A potters’ world

Bindu Gopal Rao
Saturday, 4 January 2020

There is more to Pench in Madhya Pradesh than its jungles and this is what adds to its infinite charm

Would you like to see a potter’s village where every household makes pots?” asked my hosts at Kohka Wilderness Camp and my answer was an instant ‘Yes’. While Pench is known for the jungle that was the setting of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, there is much more to see and enjoy in Pench. If you are the kind of traveller who seeks offbeat experiences, this will sound like music to your ears. 

A 10 km drive from Pench through green landscapes led me to the small village of Pachdhar. The narrow kutcha roads of the village are dotted with houses that have one thing in common — all kinds of terracotta pots. The small village has roughly 100 families and is home to the kumhaars, a native potter community of the region.

Sourabh Ghosh and Sanjay Nagar, who run the NGO Kohka Foundation, explained that they came across Pachdhar while looking for artefacts for Kohka Wilderness Camp — their eco-friendly jungle retreat. When they commissioned work to the potters they found out that they continued to use manual wheels. This is when they decided to do workshops led by professional potters from Wardha in Maharashtra who taught the villagers to make tumblers, lanterns, lamps and pans. 

Walking through the small muddy road, I stopped at the home of one of the villagers who was busy at the wheel. With a small mound of damp clay next to him he was busy at work when I stepped inside his mud home painted blue and white (like almost all houses here). He explained that the basic raw material used is a combination of black soil and red soil, kneaded together with clay and water. Taking a small portion in his damp hands, he placed it on the wheel and started shaping it into a pot. Using a thread he cut off the base and held a well-defined pot in his hand. 

In fact, you can also try the process and the villagers will guide you as well. However, my pot (or rather what I thought was a pot) turned out looking nothing like one. Once the pots are ready they are placed in a kiln again made from natural materials like hay, firewood, broken pots and cow dung. The firing process also changes the colour from a dull grey to a bright terracotta shade and then the products are ready to be retailed. 

The potters of Pachdhar are seeing a revival of interest in their products now and expanding their product base as well. You can also find idols of goddesses and lamps that are in great  demand during Diwali. The villagers attribute the growing number of tourists who come through the hotels in the vicinity for the revival of their fortunes. 

The product range today includes terracotta chimes, animal figurines (especially tortoises) and kitchenware that are gaining a lot of traction as well. And while they benefit from private workshops there is still much that can be done to improve their lives. 

As I discussed this with a potter, I saw a small child sitting near the wet lamps. Naturally, I quizzed him if he would like his son to become a potter and he instantly said a ‘city job’ would be better as working on the wheel is hard. It’s a hard truth but I hope the craft survives. For now, I have memories of Pachdhar — many small lamps, a tortoise, a couple of pots and a figure of  Goddess Durga that I hope will help the artists in a small way.

How to reach
By Air: Nagpur airport is 110 km away
By Rail: Nagpur Railway Station is about 92 kms away
By Road: State and national highways connect Pench to other cities in the state
Best Season: November to March

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