Pottery in Sri Lanka dates back to the year 900BC and 1120BC with the excavation of Sri Lanka’s first pot to be identified from Anuradhapura and Ranchamadama, Embilipitiya. This finding proved that tradition of pottery prevailing since proto historic period where rural, sedentary village settlement were in place. Valued ancient communities in Sri Lanka began the craft by preparing earthenware which they used for their day to day purposes such as domestic utensils, religious activities and other household tasks. Evidently seen in the areas of Ibbankatuwa and Pomparippu with human remains.
Since ancient days pottery were made using two technologies; handmade clay pots and wheel turned and fired pots which were mainly black and red ware in texture. Ancient chronicles portray the Sri Lankan traditional potters with the invention of foreign technology seeping through the maritime trade silk route and foreign earthenware being imported via that channel have absorbed techniques and technology to upgrade the offerings to glazing methods to make decorative figurines. More potters coming to Ceylon with Sangamitta Theri established themselves at a village called Kumbukkaragama.
Since the expansion of the industry in the country Sri Lanka has been a nominal island in the world that produce exceptional quality pottery items, also with few brand names conquering the world such as Dankotuwa Porcelain and Midaya Ceramics. Whilst the trend dated towards white clay and ceramics the desire and involvement in terracotta clay pottery has been neglected without proper concern from governing institutions.
Sri Lanka has an undeniable connection with clay, with valuable and precious clays being found in various parts of the country and despite proven statistics numerous households, families and individuals depend on this craft to earn their daily bread. Turning the old wheel just as how they were taught by their grandparents, crafting the same design and pot or perhaps the traditional “Kalaya” and selling it for a price as low as Rs. 150, how could one person make himself a fortune or rather support a family? Whilst the elite class potters in the country earn billions with a simple design boasting rigorously about their talents, the abandoned innocent village potters who possess greater talents and passion for pottery than the urban elites, end the day in poverty.
Few of the Pottery Villages in Sri Lanka
- Nattandiya – Walahapitiya
- Kegalle – Mologada
- Wariyapola – Katupotha
- Dankotuwa – Kirimetiyana
- Kelaniya – Biyagama
Up to this date some of the actively functioning pottery villages and some corporates sustain and keep the craft alive in the country. The gifted talents for the Sri Lankans in the arena of pottery is significant, but the gap remains where those talents are not harnessed sufficiently to obtain a quality and an attractive pottery piece. Inadequacy in knowledge about the higher demand for pottery in the world is the major loop hole traditional potters encounter. They feel the craft is on the verge of death. However, that is not true because certain countries in the westernized world highly value the pottery crafts from Sri Lanka and they believe a distinctive quality remains in the material of clay extracted from Lankan grounds that give a unique texture and appearance to the product.
Considering the mastery of pottery and the millions of benefits this craft could give to make human lives better the deserving place for pottery is not yet established or highlighted despite a prolonged history of continuity. It is unfortunate that a country like Sri Lanka blessed with rich minerals such as clay is incapable to efficiently utilize the resources to create value added items and sell to customers. However as aforementioned some of the bigger brand names in the industry have outperformed using their resources acquiring fame for the Sri Lankan brand but most of those names are in the fields of ceramic pots. The unparalleled demand for terracotta pot still remains and only fewer brands such as Salruk play a pivotal role to sustain the liveliness of the craft on overseas and local markets. However, even such SME enterprises require sufficient institutional support to expand further into export market and thereby raise the quality bar high for Sri Lanka pottery items in the world.
As widely comprehended and learned the splendor of Sri Lankan pottery would only sustain if the talented potters are empowered and trained to perform wonders in their craft. For these potters’ craft is similar to their religious beliefs as they strongly admit the talent is given by God and thus preserving and using it is essential. Therefore, with a pool of talented potters in the country Sri Lanka could do wonders further winning the overseas horizon by offering quality pottery items to the export market. Whilst other countries such as China who is also a pioneer in ceramics have innovated magnificently to enhance the quality of their craft, yet Sri Lanka’s lack of appropriate policy outline the technical aspect of pottery remain at a highly lower level. However, since recent decades a trend has emerged where some of the freelance self-taught potters make customized designs by doing handmade pottery pieces for clients. Such practices significantly help the craft to remain alive and blooming. But it would be magnificent if such freelance potters are further encouraged and supported by the policy makers and governing institutions to actively contribute for country’s national output in generating income for the economy.
Pottery in Sri Lanka is a valued craft by the stakeholders involved with it. As aforementioned the beauty pieces that could be created using rich clay in the country is priceless. The touch of artisan adds further value to the products making them suitable to compete on international markets with superior quality. The global lifestyle trend is strategically shifting back to old ways of living where people embrace the environmental friendly material usage as man-made materials are causing extreme harm and pollution to the planet earth. In the paradigm shift clay and pottery play a significant role especially in making earthenware products where the household units could use in their daily activities. Moreover, the beautification clay garden pots bring is yet highly valued amongst mindful consumers. In that context Sri Lankan pottery could play a pivotal role.