Phases of the Ancient Indian Potteries

Pottery or ceramics or ceramic art refers to the creation of objects that are made up of hard brittle material produced from nonmetallic minerals by moulding them while the material is wet and then firing them at high temperatures. They are often made up of clay, porcelain, steatite, and so on. Pottery plays an important role in studying culture and reconstructing the past. Historically with a distinct culture, the style of pottery changed. It reflects the social, economic and environmental
conditions a culture thrived in, which helps the archaeologists and historians in understanding our past. It holds significant value in understanding cultures where the script was either absent or
remains un-deciphered. Understanding of presence of fire, cooking, storage, sedentary or migratory populace, social stratification can all be developed via studying pottery. For people,
pottery provided opportunity to store, cooks, transport and trade and essentially became an expression of artistic creativity.

Pottery is a major of two types:
 Wheel has thrown

Handmade pottery is rather primitive style pottery developed in early ages which with time transformed to wheel thrown. The different motifs drawn on the surface play an important role in
understanding a culture and its beliefs.
Evolution of Pottery

I. Neolithic Age

We find the first reference of pottery in this age. Naturally, it is hand-made pottery but during the later period, foot wheel is also used. 


Unglazed/unburnished, that is having a rough surface
Handmade coarse grey pottery Material – clay mixed with mica and sand Pottery is devoid of any painting In many cases, twisted rice husk cords were impressed into wet clay for decoration
Found throughout India including the South, Burzahom – coarse grey pottery Included black-burnished ware, grey ware and mat-pressed ware

II. Chalcolithic Age

Chalcolithic Era, the first metal age, is marked by the occurrence of distinct cultures in various
parts of our country namely – Ahar culture in South Eastern Rajasthan, Malwa culture in
Western MP, Jorwe culture in Western Maharashtra, etc.
People of this age used different kinds of pottery.

1. Black-and-red-ware Pottery

Black and red ware seem to have been widely used. Cultures like Ahar-Banas showed the presence of Black and Red ware pottery with white linear designs.

2. Black-on-red ware Pottery

It is of the Jorwe culture where most of the ware is painted black-on-red and has a matt surface treated with a wash.

3. Ochre Coloured Pottery (OCP)

OCP people are regarded as the junior contemporaries of Harappa. This pottery is identified with the Copper Hoard Culture that was found in upper Ganga Valley and Ganga Yamuna doab area.


The colour of the pottery ranges from orange to red.
The period covered by the OCP culture is roughly placed between 2000 BC and 1500 BC.
Major sites are – Jodhpur (Rajasthan), Attranjikhera (UP), Ganeshwar, located near Khetri copper mines were initially believed to have OCP but researches have confused this.

III. Mature Harappa:

Polished Ware Pottery with a rough surface


Both polished and unpolished type of pottery existed
Pottery generally has a red surface and is wheel thrown although handmade ones too exist Polished wares were well fired.
Most of the pottery is polychrome meaning more than two colours are used to paint the pottery. Most of the pottery is utilitarian.

Such potteries usually have flat bases with geometrical design along with paintings depicting flora and fauna are observed
Perforated pottery was also found may be used for straining the liquor. Pottery throughout the civilization was uniform (mass is thrown) revealing some form of control and leaving less space of individual creativity Presence of luxurious pottery obtained from certain sites reveals economic stratification in the society Burial Pottery of Harappa Burnished and painted pottery
Burial pottery was specially and distinctly made
Reveals the Harappan belief in life after death
Presence or absence of this pottery in the grave goods reflected social stratification

IV. Late Harappa

Ochre Colored Pottery (OCP) – As we know the late Harappan cultures (1900BC – 1200BC) were primarily chalcolithic. Some specific chalcolithic sites show the elements of late Harappan
(like the use of burnt bricks, etc). These sites have OCP.
Black-grey burnished ware produced on the slow wheel – Found in Swat Valley. This resembles the pottery from north Iranian plateau. Black-on-red painted and the wheel turned pottery – Also found in Swat Valley. This shows the connection that Swat Valley was associated with Harappa. Grey-ware and Painted Grey Ware, generally associated with Vedic people have been found in
conjunction with some late Harappan pottery. It has less intricate designs as compared to the early and mature periods suggesting a dilution of the rich culture.

V. Vedic Era–PGW

The Vedic Era saw the emergence of Painted Grey Ware (PGW) Culture. The Rig Vedic sites
have PGW but iron objects and cereals are absent. Hence it is considered a pre-iron phase of PGW. On the other hand, the Later Vedic sites are considered iron-phase of PGW. This pottery is an Iron Age pottery found in Gangetic plain and Ghaggar – Hakra valley, lasting from roughly 1200 BC – 600 BC. Mathura was the largest PGW site. Characterized by a style of fine, grey pottery painted with geometric patterns in black. These are confined to few geographical locations, namely – Punjab, Haryana and upper Ganga Valley. This culture is associated with village and town settlements (but without large cities)

VI. Later Vedic Era–NBPW

The later Vedic people were acquainted with 4 types of pottery – Black-and-red ware, black
slipped ware, painted grey ware and red ware.

VII. End of Later Vedic Era – NBPW

Towards the very end of Later Vedic Age around 6th century BCE, we see the emergence of 2nd the phase of urbanization (1st being Indus Valley Civilization). This era marked the beginning of the
Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW). It was glossy and shining type made of fine fabric and served as tableware for the richer class. Considered deluxe pottery only found with the elites
revealing societal stratification which was a result of Brahmanical hegemony. This pottery continued to exist during the Mahajanapada era. It is found in Ahichatra, Hastinapur (both in
UP), Navdatoli (Madhya Pradesh). It is further classified into two groups – bichrome and monochrome:-

(a) Monochrome pottery has a fine and thin fabric. Posted on the fast wheel and have a strikingly lustrous surface. 90% of this type is jet black, brownish black and bluish black and 10% have colours like pink, golden, brown among others.

(b) Bichrome pottery is found less. It shows all the features of monochrome except that it shows a combination of two colours.

VIII. Megalithic Era

This culture is placed between- 3rd Century BCE to 1st Century CE. Megaliths refer to
monuments constructed of big (mega) stones (lith). This culture is particularly known for its large stone graves. In the South, this age is characterized by the use of iron. Megalithic Pottery is mostly found in today’s Kerala.


Well baked and durable

Wheel has thrown

The bulk of these is plain. However, a shard from Koldihawa reveals black painting on the surface. It has been excavated throughout India but majorly from the South, mostly in Vindhya region. They were used as grave goods revealing a belief in life after death.