Kumbharwada: The Potter Community of Dharavi

Dharavi, as we know it today, is the world’s largest slum area in Mumbai, Maharashtra. It is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Within such a huge population, people have established several scattered businesses, generally small scale, throughout the area of 520 acres of the settlement. Over the years, these businesses have become the identities of the people engaged in them. One such example is the people living in the area of Kumbharwada in Dharavi. As the name suggests, ‘Kumbhar’ meaning ‘potter’ and ‘Wada’ meaning ‘colony’, Kumbharwada is a 12 acre, wherein people are solely engaged in the business of pottery. 

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Kumbharwada is nearly a hundred years old settlement which was primarily established by the immigrants from Saurashtra(now Gujarat) who were potters. They inhabited the place and carried on with their generations-old occupation of pottery. Now there are around ten thousand families who earn their livelihood by making artefacts out of clay and selling them in the markets. 

The community has made its mark in the pottery market and people have a penchant for their goods. Not only across the country or the local market, but their goods are also exported across the seas to Germany, Japan and several other countries. The people of Kumbharwada perfectly exemplify the Make in India movement since they make their livelihood out of their skill and do not depend upon any employer for employment. 
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Here's a sneak peek into their work and everyday life:
 
1. These skilled hands make thousands of clay lamps, earthen pots, saucers, bowls, lanterns, flower vases and so much more. With festivals like Diwali and Navratri around the corner, the demand for their goods reaches up to 2000-2500 items a day.
 
2.  They bring clay from Virar, Mumbra and other areas and shape them on the chaak or the wheel. Once they get desired shape, the item is dried up in the sun which is then baked on the furnace. 
 
3. Even though the community has earned for its skill and artefacts, people are still bound to live in a smothering environment. The houses are poorly built and do not have more than two floors. The ground floor is used as the workstation and the upper floor is used for residential purposes. The area is densely populated, hence the smoke rising out of the furnaces cannot find any escape and people fight a breath in the midst of suffocation. 

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We can just imagine how much their health suffers. Narrowest of the lanes, shabbiest of the houses and the poorest ventilation, none of them abstains these people from making excellent artefacts. Neither does the visits of travellers discontinue. 
 
Talking of visiting the area, one must be familiar with different routes to reach there. The postal address of the area is 90 Feet Road, Kumbharwada, Dharavi. 
Nearest Bus Stops: Kamraj Vidyalaya (Dharavi) Bus Station , Matunga Labour Camp Bus Station , Kumbhar Wada (Dharavi) Bus Station , Estrella Battery / Shahu Nagar Bus Station , Shahu Nagar Bus Station
Nearest Railway Stations: Mahim Junction Railway Station and Kings Circle Railway Station
Landmarks: A small entry gate marked as Kumbhar Marg
Prices of products: INR 80 - INR 200, depending upon the size of the artefact
Ten thousand families work day and night in suffocating ambience under shabby roofs to make a living. Elders pass down their skill to the younger generation and so on. This is how the 12 acres area of Kumbharwada sustained from the last century and is still flourishing. Although the advent of Chinese products in the market has slowed down the business there, people who are trying to preserve our culture still prefer diyas and matkas made by the kumbhars of Kumbharwada. 

This post was published by Ishika Wahane

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