All About The GI-Tagged Nizamabad Black Pottery

Take home a piece of the 500-year-old craft of the Nizamabad black pottery, the perfect souvenir from the ancient land of Uttar Pradesh
GI-tagged Nizamabad black pottery products.
GI-tagged Nizamabad black pottery products. Wikimedia Commons/Aishik Rehman

In Azamgarh, the easternmost district of Uttar Pradesh, lies Nizamabad, famed for its lustrous black pottery. It is a significant contributor to the region's finances, even though agriculture is the mainstay of the people here. The mica-rich clay from the local ponds of Nizamabad is ideal for the pottery practised here, and it was granted the Geographical Indicator (GI) tag in 2015. It is also covered by the government's One District, One Product (ODOP) initiative.

Adopted And Owned

It is believed that black pottery took root in Nizamabad due to a qazi's efforts during the rule of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. The qazi brought the art and craft of black pottery from Kutch, Gujarat, where it was first developed. Once the local Nizamabadi artisans made the craft their own, the pottery became highly prized and recognised as endemic to the region.

Black Is Beautiful

Currently, about 200 artisans are involved in making a variety of products of black pottery, a labour-intensive task. The potters procure the clay during the summer months and store it in their homes for use throughout the year. The product goes through several repeated processes to emerge in its glorious dark avatar. 

Once the product is taken off the potter's wheel, it is sun-dried for several days, and then a layer of mustard oil is applied to strengthen it and create lustre. A second round on the potter's wheel ensures removal, via scraping, of any anomalies in the shape, etc. Then, the women of the household get together and, using a fine needle, carve the patterns on the dried clay, which is once again slathered in mustard oil, and loaded into the kiln to be fired again.

The pottery's colour is primarily due to the purposefully created oxygen-free conditions of the kiln. Oxygen will turn the clay red; therefore, the potters ensure that the kilns are air-tight to achieve the desired results. A fuel-intensive method, which involves baking the clay pieces for about 15 days in the furnace or kiln or, aawan, as it is locally called, produces about 300 pieces. The lacquer application enhances the black pottery's lustre while it is still hot from the kiln. Lastly, silvery paint made of crushed lead, zinc, and mercury is used to fill in the grooves of the patterns. 

Black pottery in the making
Black pottery in the making

A Light On The Darkness

Nowadays, the artisans of the Nizamabad black pottery have also resorted to making the usual red terracotta items to boost their financial situation. Due to malpractices in the supply chain leading to the lack and high expense of raw materials, especially clay, and silvery paint ingredients, many artisans find alternate employment routes or altogether abandon the craft of black pottery. What is a potter without clay and a fiery kiln However, renewed efforts, in the form of resources and raw materials, training of additional and previously non-artisan communities, roping in of online retailers, et al., by the government, and the local NGOs may return some hope to the artisans, who have had this craft handed down to them through generations of expert craftspeople.  

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