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The ancient art of Kashigars

Updated Apr 10, 2015 11:40am

Located by the left bank of River Indus in Sindh province of Pakistan, there is this quaint town of Hala, home to ancient artisanal Kashi artists called 'Kashigars'.

Amongst many handicrafts that Hala is popular for, glazed ceramic, earthenware and terracotta seem to be most popular in Pakistan.

These pots and tiles available in various shapes and sizes are famous for their exquisite hand painting. Using only signature colours that include cobalt blue, turquoise, mustard, purple, brown and white; this form of art is known as ‘Kashi Kari’. The Hala tiles and earthenware are massively exported to Middle East and Europe.

For over a century, generation after generation of ‘Kashigars’ have been moulding, shaping, painting, and making fire glazed tiles and earthenware.
For over a century, generation after generation of ‘Kashigars’ have been moulding, shaping, painting, and making fire glazed tiles and earthenware.
The Kashi art pottery is painted with the signature colours that include cobalt blue, turquoise, mustard, purple, brown and white.
The Kashi art pottery is painted with the signature colours that include cobalt blue, turquoise, mustard, purple, brown and white.
Each piece of tile is hand painted individually.
Each piece of tile is hand painted individually.
The artists draw beautiful flowers, geometric patterns and motifs, and Quranic versus in calligraphy that are then painted in vivid colours.
The artists draw beautiful flowers, geometric patterns and motifs, and Quranic versus in calligraphy that are then painted in vivid colours.
It takes more than 20 stages to manually produce each piece of art.
It takes more than 20 stages to manually produce each piece of art.

We had an exciting day hanging out at these workshops, which I would rather refer to as “pottery yards” since these are not one of those well-designed factories or pottery studios. These are organic, earthy and natural layouts in big open yards surrounded by bricks.

The yards are partially apportioned to stack and store drying products while the rest is used for the painting process. The actual process of sand and clay mixing, moulding, shaping, baking and glazing happens in the open courtyard.

There are four to five such yards in a small village that has nothing but narrow dusty lanes, lined with simple brick houses adjacent to the pottery workshops.

There are more than twenty stages that the material goes through before it develops in to a piece of artwork; all of which are carried out manually. The courtyard has heaps of natural materials being sifted, refined and mixed.

The quaint town of Hala, located on the left of the Indus river.
The quaint town of Hala, located on the left of the Indus river.
The artisans have never been to any art school, and have neither gone through any formal art education.
The artisans have never been to any art school, and have neither gone through any formal art education.
The tiles and utensils are designed and painted with beautiful flowers, leaves, geometric patterns and motifs.
The tiles and utensils are designed and painted with beautiful flowers, leaves, geometric patterns and motifs.
The pottery industry in Hala.
The pottery industry in Hala.
A ancient pottery yard.
A ancient pottery yard.

The most interesting part is the handmade wood fuelled furnace where the shaped pottery is fired for at least 15-20 hours before it is ready for painting.

I grabbed the opportunity at the yard and worked with Muhammad Bakhsh, one of the artist who taught me how to mould a flower vase on a potter’s wheel. Talking to Haji a potter based in Hala, I acquired that for centuries his family, one generation after another have been Kashigars.

Even the younger generation never thinks of any other profession but to learn the ancient art that their forefathers have been practicing. He was especially proud of his work on an array of minarets, dooms, columns and pillars. Besides floral patterns, geometric patterns and motifs, these master pieces also contain calligraphic work.

Using earth,water and fire to create crafts.
Using earth,water and fire to create crafts.
The variety of pots and tiles in different shapes are famous for their intricate and exquisite hand painting called ‘Kashi Kari’
The variety of pots and tiles in different shapes are famous for their intricate and exquisite hand painting called ‘Kashi Kari’
Just out of the furnace, the earthenware is left to cool under the shade before being painted and glazed.
Just out of the furnace, the earthenware is left to cool under the shade before being painted and glazed.
The furnace that uses mostly wood fire for fire baking and glazing pottery and tiles. Shaped pottery is fired for at least 15-20 hours at 800-900 degrees before it is ready for painting, glazing and then again firing to seal the glaze.
The furnace that uses mostly wood fire for fire baking and glazing pottery and tiles. Shaped pottery is fired for at least 15-20 hours at 800-900 degrees before it is ready for painting, glazing and then again firing to seal the glaze.
The pottery wheel.
The pottery wheel.

Despite being so talented and producing exquisite artwork, these families remain poor. Baksh said that he is bonded to a middleman and sells all his products to him at half the market price; leaving him with a meagre profit margin.

Many of the workers here have taken loans from middlemen and even if they get a good buyer, they are bound by an agreement with the middleman that stops them from selling there products to anyone else.

The craftsmen mentioned that their production can be better if there have steady power supply and they replace their manual pottery wheels with electricity powered wheels.