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Photo-Essay: The Dying Art of Bishnoi Pottery Making in Jodhpur, India

Making Pottery in Rajasthan

When in Jodhpur I was told by another photographer, Jon McCormack, that I should get outside the city and see the Bishnoi people.  It’s a rural village outside of Jodhpur by 45 minutes.  I took his advice and used a guide he had recommend.

Making Pottery in Rajasthan

Iqbal stands next to his personal water jug and shows me how it keeps water so cool

The first stop that morning was a house that was a pottery shop.  Jon said this had been really boring for him when he went (photography wise that is) as he didn’t get any shots that were good when he stopped.  I had told the guide beforehand I was only interested in people and photographs and I didn’t want to make any stops along the way that involved someone trying to sell me something.

The guide assured me this would be a great stop for photographs and no one was going to try and sell me anything… so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and said ok.  He was so right; as it turned out to be the best thing I did that whole day.

The man that ran the family shop, named Iqbal, was a 4th generation pottery maker.  He was an easily approachable guy and I explained that I wanted to take photos of him and ask a few questions, so that I could show people back home what he does here.  He seemed to like that and went out of his way to show me everything.  He was also pretty funny (as the guide had to translate) as we joked around the whole time when shooting.

The pots he make actually leak water, but only slightly.  This is what keeps the water cool inside.  The pots have micro-holes in them that allow air to pass through and keep the water cool.  Iqbal showed me the water jug he uses and got a cup of it and poured it over my hand.  It felt like it had came straight from a refrigerator, and couldn’t believe it was so cold considering we were in the desert and there was no electric used to cool it.

I was hooked and had to know more as this was just pure genius I thought!

I promised him I would print some photographs for him to keep and give them to the guide to hand off to him later.  At the end he didn’t even want the customary 100Rs ($2.20 USD) that the guide gave everyone when we stopped.  He was just happy someone cared enough about what he did and wanted to share with others.

Interesting Facts:

  • The pots sell for 20Rs-100Rs ($0.45-$2.20 USD) a piece, depending on their size
  • The water jugs will last six months, then has to be thrown away and repurchased, as they will break down
  • On average he makes about 30 water jugs a day
  • Max water jugs he ever produced in a single day was 100
  • He’s been making these pots since he was 10 years old, he is 50 years old now

Below are some documentary photos I took of him working.  He made 3 different types of pots, then showed me how he makes the water jugs.  You can find these water jugs throughout Rajasthan used by locals to keep fresh water stored for daily use.  If you’re in Jodhpur, I would HIGHLY recommend going to the Bishnoi village, as the people were some of the nicest I had met in India and wonderful to take photos of.

Making Pottery in Rajasthan

A candid shot of Iqbal before he starts the process of making the pottery.

Making Pottery in Rajasthan

The secrete of the pots are saw dust and ash.  The saw dust gets added into the clay mixture, which gets burned out later, creating microscopic holes inside the water jug.  This allows water to seep through and creates it’s coolness.  The ash is added to make the pot stronger, enabling it to hold more and not crack while being cooked in the furnace.

Making Pottery in Rajasthan

Adding the saw dust and ash to the clay.  He does this several times, working it in, then rolls it into an even size log, chopping it up into sections to be used on the wheel.

Making Pottery in Rajasthan

The potters wheel used to make the pots used to be made of stone but now it’s made of concrete because it’s easier to obtain.  That large wheel you see in the background gets spun on that little wooden peg.  I was surprised at how fast and how long the potters table was able to go for until it slowed down.

Making Pottery in Rajasthan

Using a stick to spin the table, he takes about a minute getting it up to speed.  I never seen him have to spin the table twice on the same pot, which might say a few things, one being how fast he works.

Making Pottery in Rajasthan

From start to finish.  It took him 4+ minutes to make this little pot.  The leftover clay on the table was used to make another one right afterwards.

Making Pottery in Rajasthan

This was a decorative piggy bank, made with the leftover clay from the first pot.

Making Pottery in Rajasthan

Making a large vase.  This took a little more time to shape and add the detail.  It stood about 2 foot tall when finished.

Making Pottery in Rajasthan

Adding detail to the vase and forming the lid

Making Pottery in Rajasthan

His main business is making the water jugs.  He forms them on the potters table, then will let them dry until they can be picked up and handled.  (Left Photo) waiting in the sun, pre-made. (Right Photo) the finished product after final forming.

Making Pottery in Rajasthan

Once the water jug is dried enough to handle, he places it inside this bowel lined with a burlap sack

Making Pottery in Rajasthan

He uses a flat hammer to expand the water jug.  It doesn’t look right at first when he’s doing it, as it creates flat surfaces but he keeps working it over and over until it’s finally perfectly rounded.

Making Pottery in Rajasthan

From start to finish.  Once the water jug is formed it is placed in a fire furnace to bake overnight.  It is then ready for sale the next day.  Total time to create one jug is 24 hours.  Notice how much larger the water jug is from making it more rounder.

Making Pottery in Rajasthan

Just before I was about to leave he asked me if I would take a photo of his family.  I said no problem and was happy that the photo came out great.  His youngest son will take on the family trade if he can’t afford to send him to a better school, he said.

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  • Sebastian

    Beautiful pictures! I love your photo essays…

  • Audrey

    Beautiful photo essay – the portrait shots really capture the spirit and pride of Iqbal. 

    I never thought much about pottery or the process, but then we visited a “pottery village” when we were in Bangladesh. It was in the middle of nowwhere and was not at all touristy. Instead, it was a village full of Hindus (in 90% Muslim Bangladesh) who are known for making pottery. Every family was involved with making pottery to hold doi (sweet curd), collect sap from palm trees, hold water, or other uses. Quite fascinating to watch the process. 

  • Ovidiu Pacuraru

    Really beautiful article. Nicely written and great pictures to go with it!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, I know what you mean about never thinking much about pottery.  I have visited shops before and to be honest its not my thing to collect.  That being said though, this was way different bc he was just so fun to photograph.  I can’t say it more how cool he was and we were joking around the whole time.  Maybe what stands out from him then most places i have visited before is that most of his work is for locals to use in their everyday living and not just cheap tourist pots.  I to was blown away by his skill and speed.  If i hadn’t of been so transfixed on photos I would have tried my hand at it to! lol :)

  • Anonymous

    Glad you like man, got a lot more coming up soon this month, so stay tuned for more! :)

  • Anonymous

    Yeah it really just all came together on this one for me and was a highlight for me in India.  Just some days you get lucky when that happens!

  • Brendan van Son

    Great images and nicely written description buddy! Well done|

  • Megan

    Great shots of the process. When I get taken to these kinds of places (weaving villages, pottery etc) my eyes tend to glaze over a little bit, to be perfectly honest (um, no pun intended) but I think that’s usually because I’m waiting for a sales pitch. Looking at the images here are fascinating! Did you end up buying one?? Beats one of those fancy water bottles 😉

  • Anonymous

    I thought I would be getting a sales pitch to but my guide assured me I wouldn’t and true to his word I didn’t.  I’m the same way as you when visiting these type of sites but this one was a real treat and no I didn’t buy a water jug.  Did you not see how huge those things were! lol

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  • Angela

    This is very interesting, seriously, ordinary people make for the most interesting stories. Great shots and great post!

  • Anonymous

    Totally agree and need to do more photo-essays like this of local people working in their jobs.  What might seem like nothing to them is fascinating to others maybe.

  • Jon McCormack

    Very nice! This post brings back happy memories.

  • Anonymous

    Jon, BIG thanks to you for helping me find the place.  It was the best thing I did that day photography wise and just had a blast with that guy.  Thanks again for all your help on it :)

  • David Burlison

    Well done Travel site-very informative..


    (Feel free to post on our forum)

  • bethany

    Great shots! Love the lighting!!

  • Nomadic Samuel

    This is an awesome photo essay!  I’m glad I stumbled upon it today.  The attention to details and changing of perspective of the various shots really allows the viewer to feel like they are right there watching him.  I found it interesting at the end where you mentioned the son is likely to apprentice to take over.  When I did my camel safari in Jaisalmer my camel driver was training his nephew at the time and mentioned he would rather send the boy to a better school but couldn’t afford it.

  • Anonymous

    Samuel funny you noticed the last bit about his boy.  I think it’s safe to say all parents in 3rd world countries wish they could afford a better education for their children but the reality is that they end up like them bc it’s so difficult to do so.  Sad state of affairs but it is what it is.

    Really glad you liked the photos and was trying to get as many different shots as possible.  I actually wanted to put these shots into a story using a slide show and recorded sounds to help visualize it but I didn’t bring my recorder that day and so just made a photo essay instead.  I still kick myself for that and need to do more of that as thats why I bought the Zoom to record sound.  Wait though, now that I am in Colombia and have a place to call home for a while I will have more time to do things like that.

  • Greg Dawson

    Wow. I randomly found you on Twitter and followed your info back to your blog… simply amazing. Great photo essay!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Greg!  I’m glad you liked and plan to have more people photo-essays to come.  I don’t use Twitter that much (I’m a Facebook guy and post more there) so was cool you found me through that.  Keep in touch! :)

  • Frontstoreman

    really nice. Just look at the equipment he uses! so basic. These skills are lost here in the uk don,t u agree?

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  • Saurabh Kapur

    Hi… we loved the post and the pictures you have clicked. We’re taking a small group of school children to Jodhpur and we would love it if they meet this man and learn some of his art. Please give me Iqbal’s contact number and the guide’s number as well.


  • foggodyssey

    Sorry but I don’t have his information to give. I have no doubt though that if you said you wanted to go out and visit the

    Bishnoi people and showed a copy of this man, that locals would know who he was by the name. He’s not hard to find but I just don’t have the information your wanting :(

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