Pottery

The potters, involved in the clay craft are known as "kumhars" in India. The potters of Himachal Pradesh originally belong to Jammu, Rajasthan, and Punjab and are concentrated mainly in the villages of Kangra, Mandi, Kulu, Chamba, and Shimla. Their place of origin distinguishes their style of working.

In Himachal Pradesh, potters enjoy a relatively higher standard of living. This is because there is still a demand for earthenware vessels and there is a strong tradition of using clay figures and vessels for ritual occasions. The artisans are adept at creating clay items like pots, toys, money banks, pitchers, bowls, platters, cups, and lamps, flower vases of different shapes and sizes that are praised among the local people. Apart from these, figurines of gods and goddesses are also made by potters. Work of pottery in Himachal Pradesh is seasonal and stops in the winter months of mid-November to January and during summer from mid-May to July.

The various types of pots which are prepared in Himachal Pradesh are Gharra for containing water, Muggi for carrying water to the fields, Gharau, Dhunnu and Tudhunu for boiling milk, Muggru to carry milk for sale, Kawradu and Dhialu for yoghurt, Girriya for ghee (clarified butter), Parru for general use, Katori for vegetables, Girya for pickles and ghee, Kanatu for water drained from rice (then given to the animals), Handi for cooking, Kangri charcoal burning heater used in the winter, Hooka and Chillum for tobacco smoking, Goluk (money box), Auli ritual pot for marriage, plus other ritual pots for death and birth.

Kangra district is well-known for its distinct red and black pottery. The pots are embellished by painting on them with the traditional white and black colors or by inscribing popular linear and circular patterns with a knife mainly before firing. The products made are mainly for domestic use: gidya jugs for milk or ghee, patri bowl for curd or butter, and nareles or tobacco-smoking pots.

In Kangra, the barter system is still in operation for potters, wherein they are bound to exchange vessels with the landowners, for grain. The village potter makes pots that he distributes freely to village members. Later he collects his share of the harvest.

Barter system practice, also known as "Jajmani" system or Yardman system was an important element of the Indian economic system wherein occupational castes (potters, weavers, leather workers, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, barbers, washer men) performed various functions for upper castes and received grain in return.  

Otherwise he receives cash for his pots selling at local "melas" (festivals). These melas provide an important source of income for potters. Pots are made in preparation for forthcoming melas, mostly held at springtime. Many potters display their wares (normally the same range of pots, though decoration will be distinctive) and it is traditional for people to buy their pots there. The potter may also sell from a home shop, or if he is lucky he may be contracted to make many pots for someone.

Potters from Dheera village in the Kangra valley are the most popular. Their pottery is renowned throughout the valley. They make the usual range of domestic pottery, "ghada" (water-pot) "kadai" (cooking-pot), "chenari" (kitchen pot), "mughi" (lassi pot), "dhertari" (excellent for brewing rice beer), "buglai" (moneyboxes), "therlossi" (oil pot for massaging the baby), "martban" (pickle storage pot), "pari" (for the cow's milk), "chillums" (for smoking) "diya" (oil-lamp), and more. The Dheera potters are proud of their reputation and they are the only Kangra potters that use their own seal to distinguish their pots. According to these potters (and this is true) water is cool and sweet from a ghada, mughis make better curd, and food generally tastes better if prepared in clay pots. Dheera potters are specialists in making oil-lamps, chillums, and kadai, which they impress with their symbol, a flower. A special puja (religious ritual) called "Vishava Karma puja" is performed by all craftspeople once a year. On this day, they clean all their equipment and tools and do no work. Their tools are offered to God in recognition of the gift bestowed on them.

Volunteers will get an opportunity to observe and interact with the local pottery community.

Andretta

A 20-minute drive from Palampur in the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh, lies Andretta, a quaint artist village, which is a hub for art lovers. It is said to be established by an Irish theatre artiste and environmentalist Norah Richards (1876-1971), who lived there during the Partition. Richards arrived in Andretta in the 1920s and built a traditional Kangra-style mud house with a small outdoor theatre, which in no time became a centre for creative arts. Every year, in the month of March, Norah organized a weeklong festival in which students and villagers enacted her plays in an open-air theatre constructed on the premises of her estate. Among the guests, Prithvi Raj Kapoor and Balraj Sahni were the most regular ones. B C Sanyal, who played a key role in setting up the Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi was a frequent visitor.

Andretta village is home to the Andretta Pottery & Craft Society set up in 1983 by Mansimran "Mini" Singh, son of famous potter Gurcharan Singh (who set up Delhi Blue Art Pottery in 1952, inspired by blue Persian glaze), and his British wife Mary Singh. Equipped with a production studio, the facility provides three month courses for aspiring potters. Norah Richard's home is a 10-minute walk from the pottery society.