Pottery in the Indian subcontinent has an ancient history and is one of the most tangible and iconic elements of regional art. Evidence of pottery has been found in the early settlements of Mehrgarh from the Indus Valley Civilization. Today, it is a cultural art that is still practiced extensively in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Until recent times all Indian pottery has been earthenware, including terracotta. Hindu traditions historically discouraged the use of pottery for eating off, which probably explains the noticeable lack of traditions of fine or luxury pottery in South Asia, in contrast to East Asia and other parts of Eurasia.
Today, pottery thrives as an art form in India, and it is slowly gaining awareness as a functional items as well. Various platforms, including potters’ markets and online pottery boutiques have contributed to this trend.
Indus Valley Civilization
Indus valley has a great and ancient tradition of pottery making. The origin of pottery in India can be traced back to the neolithic age, with coarse handmade pottery – bowls, jars, vessels – in various colors such as red, orange, brown, black and cream. The real beginning of Indian pottery is with the Indus Valley Civilization. There is proof of pottery being constructed in two ways, handmade and wheel-made. Harappan and Mohanjodaro cultures heralded the age of wheel-made pottery, characterized by well-burnt black painted red wares.
Red Polished Ware (Gujarat)
The Red Polished Ware (RPW) is found in great quantities in Gujarat, especially in the Kathiawar region. Commonly, it consist of domestic forms like cooking pots, and it dates to around first century BC. But this type of ware also is widely distributed in other places in India. It is found at Baroda, Timberva (Surat), Vadnagar, Vala, Prabhas, Sutrapada, Bhandaria, and many other places. The use of this pottery continued for many centuries.
Early on, the scholars considered this pottery as a diagnostic marker for ‘Indo-Roman trade’, showing the possibility of the Roman empire influence. Also, this type of pottery was identified at sites bordering the Persian Gulf, so it became significant for the research on the Indian Ocean trade. Red Polished Ware was first identified in 1953 by B. Subbarao. According to him, a “high degree of finish led to consider it as an imported ware or at least an imitation of the Roman Samian Ware“.