1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kashi

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KASHI, or Kasi, formerly the Persian word for all glazed and enamelled pottery irrespectively; now the accepted term for certain kinds of enamelled tile-work, including brick-work and tile-mosaic work, manufactured in Persia and parts of Mahommedan India, chiefly during the 16th and 17th centuries.[1]

Undoubtedly originating in the Semitic word for glass, kas, it is quite possible that the name kashi is immediately derived from Kashan, a town in Persia noted for its faïence. This ancient pottery site, in turn, probably receives its name from the old-time industry; as a “city of the plain” it would obviously have no claim to the farther-eastern suffix shan, meaning a mountain. Sir George Birdwood wisely considers that “the art of glazing earthenware has, in Persia, descended in an almost unbroken tradition from the period of the greatness of Chaldaea and Assyria ... the name kas, by which it is known in Arabic and Hebrew, carries us back to the manufacture of glass and enamels for which great Sidon was already famous 1500 years before Christ ... the designs used in the decoration of Sind and Punjab glazed pottery also go to prove how much these Indian wares have been influenced by Persian examples and the Persian tradition of the much earlier art of Nineveh and Babylon” (The Industrial Arts of India, 1880). The two native names for glass, kanch and shisha, common to Persia and India, are, seemingly, modifications of kashi. The Indian tradition of Chinese potters settling in bygone days at Lahore and Hala respectively, still lingers in the Punjab and Sind provinces, and evidently travelled eastward from Persia with the Moguls. Howbeit in Lahore the name Chíní is sometimes wrongly applied to kashi work; and the so-called Chíní-ka-Rauza mausoleum at Agra is an instance of this misuse. It now seems an established fact that a colony of Chinese ceramic experts migrated to Isfahan during the 16th century (probably in the reign, and at the invitation, of Shah Abbas I.), and there helped to revive the jaded pottery industry of that district.

Kashi work consisted of two kinds: (a) Enamel-faced tiles and bricks of strongly fired red earthenware, or terra-cotta; (b) Enamel-faced tiles and tesserae of lightly fired “lime-mortar,” or sandstone. Tile-mosaic work is described by some authorities as the true kashi. From examination of figured tile-mosaic patterns, it would appear that, in some instances, the shaped tesserae had been cut out of enamelled slabs or tiles after firing; in other examples to have been cut into shape before receiving their facing of coloured enamel. Mosaic panels in the fort at Lahore are described by J. L. Kipling as “showing a gul dasta, or foliated pattern of a branching tree, each leaf of which is a separate piece of pottery.” Conventional representations of foliage, flowers and fruit, intricate geometrical figures, interlacing arabesques, and decorative calligraphy—inscriptions in Arabic and Persian—constitute the ordinary kashi designs. The colours chiefly used were cobalt blue, copper blue (turquoise colour), lead-antimoniate yellow (mustard colour), manganese purple, iron brown and tin white. A colour-scheme, popular with Mogul and contemporary Persian kashigars, was the design, in cobalt blue and copper blue, reserved on a ground of deep mustard yellow. Before applying the enamel colours, the rough face of the tile, or the tesserae, received a thin coating of slip of variable composition. It is probably owing to some defect in this part of the process, or to imperfect firing, that the enamelled tile surfaces on many old buildings, particularly on the south side, have weathered and flaked away.

In India the finest examples of kashi work are in the Punjab and Sind provinces. At Lahore, amongst many beautiful structures, the most notable are the mosque of Wazir Khan (A.D. 1634) and the gateways of three famous pleasure gardens, the Shalamar Bagh (A.D. 1637), the Gulabi Bagh (A.D. 1640), and the Charburji (c. A.D. 1665). At Tatta the Jami Masjid, built by Shah Jahan (c. A.D. 1645), is a splendid illustration; whilst in that “vast cemetery of six square miles” on the adjacent Malki plateau, are numerous Mahommedan tombs (A.D. 1570–1640) with extraordinary kashi ornamentation. Delhi, Multan, Jullundur, Shahdara, Lahore cantonment, Agra and Hyderabad (Sind), all possess excellent monuments of the best period viz. those erected during the reigns of Akbar and Jahangir (A.D. 1556–1628).

In Persia, at Isfahan, Kashan, Meshed and Kerman are a few buildings and ruins showing the old kashi work; the palace of Chehel Sitùn in Isfahan, built during the reign of Shah Abbas I. (c. A.D. 1600), is a magnificent specimen of this art.

Occasional revivals of the manufacture have taken place both in India and Persia. Mahommed Sharíf, a potter of Jullundur in the Punjab, reproduced the Mogul enamelled tile-work in 1885, and there is a manuscript record of a certain Ustad Ali Mahommed, of Isfahan, who revived the Persian processes in 1887. (W. B.*; C. S. C.) 

  1. Káshí, the Hindu name for the sacred city of Benares, has no ceramic significance.