As pottery art is gradually fading away, a village in North Kashmir’s Palhallan area is fighting against the odds to keep the art alive. Around 35-40 families in this village are associated with this art. They say they now make tandoors (cylindrical clay oven) only as it is the only thing that has remained of the ebbing art.
The tandoors made here in Palhallan are of high quality. They are famous across Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh for their durability and long life.
For the past several decades, each year around 600-650 tandoors are being manufactured in Palhallan, then they are sold in different parts of India.
Abdul Rashid Kumar, a local from Kumar Mohalla of Palhallan, said pottery art is witnessing massive decline over the past two decades and now tandoor is the last hope of this dying art.
He says during summers, his four-member team prepares over 100 tandoors and later they sell them locally, and sometimes they are dispatched to Ladakh, Jammu and other regions of India. Tandoors prepared in Palhallan are known for their soil quality and heat retention, he said.
“We had once received orders from New Delhi and other parts of India. There is still a good market and we are exploring new opportunities and options each passing day.
“The art is dying because of lack of financial viability. New generation of youth refuse to take to wheels and they are unaware of changed and advanced techniques of this art,” Kumar said.
He said from molding clay till its final stage, it takes them eight straight days to prepare a tandoor and then for next eight days it is kept in sunshine so that it dries c0mpletely. There are two major categories of tandoors being manufactured including traditional clay tandoors and drum tandoors used in hotels, he said.
The 50-year-old says they are more focused on tandoor work as it provides livelihood to them. “We are thankful to the Almighty as at least we are getting something in this time of huge unemployment crisis the world over.”
A tandoor sells from 1700 to 5500 rupees, Kumar said, adding that there is a good demand for baker tandoors in the valley. “Last year despite Covid-19, there was a good sale of tandoors in Kashmir, which kept us going,” he said.
Kumar said people associated with this art are facing problems here in getting the clay soil used in making pottery products. “We have an abundance of soil available but at many places extraction of minor minerals like clay has been banned by the authorities,” he said.
“Most of the time tractors loaded with soil and sand are being stopped which is hampering our work,” he said.
Over the past decades, he said, the new generation is turning to other professions as there is little to no support from the government.
Kashmir has a rich history of pottery. It is believed that pottery was considered as one of the important arts in the Valley.
Mohammad Ashraf Kumar, who is also associated with manufacturing of tandoors in Palhallan, said following the modernization and industrialization, pottery has witnessed a downward spiral in the valley.
Blaming high prices of necessary raw materials for the fall of industry and lack of support from the government, Ashraf says, “high prices of essential material like clay and wood has affected the industry adversely.”
“Although tandoors manufactured in Palhallan have a unique name. Even people from far-flung areas love to set up our tandoors. Prices at which we sell are very low as compared to the hard work of moulding the clay, but there is unemployment everywhere so we are continuing with this work,” he said.
“Earlier we used to sell other pottery products as well but they have been replaced by plastic, steel and copper utensils. Now we are trying to focus only on tandoors. It is the work of our forefathers and we will try to keep it alive despite many challenges,” he said.
Ashraf, who is associated with this business for the past 30 years, says due to difficulties in getting manufacturing material, he doesn’t see the new generation to take this mission forward unless they replace it with new technologies.
"Art never dies, it will keep changing its forms and will survive in various forms despite challenges," Ashraf added.