Of Pots, Potters & Pottery (Photography of Kumars at Kumar Para, Jessore, Bangladesh)
Of Pots, Potters and Pottery (Photography of Kumars at Kumar Para, Jessore, Bangladesh)
Pottery is a skilled activity whereby different materials such as earth, porcelien and stones are used. Clay potters of Bangladesh, mostly of the hindu origin, called “Kumars” have been engaged in the practice of making pottery for a long, long time. Throughout the ages, these Kumars have been making pottery-ware manually using their hands mostly and with the aid of manually rotated wheel. However, during recent times, this age-old practice of manual pottery has been vanishing. The Kumars lead a hard life, often marred by poverty and need, as making a living out of pottery is a difficult one.
Until recently, I never had the good fortune of actually seeing any potters or kumars in live action. I have seen plenty of television video footage and photographs of potters in action, and I had always wanted to photographs these talented people in action and thankfully, in a recent photography safari to the Shathkhira region of Jessore, Bangladesh, I had the good fortune of photographing them. Unfortunately, when I visited the potters’ village, I was unable to witness them using the spinning wheel on which pottery is shaped as the Kumars don’t use the wheel during the Bangladeshi Boishaki Season due to religious reasons.
How to get to Jessore:
Assuming that you shall be travelling from Dhaka by land, the best way to get to Jessore is by AC Bus from Dhaka and out of the different companies operating such buses such as Shohag, Shamoli, Saudia, Greenline, etc., Greenline provides the best services and the best value for money. The other operators charge almost the same amount but their buses are older and more cramped and their AC systems are usually not working most of the time. A Bus journey from Dhaka to Jessore usually takes approximately 6 hours. Alternatively, if your purse can take the hit, you can fly from Dhaka to Jessore by air in a matter of 45 minutes.
Where to stay and availability of food:
Jessore is obviously not one of the most developed cities in Bangladesh. However, adequate basic accommodation can be found quite easily. Some of the popular hotels in Jessore includes Hotel Mid-Town, Hotel Magpie, Hotel Hasan International and Grand Hotel. All of these hotels are located within the city. In my recent trip to Jessore I stayed at the Hotel Magpie, which I found to be adequate. The Hotel is in quite a run-down state and a bit aged and in need of proper maintenance. The rooms are okay but it’s not something comparable to the Westin! I’d give it a zero star.
The type of food available at Jessore is the same as in normal roadside local restaurants of Dhaka. Local food such as bhat, bhorta, bhaji, fish, chicken, beef, etc, are widely available.
How to get to the Kumar Para:
The Kumar para is about 2 hours’ vehicle journey away from Jessore city. In order to reach the kumar para, you must rent a micro-bus. I am not sure whether the place is reachable by local bus or other modes of transportation but these modes of travel may also be available.
Which time of the year to go to the Kumar Para and the best time of the day:
As already stated above, the Baishakhi season (April-May) is not the best time to visit the Kumar Paras, as the potters refrain from using the spinning wheel during this season. The potters using the spinning wheel to shape pottery is definitely worth witnessing and photographing and would have been one of the highlights of my visit if I had the good fortune of witnessing these things in action. The Kumars start working quite early in the morning (6-7 AM) while the temperature is still cool. By 11 AM -12:00 PM they have a large number of completed clay pottery, which they then set out in the sun to dry. Most of them refrain from working during the midday as the sun becomes unbearably hot around that time. They usually take breaks around mid-day and have their lunch and thereafter, rest. So, its better to get to the Kumar Para quite early in the morning to witness these potters in action.
What to take while visiting the Kumar Para:
The kumar para is located some distance away from the main highway or road and therefore there are no shops nearby. Water is definitely on top of the list of things to take with you. You may also consider taking dry food with you if you plan on spending 2-3 hours there. In terms of photography gear, taking a wide or ultra-wide lens would be a good choice. Also, you may consider taking a 50mm prime for portraits/low light photography.
What to expect and see at the Kumar Para:
This kumar para is comprised of maybe around 10-15 houses scattered over an area. There are maybe approximately 5-8 separate pottery workshops in the Kumar Para. Expect to see potters busy at work making different types of pottery of different shapes and sizes. Both men and women potters will be hard at work. Different kinds of techniques are used by these potters for making different pottery items. Some are molded and shaped using fingers, some are molded by beating the clay soil against a pre-defined shape, some are put on a rotatable wheel and shaped with fingers. Other than making the pottery, they also paint the pottery items and also burn them in large furnaces for hardening purposes. The potters are usually predominantly of the hindu religion. On my visit, I found them to be very friendly and co-operative and open to have their photographs taken. From a photographer’s point of view, a lot of life-style and portrait photographs may be taken from here. If you visit during the weekend, you will also have the added advantage of being about to photograph children in conjunction with the pottery in display.
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