Just as fire was one of humankind’s first discoveries, pottery was one of the earliest skills developed. Archaeology pre-dates pottery finds to the early pastoralist, nomad communities. With the invention of agriculture came a greater need to cook and store. Clay/earth was the obvious raw material that could be skillfully shaped. As recently as 50 years ago, rural communities in Kachchh still used mostly earthen ware for cooking, eating and storage. This was connected with the use of firewood as fuel. Clay is a poor conductor of heat. It heats up slowly and stays steady at a low temperature. This form of slow cooking is said to retain the nutrients in food much better. The clay for cooking vessels was thrown in 2 parts with the lower part having a higher sand content. Sand strengthened the base, preventing the clay from cracking in the heat of the fire. Cooking vessels either had very little painting or painting in the black color as black retained better than white. Most vessels had either 2 or 4 pinched points at the rim for easy holding of the vessels while cooking.
On the 12th day after a death, some Hindu communities in Kachchh assemble for a ceremony where 12 small clay pots known as barasia play an important part. The family walks around these pots that are tied together, filling it with water. After performing special rites, the priest breaks the thread connecting the pots with a lamp. This signifies the end of the relationship with the departed person. The pots are then given to young girls as a symbol of the continuity of life. Among some Muslim communities when a child is born, the aunt of the child makes the baby lick honey from an earthen cup known as sutti. This was believed to ensure a healthy life for the child in future or perhaps it was a symbolic wish for a good life. Some objects like the ghadi and kosadi were auspiciously used during marriages by both Hindus and Muslims.
Whether there was a birth, a festival, a wedding or a death, the Kumbhar had an important part in it. They were intricately connected to the lifecycles of each community and the communities in turn gave the Kumbhars special rights and social status.
Earlier communities had devised practical yet very aesthetic systems of storing their commodities. These can still be seen in the villages of Kachchh. Pottery played the major part and potters were a busy community – catering to all these various needs! There were pots for storing grain and seeds, for storing spices, ghee, buttermilk, vegetables, leftover food and of course, water. The largest pot in the recent memory of some of the Kumbhars could store up to 60 liters. The storage pots were usually aligned one over the other, making columns of almost 5-7 pots. This saved space and added beauty through the display of the paintings on the pots which were embellished with the white color. The porous property of the clay fired in Kachchh enabled slow ventilation that helped in the preservation of dry grains. Storage pots had to be treated differently according to their size. All the techniques of throwing, tapping, and hand painting were used for it.
The Kumbhars were also building artisans. One of the products made world over by potters was the roof tile or desi naliya. The nalia has many types across the world. The semi-circular nalia was slightly narrow at one end to help fix the nalias into each other such that they did not slide off. It also provided an air gap that created an insulation buffer, so important in hot arid climates like Kachchh that kept the house cool. They were traditionally placed on bamboo strips. The richer homes like the Bhatias and Jains had a false flat ceiling under the sloping nalia roof to avoid dust and creatures coming into the room. The Bhungas or round shaped homes now famous in Kachchh were made with a type of reed filled with earth. Earthclay has a lower thermal conductivity than other walling materials, as a result houses made in earth stay cooler in comparison.
The mobhia was another tile component used to give a finish to the corners of the roof. In many communities it had a decorative feature including matkas at the two ends of the sloping roof. Bhuj and Lakhpat had many Kumbhar families specializing in these products. In Lakhpat, the old kilns of the early potters are still visible against the fort wall. The other architectural products used were the vahbaro and the gokhlu. There is a Hindu tradition of placing pots on the top of homes as a sign of auspicious protection.