Andretta Pottery & Craft Society

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Mansimran_Singh Gurcharan_Singh Mini Padmashri Sardar Gurcharan SinghIt was a delight to know, the home of Norah Richards and Sardar Sobha Singh, Andretta village is still flourishing with great artists.

Panchrukhi (paanch(five)-rukhi(trees)), as name suggest it had five big trees, is the main town and use to have lot of hustle and bustle. Three relatives of mine are from area around Panchrukhi and Andretta, which also has small Katoch village and I visited this place I dont know how many times. My father took me quite many times to see Norah’s home as well as to another British sculptor’s home who lived there and always cherished us with her wonderful ice tea. The beautiful small fish pond also known as machhyal was the another stoppage to feed fish and then a bath in small natural water pond (bouri), which every body use to say has skin improvement qualities.

Very few of us know that Andretta use to be main centre for some of the best artists we had. BC Sanyal, the doyen of Indian art, Prithvi Raj Kapoor, the grand old man of Indian cinema, Balraj Sahni, perhaps the best Indian cinema artist India produced, Amrita Pritam, most prominent woman Punjabi poet and fiction writer, all use to visit Andretta.

India’s best potter, Padam Shree Sardar Gurcharan Singh also visited Sardar Sobha Singh’s home many times.

Now Andretta Pottery is run by Mansimran “Mini” Singh, son of Gurcharan Singh. Andretta Pottery and Craft Society was started in 1983. It is situated between the old Shuahk hills and the towering range of the Dholadhar Himalaya. As well as being a production studio pottery making attractively designed earthen slipware; it also provides 3 month courses for aspiring potters.

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An IT professional for 17 years, based in the US since the last 12 years. Founded NGO My Himachal and then Himachal Media Pvt. Ltd.. A Himachali forever. Always trying to bring together people whose hearts beat for the state.

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  1. says: sanjay

    In fact, it is sad that the HP govt has failed to utilise the infrastructure and artistic talent available at Andreta to promote art in the state. There is not even a single institution in the state that promotes visual arts. (institutions of worth). Former PM Vajpayee had announced an international arts college at Naggar but I have not heard about it from anybody. It is a shame that after Arts College (Lahore)that functioned from Shimla after partition, was shifted to Chandigarh, no serious effort has been made to replace it. The Arts department at Shimla Univ is in no way a match. Probably, that is the reason why we Himachalis have failed to relate ourselves to our environment.


    Fresh from a heavy snow-fall, the Dhauladhar Mountains provide the perfect setting for this arty village near Palampur in the Kangra Valley of Northern India.

    It is where drama, painting, pottery and writing marry. But no wedding is complete without a splash of the Punjabi joie de vivre. The village of Andretta, which dares to separate the mighty Himalayas from the Shivaliks, is just bursting with it.

    And, mind you, it’s not the number of chicken-shops that determine Andretta’s “Punjabi by Nature” character, but its unique history of having been the home of the likes of Norah Richards, an Irish woman universally referred to as ‘the nani (granny) of Punjabi theatre’; and of two Padam Shrees (the highest honour given by India to its artists): the late Sardar Sobha Singh, the renowned Sikh painter; and the late Sardar Gurcharan Singh, one of the finest studio potters the country has produced.

    Lending the Punjabi blend to the hilt even today are the legacies of all the three in the form of a trio of inimitable institutions: the Punjabi University-owned amphitheatre at Norah Richard’s former home where the drama department of the Punjabi University stages plays each year; the family-owned Sobha Singh Art Gallery; and the Andretta Pottery and Crafts Society run by Gurcharan Singh’s son Mansimran Singh and his English wife, Mary.

    “We don’t know what Andretta means, but the closest we’ve come to know is that Andretta is an Italian name,” says Mansimran, as we chat in the couple’s artistically-created house. The murals on the wall at the entry are the work of potters visiting from around the world, and bear testimony to the spirit of the village that has attracted great and creative minds for more than eight decades.

    “It’s a heritage village and we’ve asked the government to certify it as such,” explains Mansimran, who himself adds a further touch of the Punjabi character to the village with his flowing beard and pony-tail. [He’s unable to wear the Sikh turban because of an injury.]

    Norah Richards, charmed by the beautiful environs of Andretta, chose this village as home in the mid-930s and opened a school of drama which quickly became a flourishing hub of cultural and theatrical activities. She constructed an English-style cottage by using local mud, bamboo and slate.

    Every March, Norah organised a week-long theatre festival where students enacted her plays in Punjabi at the open-air theatre. “She used drama as a medium for social reforms,” says 81-year-old Malti Chandok, who was like a daughter to Norah.

    Norah’s play, ‘Suhaag’, based on the child-marriage of a girl, became instrumental in educating people on the issue, adds Malti.

    Norah had also invited the likes of B.C. Sanyal, a well-known painter and sculptor, and Professor Jaidayal, who had been her husband’s pupil. Later, actor Pirthviraj Kapoor (the father of Raj, Shammi and Shashi Kapoor), who was then a student of Jaidyal, became a regular at Andretta and performed each time at the Amphitheatre. His ardent desire, however, to settle down in Andretta some day was unfortunately never fulfilled.

    Like Norah, Sobha Singh came to the Kangra Valley in 1947, looking for a tranquil setting where he could paint. An accomplished draftsman with the pre-Independence Indian Army, he had tired of his nomadic life which had already resulted in stints in far-flung places like Iraq, Lahore, Bombay and Delhi. He negotiated the acquisition of a piece of land from Norah Richards and went on to live in Andretta for the next four decades, till his death in 1986.

    His family has carefully preserved his studio and display therein many of his remarkable paintings. He is widely known for his iconic depictions of the Sikh Gurus and, of course, Sohni and Mahiwal, the legendary couple of the age-old tragic love-story from the Punjab.

    In 1956, Norah visited Gurcharan Singh’s pottery studio in Delhi. Impressed by his art and craftsmanship, she invited him to Andretta and offered him a piece of land from her own property.

    Gurcharan Singh, like many others before and after him, promptly fell in love with the hamlet and made Andretta his summer sojourn, where he came annually to be inspired and to create some of his best pieces.

    In 1985, it was Mansimran Singh (along with Mary) who, after his completion of a scholarship from the British Council in glazed earthenware, decided to move to Andretta. With Delhi Blue Pottery – the world-renowned institution founded by Mansimran’s father – having been being closed down the same year, the couple received a grant from the Himachal Pradesh government and set up a pottery society and a rural marketing centre, offering employment to the locals.

    An ‘Artmart’ in the true sense: Norah Richards Writers’ Home

    On 29th October each year, students from the drama department of the Punjabi University, Patiala, take centre-stage at the amphitheatre in Mem-da-Pind to commemorate the birthday of playwright and social activist Norah Richards.

    Born in 1876 in Ireland, Norah came to India in 1908 after marrying Philip Richards. Norah was vice-principal at Dayal Singh College, Lahore. The city was a major centre of Punjabi culture in those days, and Norah found it fertile ground to write and direct many of her plays. After Philip’s death in 1920, Norah returned to England. However, unable to keep herself away from India, Norah returned in 1924. She subsequently selected Andretta as her permanent home after the District Commissioner of Kangra donated her 5 acres of land in 1935.

    Norah constructed a mud house for herself and named it “Chameli Niwas”. Because of the devastation caused by an earthquake in Kangra in 1905, she had become a strong advocate of mud houses. “Nobody could dare to build a concrete house during her lifetime,” exclaims Mansimran Singh.

    “She would fight with anybody who would flout the ‘rules’,” he adds.

    Part of the property that includes her former house is now owned by the Punjabi University, which had earlier recognized her services to the Punjabi language and culture and felicitated her with an honorary degree in 1970.

    The present Vice-Chancellor, S.S. Boparai, seeing the dilapidated condition of Chameli Niwas, has allotted funds to restore it. Part of her property had been willed to the Woodlands Society, which was created to encourage artists to come and settle in Andretta. “Norah’s Centre for the Arts” is run by the society. Artists can now hire rooms here. It mirrors Norah’s desires, as it is constructed almost entirely of local materials, with special emphasis on bamboo.

    On the outer gate of the Woodland retreat is her grave with the epitaph – “Rest, tired soul, your life of work is finished.”

    Andretta Pottery and Crafts Society – Making the Earth Sing

    About 300 yards past Norah’s home, the gravel road takes you to Mansimran Singh and Mary’s studios where artisans wheel glazed pottery, using the ‘slip wear’ technique, for Fab India, a leading ethnic store in New Delhi and Chandigarh. The products wheeled here range from luminescent, multi-colored dinner plates, and soup and salad bowls, to mugs, jugs and tall jars.

    “A potter expresses his emotions through his work. Therefore, a pot is born, not made,” explains Mansimran Singh as he takes us around and demonstrates how the ceramics are made. The co-operative not only produces some of the finest earthenware, but nurtures the skills of many would-be potters. It offers a perfect training ground with three-month courses for studio potters at a cost of Rs. 40,000, which includes food and stay. Each year, a large number of foreign and local students come here to learn pottery, says Jugal, the manager.

    Mansimran Singh – after honing his skills with master-potter Bernard Leach at St. Ives in Cornwall, England, and
    Geoffrey Whiting, one of the top teapot makers in England – returned to India in 1961 to work with his father’s Delhi Blue Pottery, until its closure in 1985.

    Mansimran Singh, now in his mid sixties, has organized a string of international exhibitions. The latest, “Water – A Hundred and One Studio Potters”, at the Habitat Centre in the nation’s capital.

    “The traditional potter is dying away”, Mansimran and Mary echo each other, and point towards a Terracotta Museum that they have created that preserves and showcases traditional crafts from various world cultures.

    Where there’s a wheel, there’s a way!

    Sobha Singh (1901- 86)

    The popular images of the First and Tenth Sikh Gurus – Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh – as they prevail in the public mind today, are delineated by the ones painted by Sobha Singh. The serenity captured in those paintings, it appears, is but an extension of the tranquil environs of Andretta itself – the village he made home in 1947.

    Andretta owes a lot to Sobha Singh, who used his paint brush to revive the Kangra style, and much more. His depiction of Guru Nanak in 1969 (“Hand Raised in Blessing”) has already sold more than half-a-million copies around the world.

    “He just loved the openness of Andretta”, says Gurcharan Kaur, his daughter. She adds that he appreciated it even more as he grew older, especially because the valley did not require steep climbs during his lengthy walks through the countryside.

    The Sobha Singh Art Gallery, located on a Marg in Andretta carrying his name, is managed by Gurcharan and her son, Hirday Paul Singh, who is also the Public Relations Officer at the Himachal Pradesh Agriculture University. A large number of artists, art lovers and tourists throng the Gallery daily, where almost three dozen multi-color reproductions of his works are available for purchase. Must-sees in the gallery include: a portrait of the revolutionary, Sardar Bhagat Singh, and the bust of actor Prithviraj Kapoor, which stands at the entrance.

    Every year, in memory of the great artist, an on-the-spot painting competition for school children is held. Followed, not surprisingly, by a langar.

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