Sindhi crafts are famous and cherished throughout the country, as they are a tangible part of our cultural heritage and aesthetics. Sindhi crafts are not just sought after for their beauty and color, but also for their unique, intricate details that have been perfected by craftsmen for generations. These practices are worth preserving and acknowledging for sheer skill and hard work put into them. The roots of Sindhi craftsmanship come together in the city of Hala, located at a distance of 62 kilometers from the city of Hyderabad.
Hala is a historical place, with sites and infrastructure which predates the British era. The city an epicenter for the Sufi Suharwardy sect, which spread in the Subcontinent through the proselytizing by saint Baha-ud-din Zakriya. But Hala is most popularly known as the birthplace of Sufi saint Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, although Bhittai’s shrine is located in Bhit Shah, not far from Hala, which is thronged by his devotees. It is the only place where Bhittai’s beloved instrument, the Tambooro, is made and played in his honor.
However, Hala is famous for its Kashi artisans, who have been honing their craft since the Arab invaders of Sindh brought along craftsmen to make utensils. Amongst its most popular handicrafts are its signature glazed earthenware pottery with intricate floral designs. But Hala craftsmen also make woodwork (Jandi), hand-woven cloth (Sussi) and handmade khaddar, a natural fiber indigenous to the Subcontinent.
Authentic Hala ceramic pottery, which is famous in the country, can be found in the Hala Bazaar in the centre of the city. The bazaar is home to multiple workshops, which are largely family-owned and have been in the bazaar for decades. They make dishes, vases, and decoration pieces of various shapes and sizes, with the same signature hand-painted designs. While the most popular colors for the earthenware are cobalt blue, purple, and white, those interested can also find pots and vases of red, yellow and brown.
Hala’s workshops resemble pottery yards more than actual factories or clearly demarcated studios, and each yard is divided into various sections. Some are used to stock the pottery and other earthenware, others are used for heat-treatment, and the front of the workshops are largely devoted to molding and painting pots. The potters live close to their workshops, and the community amongst them is very tightly-knit. Many of the craftsmen begin their work as apprentices who mold the clay for their elders and teachers, and gradually learn more sophisticated processes.
Each piece goes through a long and arduous process, which involves about 20 steps per product, in order to ensure that each piece comes out unique and special. The clay is left to soak and soften in water before it can be shaped into objects, and is covered with cloth or plastic to keep it damp. The clay is then placed on a potter’s wheel or a special mold, and made into objects by the artisans. One of the most interesting, yet difficult part of this process, is that of molding the clay in the wood-fuelled furnaces and kilns. This is where the shaped pottery pieces are heated for about 20 hours, before the bricks are solid enough to begin the painting process.
The painting itself is beautiful and intricate, with most artists improvising their floral patterns, called ‘kash kari’ in the local vernacular. 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, rivals the sharp details of any machinery. Some artisans may even give visitors a pottery lesson, and allow them to sit in as they paint beautiful, kaleidoscopic images onto the clay, ready to sell or ship off elsewhere.