Inspiration Pakistan: The Potter of Saidpur

Posted on April 19, 2008
Filed Under >Mast Qalandar, People, Science and Technology, Society
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Mast Qalandar

In my last post I had mentioned about my visit to Saidpur village, on the outskirts of Islamabad. I had also mentioned about my encounter with Rahim Dad, the potter of Saidpur. The village has had a pottery making tradition for generations. However, only two potters continue to carry on making clay pottery in the village today. One of them is Rahim Dad. Their children have taken to more ‘fashionable’ occupations such as taxi drivers etc.

Saidpur, IslamabadSaidpur, Islamabad

Rahim Dad had taken me to his workshop and demonstrated to me how he made a piece of pottery on the potter’s wheel.

Making clay pottery is one of the oldest occupations of mankind; and the potter’s wheel is probably one of its earliest inventions.

The ancient man, when he needed to make a piece of pottery, would probably take a lump of wet clay and punch a cavity in it with his fist to turn it into a cup or a bowl. To make a bigger pot he probably pulled the wet clay into a rope and then coiled it up into shape. In the words, the potter had to move around the pot while making it.

By around 3000 BC people had begun to use the potter’s wheel. This was a little turntable made of wood. You placed the lump of kneaded and moist clay in the middle of the turntable on a little hub and then, rotating the table with one hand, you shaped the pot with the other hand. In other words, the potter sat still and did not have to move around the pot as earlier. This produced better-finished pottery but the process was still slow and tedious.

By about 2000 BC they managed to increase the speed of the potter’s wheel by attaching, with an axle, a sort of flywheel beneath the turntable. The potter, while seated at the turntable, kicked the flywheel into motion with his foot, which would then move the turntable at a higher speed. While the turntable was in motion the potter, using both his hands, would mold the pot and pull it out into the desired shape. This way the production became faster and it also produced finer pottery.

The contraption that Rahim Dad used was probably not much different than they used 2000 years ago, but he seemed to work effortlessly and produced a nice piece of pottery in no time.

Among the various pottery pieces carelessly scattered around his workshop were small water pitchers called gharrolis, traditional oil lamps (diyas) and what I would call candle pots. These are beautifully embellished conical pots with star shaped holes in them. When you place a lighted candle in them the light filters out of the holes casting beautiful shadows on the floor or the wall. I purchased two of these for rupees 50 each (less than a US dollar!). That has been his price for the last 10 years, Rahim Dad said. (No wonder, his kids have opted for other occupations.)

While watching the white-haired Rahim Dad turn a lump of clay into a beautiful piece of pottery in front of my eyes with such ease and speed, I couldn’t help but wonder if God had created man also on a Potter’s wheel.

13 responses to “Inspiration Pakistan: The Potter of Saidpur”

  1. MQ says:


    First, to your first comment about the word ‘invention’.
    Strictly and scientifically speaking, perhaps, you are right. But I used the word in a general sense. Oxford dictionary describes the word ‘invention’ as “something, typically a device or a process, that has been invented e.g. spectacles for reading and the spinning wheel.” Therefore, the potter’s wheel would qualify for an invention. Wouldn’t it?

    Your second comment, I suspect, is more of a snare. So, I won

  2. AHsn says:

    Dear Mast Qalandar,

    Your last remark:

    “I couldn’t help but wonder if God had created man also on a Potter’s wheel.”

    This remark gives two possibilities: EITHER
    (1) The potter’s wheel already existed before God came into being.
    (2) He created the potter’s wheel before creating the man (Adam).

    Your “IF” is a big danger for the FAITH.

  3. Deeda-i-Beena says:

    As is evident, it is the passion that makes Artists (artisans?) like Rahim Dad tick. There is no money as his children have rightly discovered and found their livelihood elsewhere.
    Even such an exquisite piece of pottery would not bring food to the table.
    We patronisingly praise these creations and then walk away. I hate walking on a carpet after seeing the artistry, effort and energy that went into its creation – every bit a painting that we hang and adore, never to walk on.

  4. SAEED says:

    prof. Najam comment makes me think of issue in a new way. Had never thought of craftsman as creative but you are very right.

  5. Hammy says:

    well, i visited a crafts store at Hala, last year and saw workers working in dying hot summer.. Hope I had a camera at that time..

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