Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Chinese Porcelain in North-east India

From World of Chinse Porcelain
By Aprajita Sharma


Chinese porcelain was one of the most important and popular items of trade between China and India from about 8th century till 18th century. Porcelain is a ceramic ware constituted of two main ingredients i.e. kaolin and petuntse, a felspathic material from decomposed granite. It is a unique pottery, originated in China. The word porcelain came out from the word porcellana which was actually used by the traveller Marco Polo in writing of his journey to the Court of Kublai Khan. He used this word to describe certain wares he saw in the process of their manufacture.

Porcelain fires at temperature from about 1,280˚ C upward and is generally covered with felspathic glaze. When fired it is very hard, normally white in colour, vitrified and has a transparent shine like a cowrie shell. It is found in different varieties having decorative motifs and Chinese inscriptions.

During excavations and explorations in India, porcelain has been reported at many coastal regions as well as on the important land routes between India and China. It is traced at a number of states in India which are Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Delhi, Diu and Daman, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Some noteworthy sites are Ambari in Assam, Arikamedu in Pondicherry, Barabari fort in Cuttack, Champaner in Gujarat, Chaul in Maharashtra, Kotapattanam in Andhra Pradesh, Kotla Firozshah complex in Delhi, Old Goa, Palaiya-Kayal in Kerala, Periyapattinam in Tamil Nadu, etc. These sites revealed some famous varieties of Chinese ceramics such as under-glazed blue and white porcelain and celadon in large quantity. Discoveries of porcelain on such a large scale prove that India was a great market for Chinese ceramics.

All over India, porcelain has been found during explorations and excavations, but due to paucity of exploratory works in North-eastern part of India, evidences of porcelain are meagre in the region. The land route connecting North-east region of India to China via Mynamar is worth exploratory. Specifically Assam region was marked as a trading station on the ‘Silk Road’. In the records of Bhaskar Varman and Yuan Chwang, references of eastern route from Assam to China via Upper Mynamar are mentioned. This Assam-Mynamar route to China has been mentioned in the 8th century CE in the Chinese work of Kia-tan. The route from Guwahati to Pagan in Mynamar was continued for a long time as it is also mentioned by Buddhagupta, an Indian Buddhist monk in 16th century, in his biography.

On the basis of travelogues and literary records, the North-eastern region is regarded important amongst the potential areas as far as Chinese trade is concerned. The area has not been thoroughly explored so far. Sites like Ambari in Assam, Sekta in Manipur and Nakshaparvat in Arunachal Pradesh have yielded blue and white porcelain and celadon ware. Recently in Manipur an accidental discovery of a wooden coffin has yielded Chinese blue and white under-glazed porcelain as well as their imitations. Among the finds of porcelain from the coffin, one bowl of Chinese blue and white porcelain has typical 16th century decoration of the prancing deer in a landscape with moon.

Celadon and glazed ware from Ambari, Guwahati

Chinese blue and white porcelain from Sekta, Manipur

Chinese blue and white porcelain from Manipur

As the area is located on such a strategic position, it is important to explore the region and porcelain finds from the region to locate trading stations on the trade route. The study of Chinese porcelain would be of immense help not only to locate ancient trade route but also help to fill missing historical links. Hence, thorough study of the region is must.

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