Country Tiled Roofs in Mithila region, Bihar





Housing/ Settlement Typology

Knowledge System/ Innovation

Disaster Resistance/ Structural System

Climate response

Construction Methodology

Key Issues with the Building Practice


Chhotu Miyan (Potter)
Saharsa Basti., Dist: Saharsa

Chhotu miyan started his career as a raj-mistry. But that doesn’t dither his enthusiasm to apply his skill into almost every field of construction except bamboo. His multiple skills led him to start his own little business of khapra.
Unlike most of the raj mistry of the region, he has never left his village for work. His major earning lies in the manufacturing of ‘Kechuva’ roof tiles, which he prefers ahead of any construction labour work. When we met him, he appeared to be a mean at peace with whatever little he did for his family. After he started manufacturing ‘Kechuva’ tiles, he has since then lived a stable life.
The manufacturing of the tile does not require the skill of a potter wheel. The raw material is prepared and casted in a mould. Kechuva tiles are unique in many ways. It reduces the number of tiles as compared to the traditional khapra as both naliya and thopia are fused together. The hand moldings allow rapid production in a day. Its manufacturing does not demand any specialized setup, as ‘Kechuva’ tiles are the most elementary form of roof tiles and a pocketful production requires only one mould and that too, manual.

Usually, he borrows an agricultural waste land from one of his friends, along the main road and pulls up a business with a few contacts. The soil fit for manufacturing is procured from Dhamsaini village for Rs.400/- per tractor trailer; which is enough for making 2000 tiles. One person can easily make 300 tiles per day with help of one mould.

The process to manufacture ‘Kechuva’ tiles is truly a man’s skill, as no machine is used anywhere in the process. A handful of prepared clay is picked and rolled by a ‘belan’ (rolling pin) in somewhat rectangular shape. A blade is used to square the edges. The wooden moulds (which are two separate pieces) are placed next to each other, one above and other below the clay patty. Extra clay is cut and removed by blade. Skilled hands shape the clay along the wooden moulds and gently lift the newborn tile and place it to sun dry in a row.
The wet clay tiles merge with the soil and give a plastic form to the soil. The tiles are dried for three days and then stacked vertically in circular manner. At a time, a maximum of three layers are stacked, with coal in between them. The heap is covered with thatch and burn wood (charcoal). A layer of clay of about 15cms (6 inches) is used to seal the entire assembly. Then it is fired for three days. As the charcoal and thatch burns in beginning, the clay sinks and cracks, this helps in releasing the smoke.

Each tile is sold for a minimum of 50 Paisa or maximum of 75 Paisa. Every year those who are already using ‘Kechuva’ tiles for roof, have to clean and re-adjust it. This process has some breakage, thus, Chhotu Miyan is not really worried about the bigger orders, though he dreams about them for sure. It used to be a time, he narrates when he had no time but to keep on manufacturing the tiles. There were specialized people in this region that used to come just before the monsoon and repaired every country tiled roof.

We found his finishing better than most of ‘Kechuva’ manufacturers and his explanation style also was very technical. After conveying this to him, came the reality that, he was working as a workshop assistant in Patna Technical College for 15 years. “That’s why I know your language”, he said and started working again bare chest in the noon sun.

Vilakshan Prasad Yadav (Entrepreneur)
Vill:- Pariharpur, Block-Sauranchal, Dist. – Saharsa

When we stopped by a highway side kiln to inquire about the roof tiles, we met Sri Yadav in his confident attire. Wrapped in white vest with a ghamcha (towel) he presented to us.

Sri Vilakshan Prasad Yadav is an owner of a tile kiln today. He retired from his active academic life as a middle school headmaster in 2007. It was quite unusual initially to start a business of roof tiles after spending 36 years of service in teaching. A descendent of a respected family, owning decent amount of land and leading a joint family, he decided to venture out in this unknown trade because he sensed a fortune in it.

After witnessing years of flooding in the Kosi region, he saw a series of changes in the construction technology. What used to be a region of kas, pater and khapra, slowly gave way to the burnt bricks. Though there are very few places in this region where we get soil for erecting a brick kiln, a ‘tali Khapra’ (roof tile) kiln instead would be more useful, he said. That is how, he converted his three ‘bigha’s plot to fabricate tali khapra. Today, agriculture produce is very uncertain. On an average, a ten bigha plot can produce 150-200 mann annaj, which fetches him Rs 25-30,000. On the contrary, a five bigha plot for the kiln gives him a profit of Rs.20, 000/- in six months. This gives him a secured earning. The only trouble he has to take to ensure is profit is to have a check on the no of tiles produced per day.

Sri Yadav is an entrepreneur, like many other tile kiln owner in Kosi who hires the services of khapra mistry.In his kiln, he has 8-10 mistry working regularly for him for at least 6-7 months before the monsoon hits the region. The khapra mistry migrates from as far as Malda district in West Bengal. He gives them the entire kiln on contract basis. The share is on 800 / 1000 basis viz. in a thousand roof tiles; the mistry gets a profit cost for 800 pieces, rest of the profit on 200 pieces is owned by the kiln owner including the ingredient cost.
In many parts of Bihar, there is a tradition of offering one time meal to the worker which is excluding his daily wages. Since, the khapra mistry own a large share of profit, it is not mandatory in his case to provide him with food or shelter. Also, now such a tradition remains only limited to the rural areas of Bihar. Most of the urban areas add an extra sum of money which includes their food expenses. He felt the need to allow his mistry to build their hut within his farm without charging extra.

The ‘tile mistry’

The tile mistry is a migrating community. Once the tile making spell is over in Bihar, they migrate to other parts of the country (e.g. Punjab) for getting job. Normally they would settle for 8-10 mistry out of which, one would be in-charge of the team and responsible for all functions. The team would be divided in groups of two to perform different tasks in the line. The most skilled man would be assigned the task to release the unbaked tile from mould and stack it for sun drying. This is the task that not only requires experience but also a sense of instinctive understanding of baked and unbaked. Maximum breakage happens in this process, thus very few mistry in profession gets ready for this job. Many times it gets difficult to find a man for this work.
It is important to maintain a good relation with these mistry else by September some one else can hire them. Not everyone of the potter community is into this work today. If you visit, Madhubani today, many of the potters have given up their profession. One reason for this has been the availability of ingredients for making bricks. As one moves from Saharsa towards Araria, one can find less and less of brick work. The soil for making bricks are not available readily, hence there are still scope for this small scale building material units employing potters.


The clay in Sri Yadav’s farm is not ideal but good enough for making roof tiles. It is procured only from the top soil and is passed through a sieve to get a uniform texture. Any sand content would reduce the cohesiveness of the soil which would result in cracking of tiles while sun drying. After passing through the sieve, the soil is stacked in heaps and water is added to it. There is no standard for amount of water but if one lifts around 10 kilograms of ideally wet soil in both hands and squeezes it, no lump should fall out of it. If the soil is not cohesive enough, then a minimum amount of burn-wood ash is mixed till the cohesiveness is achieved. ‘Leg pressing’ of clay is a hard job and two stronger people are assigned for it. The clay is spread in circular manner (Pather) and pressed and mixed well. This process goes on till the satisfaction of the mistry after which it is allowed to settle down for around 12 hours. This process is done in the evening as the soil then gets ready by next morning.

Next morning, the ready clay is instantly put into mould. The mould for tali Khapra is made of two wooden parts; one shaping the upper surface and other the inner one. While casting, mould for the upper surface is kept below and clay is put into it, then mould for the inner surface is put above and the assembly is put in a machine, where pressure is applied by manually tightening and releasing a screw. This process requires three persons. At least 50 moulds are required so that the task of releasing the tiles from the moulds demands high skills and hardly one person would be doing this job. The khapra tiles are sun dried for 2-3 days and then arranged into a kiln.

The base of the kiln is made on farm by creating a mound sloping in one direction. The base is leveled by bricks or clay to a slope so that the smoke rises efficiently. The fire is given from the lower end. Wood and coal are used for firing. While dry wood is available locally at Rs. 4-5,000/- per ton, coal has to be purchased from ‘Saharsa’ or ‘Madhepur’ in quintals. Half a ton of wood is enough to ignite the fire for one batch of tiles. Coal is inserted in between gaps of tiles as it can provide slow fire for 4 days. The tiles are kept vertical in the kiln in parallel rows to the edge of the kiln. There are only two such layers one above the other. The kiln is covered with baked clay tiles and insulated by clay and broken bricks.

The kiln is fired for 4 days and is allowed to cool for 2 more. At one time, around 3000 tile are baked in one batch. In this way, any clay takes 8 days to become a roof tile. The tile weighs around 2.9- 3.4 kilograms. These tiles require the roof structure to be stronger enough to carry their weight. Obviously these tiles are more expensive, when in demand, the rate rises up to Rs.6.00/- per piece; otherwise they are available for Two Rupees per piece. “People buy them not out of option, but necessity, so that their roof does not fly off in windy rains and their family gets protection”.

Vilakshan ji is planning to venture out in bricks and cement roof tiles casted in metal moulds. Out of which, he has already taken out the first batch of bricks in his farm. He also tells us very proudly that, he did all this on his own and not by taking loans from government. He has not allowed his son to venture into this business. “He has to know what he wants to do. He should not do it only because I inherited it to him” says Vilakshan Prasad Yadav

Special Tools/ Equipments


Credits and Acknowledgements

Prashant (CEPT), Tejas (CEPT), Bhavuk (CEPT)


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