The Keystone Foundation

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over six months

Principal Investigator: Anil Pandey

The Arts Research and Documentation Programme supported research and documentation of the almost extinct pottery traditions of the Kota community women in the Nilgiris, now kept alive in some hamlets only in yearly and secret ritual.  The study, with the help of a native informant who has studied tribal communities in the area, focused on the myth and lore that surround the tradition, and, with the help of experienced potters and ceramists, revitalised the occupation and markets for the Kota women.

The Kota, a tribe indigenous to the Nilgiri range in Tamil Nadu and found in seven widely dispersed settlements in the district, were once needed by the surrounding Toda, Badaga and Kurumba communities, and survived because of them, for their crafts skills and capabilities and a shared cultural lifestyle.  Quoting early sources, the research team notes that the Kota were once necessary to the other communities as blacksmiths, carpenters, rope-makers, potters, musicians, and jewelers working in silver. Today, devoid of these once accomplished crafts skills, they retain only their traditional songs and dancest. Closely associated with the inner life, these may be difficult to extinguish even in the immediate future. It is commonly perceived, however, that even the last surviving skill of the Kota, the ritual making of pots by women, is close to extinction. The research team actively addressed this problem while attempting to fan a revival of the craft. The project leader, Mr. Anil Pande – a potter by profession and passion - writes that a number of factors led to the fabric of life changing for the indigenous communities in the Nilgiris, and for the Kota in particular. The research team documented current and past pottery practices followed by the Kota women, determined the range of products available, and investigated the community’s methods of transferring skills. During the annual 'Kammatraya' festival of the Kota, the research team attempted to understand and record critical linkages between the ritual pot making and the community - especially in relation to their changed circumstances.

Mr. Pande experimented with glazing techniques and new products, in order to establish the technical feasibility of enhancing the product range - and then have these evaluated by known experts for aesthetic and functional appeal, price and marketability. Last, but not least, the research team tabled a comprehensive document to serve as a blueprint for the revival of the craft in the seven Kota hamlets, as a viable community enterprise. With that in mind, they investigated and critically analysed at least one other attempt in the area to revive the craft.

In order to establish conditions for the revival of the craft (if not infuse the ritual with new meaning), provide sustainable linkages to the women potters, and, indeed, create the necessary organizational structures, the research team felt that the Kota women and community are of vital importance.