A. Revathi, a potter, slowly rotates the clay wheel under the watchful eyes of her father-in-law on the veranda of their house in Avaloor, a farming village near Walajah in Ranipet district, on the Bengaluru Highway (NH:48). She takes a handful of soft wet clay from a mound, dumped near her, and places them on to the rotating wheel.
While she is at it, she hears a correction from her father-in-law, who has a hoarse voice, on increasing the speed of the mud wheel. An hour later, her husband replaces her at the wheel. The ritual goes on for the next six days in making a coal or wood-fueled tandoor oven (one piece) for homemakers from cities like Chennai, Bengaluru, Coimbatore and other big towns. Ms. Revathi, a mother of two, was ten years old when she first soaked her tender hands into a clay pit after school hours to learn the nuances of pottery-making from her father. She never turned back since then as she, along with her family, have made hundreds of pottery items, especially tandoor ovens and dram pots for more than three decades. “My home was my school for learning the art of pottery. The COVID-19 pandemic dipped only our income by half but not our passion to make tandoor ovens,” says the 41-year-old Ms. Revathi.
Six potter families in Avaloor, one of the 54 villages in Nemili panchayat union in Ranipet, still make tandoor ovens. Around 30% of the residents in the village are potters and the rest of them depend on farming, mainly paddy cultivation for their livelihood. Majority of the potters in the Avaloor village make all kinds of items, including household utensils, flower pots, hundis, and festival objects like earthen lamps. This is an age-old tradition of the village. Village elders say making small pottery items are less time consuming and can have buyers throughout the year as they are also less costlier. However, potters who specialise in tandoor ovens have to spend more time in making and often depend on buyers from large cities and big towns.
Tandoor ovens can be used to make rotis, naans, pizzas, paneer tikka, kebabs and barbecues, among other haute cuisine. “It’s true that tandoor ovens are costlier. We focus on a specific segment of buyers, especially urban settlers. We also make other pottery items to supplement our income,” says 75-year-old D. Dharma Udaiyar. With river sand and soft clay from nearby lakes, potters make a batch of seven tandoor ovens, once in six days. Each oven varies in its width size, ranging from 2, 2.5 and 3 feet. The cost of the oven depends on its width. On an average, each oven costs between ₹1,500 and ₹2,000.
Prior to the pandemic, potters sold around 200 tandoor ovens every month, mainly to Chennai, Coimbatore and Bengaluru, after which sales dipped to half. Easing of lockdown restrictions by the State have lifted the hopes of these potters.