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Jaipur Blue Pottery
Blue pottery craft originated in central Asia in the 14th century when Mongol craftsmen fused the Chinese glazing technique with the decorative art form of Persia. It is believed that this technique of art reached the Indian subcontinent with conquests by Turkic rulers in the early 14th century. During its infancy, this foreign technique was primarily used to make glazed tiles to bedeck mosques, tombs, temples, and palaces across the Central Asian region. Later, the Mughals began using them and worked towards developing this art form. Gradually, it grew beyond an architectural accessory and became a part of Indian pottery. From there, the technique of blue pottery traveled to the plains of Delhi and finally reached the city of Jaipur in the 17th century.
Other accounts of the craft state that the technique of blue pottery came to Jaipur in the early 19th century under Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II(1835 – 1880). The Jaipur king had sent local artisans to Delhi to be trained in this Indian craft. Some specimens of older ceramic work can be seen in the famous Rambagh Palace of Jaipur, where the fountains are lined with vibrant blue tiles. Surviving many upheavals, this famed blue pottery had almost vanished from Jaipur by the 1950s. It was revived by the efforts of renowned artist Kripal Singh Shekhawat and support of the patrons such as Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur, and Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay, distinguished freedom fighter and social reformer.
The Making of Blue Pottery
The process of making Jaipur blue pottery is both tedious and time-consuming. First, the dough is prepared by combining various minerals and gums and then it is flattened into a smooth pancake shape with a traditional wooden tool called thepai. The dough is then set in molds, their edges trimmed with knives and the insides filled with ash so that accidental deformation does not happen. Once the mold is set, the ash is removed and the surface of the items are polished manually with sandpaper. Now a white paste which is made by mixing flour, ground quartz and glass is coated on the item and it is left to dry. Finally, the design is outlined on the dried, coated item with a solution of cobalt oxide and gum and the painting is done with the delicate squirrel hair brushes. A final coating of glaze and baking in the coal or wood-fired kiln finished the product and the entire process takes approximately 15-20 days.
How Jaipur became hub of Blue Pottery
It is believed that once King/Sawai Ram Singh II attended a kite flying competition where he witnessed two brothers from Achnera bring down the royal kites of his kite masters. Intrigued, he wanted to know their secret and found out that the brothers were potters who had coated their strings with the same blue-green glass that they used for making their pots. Sawai Ram Singh II was impressed that he invited the potters to stay in Jaipur and spread their knowledge of this unique blue glazed pottery at his new school for arts and crafts. Many old specimens of Jaipur Blue Pottery can be seen in the form of tiles decorating fountains at the Rambagh Palace and till today historians are divided over why their popularity suddenly dipped.