Author: Prajkta Harishchandra Gaikwad

The role of traditional pottery in beating rural heat stress in Maharashtra

Source(s): Climate and Development Knowledge Network
Pottery water jars, Maharashta, India
Adam Cohn / flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Prajkta Harishchandra Gaikwad from the Yashwantrao Chavan School of Social Work describes how communities in the Satara district of Maharashtra are using traditional earthen pots to keep drinking water cool during heat waves. Prajkta shares how important it is to preserve these local resilience practices to effectively combat climate change.

An increase in global temperatures is intensifying heat stress in India. Heatwaves are generally experienced in the country during the summer months of April and May, resulting in loss of life and impacts on human health in several parts of the country, including Maharashtra. Multiple measures are being taken to tackle extreme heat at the national and subnational levels, however, documenting local practices associated with adapting to heat stress is inadequate. 

The moment a heatwave occurs, it increases the need for cooling, raising the demand for air conditioners and alternative water cooling systems. Providing drinking water is a common method to alleviate heat stress in both indoor and outdoor environments. Karnataka’s (a state just south of Maharashtra) action plan for climate change and health identifies offering ‘cool and clean drinking water in earthen pots’ at schools, workplaces, fields and public places as a heat response measure. The climate resilient city action plan for Nagpur in Maharashtra directs district administrations to change the timings of the schools, the working hours of vulnerable labourers, to avoid load shedding during the afternoon and to reserve separate wards in government hospitals for the people affected by heat.

The earthen pot – A cost-effective and nature-based ‘fridge for the rural poor’ 

Traditionally in rural India, villagers store their drinking water in an earthen pot to keep it cold during the summer months. As it is widely said in these parts, the pot works as a “fridge for the rural poor”, playing a vital role in providing access to cool water. 

In the Indian subcontinent, the traditional potter community is known as Kumhar or Kumbhar, meaning maker of the kumbhar (earthen pot). This study focused on understanding the socioeconomic conditions among the Kumbhar community in the Satara district of Maharashtra. It assessed the effects of a changing climate and subsequent variability in the summer months on the Kumbhar community members' occupational patterns, health status and livelihoods. People from poorer households also reported socioeconomic and livelihood challenges in adopting coping strategies.

Learning from the Kumbhar community

A household survey was conducted in April 2022 with ten households from five villages in the Satara district of Maharashtra, whose main occupation was pottery making (such as ceramics, earthen pots, religious idols etc.). Additional focus group discussions were held with the Kumbhar community to understand the role of seasons, community member occupation, indoor and outdoor temperature differences and perceived heat stress. 

As temperatures started rising in April, the demand for and supply of earthen pots increased. Focus group discussions reported that this high temperature correlated with an increased demand for earthen pots. The pots were especially necessary for outdoor workers like farmers and labourers returning from the field throughout the summer and pre-monsoon periods. Buyers reported heat-related symptoms such as intense thirst, heavy sweating, fainting and dehydration. 

An outdoor worker mentioned (image above): “I feel more comfortable after drinking cold water from the earthen pot. After working in direct heat a man uses less clothing and covers his head from direct heat exposure. The cold water helps to maintain the human body's temperature.”

A group of women labourers’ at the worksite mentioned (image above): “During breaks, I drink cold water from an earthen pot which the farmers arranged, sometimes I take cold water in both hands (Onzhalit pani ghete) and put that cold water on my face and head; this helps me reduce the body temperature and control sweating in peak heat hours.”

The importance of preserving local resilience practices in a changing climate 

This study shows that the communities in the Satara district use the earthen pot system as a local resilience measure to combat heat stress. Despite states like Karnataka recognising the importance of earthen pots in their action plan, the potter community is mostly ignored by policymakers and planners. Furthermore, the replacement of plastic pots and freezers is also threatening this traditional way of life. 

“During Diwali festivals, the lamp market is flooded with Chinese-made products, which is cutting into the profits of the local potters and impacting on the income level”, mentioned a local community member. 

Such threats are affecting the continued sustainability of this Kumbhar occupation. However, the elderly population in the community is still optimistic about continuing their traditional work. 

This local and traditional pottery system needs more recognition and support regarding its significant contribution to tackling heat stress. Further research is required to understand the community's traditional knowledge, the status of traditional livelihood and local resilience strategies adopted by the Kumbhar community. In addition, strong policy and budgetary provisions must be created so the community can sustain itself in a competitive market for the earthen pot industry.


The author thanks the study respondents for participating in the study and sharing their valuable perceptions and strategies to manage heat stress. Special thanks to Dr. Samata Mane, Dr. Manisha Shirodkar, Mr. Premsagar Tasgaonkar and Mr. Dada R Dadas for their constant motivation and guidance in writing this blog.  

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