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Potters in Bhaktapur crushed by the pandemic

Shortage of good clay and the younger generation’s lack of interest in pottery were always challenges. Now the pandemic has nearly wiped out any hope for potters to carry on


Nepalnews
2021 Jul 29, 16:51, Bhaktapur
Potters drying their terracotta pots in the sun at Pottery Square, Bhaktapur on July 28, 2021 Photo: Prasan Gurung/Nepalnews

The streets of Bhaktapur were always busy with people and vehicles passing by. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic hitting hard across the country, Bhaktapur now carries a deserted look, which has not only affected the tourist business of the place but also the sales of locally made ceramics.

Traditionally, it is said that the ‘Prajapati’ clan of the Newar community are renowned for pottery and such handicraft skills have been passed from previous generations.

Tayaram Prajapati, who has been making and selling ceramics for almost 17 years, learnt to make potteries from his father who learnt it from his forefathers.

But sadly, while the production has been going strong for making the ceramics, the sales have declined.

Taya Ram Prajapati making a clay piggy bank at Pottery Square, Bhaktapur on July 28, 2021
Photo: Prasan Gurung/Nepalnews
Taya Ram Prajapati making a clay piggy bank at Pottery Square, Bhaktapur on July 28, 2021 Photo: Prasan Gurung/Nepalnews

“I make khutrukes (Piggy banks), and tukki battis (oil lamps). And even during the lockdown, everyone here at the pottery square has been working. But the sad part is the decline in the sales with no tourists in sight and no export demand,” explains Prajapati.

Potters from Bhaktapur export their goods to many different places in the country. However, transactions have not been possible ever since the lockdown was imposed.

Pottery requires a big input of time, energy and skills.

After giving the shape to the clay, it is left outside to sunbathe for a few days, and then it is coloured and fired at 1,200 degrees Celsius. Prajapati says “We have a place built where we burn wood to fire the clay pots for 12 hours. Then we leave it there for a day.”


Shova Laxmi Prajapati making a oil lamp at Pottery Square, Bhaktapur on July 28, 2021
Photo: Prasan Gurung/Nepalnews
Shova Laxmi Prajapati making a oil lamp at Pottery Square, Bhaktapur on July 28, 2021 Photo: Prasan Gurung/Nepalnews

Swova Laxmi Prajapati learned to make terracotta pots and lamps from her husband and his family.

Swova says, “It has been over 20 years that I have been doing this. But things have changed over the years. While we learned from our family, the younger generation has no interest in making pots and selling them. My son also does not like working as a potter which makes me wonder about the future of traditional pottery making.”


As the learning is passed from generation to generation, there is likely to be fewer traditional potters in the times to come. And many potters from Bhaktapur have already expressed their views on the topic.

Satya Laxmi Prajapati, 75-year-old potter, has been making pots for as long as she can remember. She says she makes around 200 small pots in a day by herself. “I have a son but he does not like doing pottery,” says Satya.


Satya Laxmi Prajapati making a clay pot at Pottery Square, Bhaktapur on July 28, 2021
Photo: Prasan Gurung/Nepalnews
Satya Laxmi Prajapati making a clay pot at Pottery Square, Bhaktapur on July 28, 2021 Photo: Prasan Gurung/Nepalnews

But it is not the only problem that potters have been facing.

Che Bahadur Prajapati, who runs a family shop and makes terracotta, says, “We always had access to clay here at Bhaktapur. But as urbanisation is growing, the potters are facing a scarcity of good quality clay.”



Che Bahadur Prajapati, owner of Jetha Ganesh Pottry Shop Satya Laxmi Prajapati making a clay pot at Pottery Square, Bhaktapur on July 28, 2021. 
Photo: Prasan Gurung/Nepalnews
Che Bahadur Prajapati, owner of Jetha Ganesh Pottry Shop Satya Laxmi Prajapati making a clay pot at Pottery Square, Bhaktapur on July 28, 2021. Photo: Prasan Gurung/Nepalnews

Tayaram says, “At present, we have to buy clay from Thali, but that does not guarantee high quality. When the quality is not good then most of the ceramics break while drying them or firing them.”

The decline in the sale of pottery and shortage of good quality clay put the future of Bhaktapur’s potters in uncertainty. The pandemic makes it 10 times worse.

A group of people processing clay at Pottery Square, Bhaktapur on July 28, 2021
Photo: Prasan Gurung/Nepalnews
A group of people processing clay at Pottery Square, Bhaktapur on July 28, 2021 Photo: Prasan Gurung/Nepalnews
An elderly lady bringing a clay pot for drying at Pottery Square, Bhaktapur on July 28, 2021
Photo: Prasan Gurung/Nepalnews
An elderly lady bringing a clay pot for drying at Pottery Square, Bhaktapur on July 28, 2021 Photo: Prasan Gurung/Nepalnews

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