by Kumbhars and most of them are sold in the nearby cities of Kolhapur, Sangli and Ichalkaranji.

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There has been a considerable shift in the types of pots made by Kumbhars. “Today the designs differ completely from the ones made by my dad,” said Vishnu.

Potter’s wheel is slowly being replaced with machines as several potters have grown old and suffer from back problems.

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Potter’s wheel is one of the equipment which has consistently been used right from the first generation.

Talking about the history, Vishnu said that earlier no Kumbhars existed in Senapati Kapashi. In 1751, one of the descendants of Santaji Ghorpade, brought three Kumbhars from Shikhar Shingnapur village and allocated 24 acres of land to them. It was back then, when the history of pottery actually started here.
The Kumbhar family has successfully managed to pass on the tradition to its 15th generation. However, the artists complain that they aren’t acknowledged by the state and are merely reduced to the tag of Kumbhar.

Photos: Sanket Jain

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