To the left of the Indus River in the Sindh province, you will find a little bit lively town of Hala. It is the home of the Kashi artisans, who have been plying their art since ancient times. Amongst its most popular handicrafts is pottery. Its glazed ceramic terra cotta pieces are quite popular in Pakistan and beyond.
The town makes pottery of various shapes and sizes that is famous for the hand-painted designs imprinted on them. The most popular colours are cobalt blue, turquoise, purple, mustard, white, and brown. Hala pottery has a high demand both in Europe and in the Middle East.
You will have an exciting time if you decide to visit the town. Throughout its streets, you will find workshops, which are more like pottery yards than actual factories. They are not well-designed like some of the modern pottery studios you may expect to find in Europe. Some of the workshops have been down through generations for decades. The yards have an organic, earthy feel to them with the borders marked by just brick walls.
Each yard is divided into various sections. Some of the sections are used to stock the pottery and other earthenware; other sections are used to heat-treat the earthenware products while the other is used for making and painting them.
You will usually find people living close to the yards, usually just opposite their yard. The houses are of a simple brick design and are made from the same material as the pottery for which they are so famous.
Each piece goes through a long process, which involves about 20 steps. In most cases, one person does all the work. However, you are likely to find people working in yards in groups of five or ten. The interesting part is that everything in these yards is handcrafted. It is a long and difficult process but one that ensures each piece is unique. The whole process begins while piles of earth begin to be sifted, and mixed.
One of the most interesting sites you will come upon is the wood-fuelled furnaces. This is where the shaped pottery pieces are heated for about 20 hours before the painting process can begin.
If you are lucky, you will even find an artisan who will give you a few pottery lessons. They use a pottery wheel design that has been passed down for generations of artisans. In most cases, artisans will tell you that their family has been working as pottery artisans so far back they cannot remember exactly when they began.
Even the young people in this town still want to go on with their families’ legacies. They do not think about much else except one day taking over their fathers’ yards. The young people spend most of their time perfecting their pottery works until one day they can take over and make superior pieces.
The painting process is a marvel to behold; you will have an awesome time just watching each artisan painting the pottery pieces. It is truly breathtaking to watch each artisan bring the designs to life using nothing but a paintbrush and some ink. The steadiness of their hands as they paint with a stencil is amazing. You would have to see it with your eyes to believe that they do not use any machine. Otherwise, you may be tempted the designs are created using some complex form of the manufacturing method.
Other Handcrafts of Hala
Although pottery is the most famous craft in Hala, there are many others. These handiworks have been sold in the markets of Baghdad, Istanbul, Cairo, Armenia, and Samarkand for centuries. Some of their other famous work is the lacquer woodwork known as Jandi in the local communities.
The Jandi is famous globally for its durability, delicacy, and natural beauty. It is rendered into candle stands, flower vases, cigarette boxes, lamps, jewellery boxes, cots, swings, pots, ashtrays, bedroom sets, chairs, tables, telephone stands, and sofa sets. Jandi works are durable. However, alcohol, acid, and direct sunlight are their greatest enemy.
Hala Apparel & Textiles
The apparel produced in Hala is made with some of the oldest handlooms in the world. These are looms that date back to the civilization of the Indus Valley. These hand-woven cloth locally known as “Khadi” has been exported to various countries globally since ancient times.
The Khadi is made of the natural fibres of cotton, silk, and wool. It is amongst the last remaining 100% natural cloth, which is different from other handloom material usually mixed in with cellulose fibres.
Over the years, technological improvements have been made to the handloom process. They include the spinning wheel and treadle, which helped to increase the refinement of the dyeing, designing, and printing by block. At the time of their invention, the lightweight fabrics of Hala were a luxury item for the people of the era, who were used to linens and woollens.
Another fabric common in the area is Rilli; this is a patchwork sheet, which is considered part of the local culture. Every home in the Sindhi region will have Rillis for each family member. They will also have a few spares for the guests. The Rillis are made of small pieces that are of different sizes and shapes, which are woven together to create a beautiful design. The Rillis are also part of the gift-giving culture. They are also used as a bedspread and blankets. A well-sewn Rilli can be part of the gifts given by the groom or bride.
Despite having so much talent and producing many marvellous works of art, the families of Hala remain poor. Some of the families are bonded to intermediaries, who force them to sell works of art at half the market price.
Many of the workers are forced to take loans from intermediaries who make it quite difficult for them to sell. However, if you visit one of the artisans, you buy a beautiful piece from them without an intermediary. This means you are appreciating their art without exploiting them.