Information and History of Ancient Indian Pottery

By Justin Higgins
Painted terra cotta vessels
glazed terra-cotta abstract image by Mark Grenier from

Ancient Indian pottery exists in a number of styles, and exhibits a wide variety of regional variations throughout the centuries. Most of ancient India's pottery used a combination of spinning on the pottery wheel with the hands and other tools. Persian and Mediterranean influences have altered the methods and designs of both utilitarian as well as purely aesthetic pottery styles of ancient India.

Origins of Indian Pottery

The known origins of Indian pottery date back more than 5,000 years, from wheel-made fragments and vessels that have been found from the peoples of the Indus Valley civilization. Some argue that the earliest forms of pottery were mostly utilitarian--that is, for purely practical functions. These include vessels for food storage and human remains, cups and utensils. Butceremonial sculptures have also been uncovered of the Harappa and Mohenjodaro peoples from as early as 3300 B.C.

Terra Cotta Pottery

Terra cotta is simply natural, waterproof clay ceramic that is hardened and semi-fired in a kiln. Terra cotta is the oldest material used in Ancient Indian pottery, and has a number of uses for both utilitarian and aesthetic purposes. Brightly colored iconic figures of Ancient Indian deities are some of the oldest and most famous pieces of this terra cotta style. The figures are made exclusively by women for particular ceremonies, and are offered as a tribute to the gods or as tools for religious rituals.

Unglazed Pottery

The earliest forms of Ancient Indian pottery were unglazed. There are many distinct forms of unglazed pottery that vary from region to region. Most of the discovered unglazed pieces have combinations of black and red coloring. Most commonly, black and red pottery vessels have a red interior and a black exterior. The most primitive forms of unglazed pottery are paper thin with incised patterns. As pottery making became more sophisticated, intricate slips and polishing methods were introduced. Black polished ware was introduced into the North as early as 700 B.C. with the early spread of Buddhism.

Glazed Pottery

Glazed pottery arose around the 12th century A.D., as Muslim rule brought Persian influences to the country. Only practiced in select regions, this form of pottery commonly exhibits a white background with blue and green designs; an additional style referred to as blue pottery combines Chinese glazing technology with Persian models. In India, these methods were adapted to the cultural designs of Hinduism.

Rouletted Ware

In many parts of Southern India, fragments of rouletted ware were uncovered. These pieces are suspected to have had a Mediterranean influence, based upon archaeological findings. These rouletted pieces exhibited a thick, incurved rim with concentric circles indented along the interior of the baseless vessel. The surface is smooth and shiny, and often very colorful.

About the Author

Justin Higgins has traveled throughout South America. He writes articles that appear on various websites with a focus on travel and science-related topics. Higgins is a graduate from Ithaca College with a Bachelor of Arts in cultural anthropology.