Metals are usually associated with hardness, sturdiness and solid utility. The use of metals brings to mind construction, large industries and a sense of formidable resistance. But metals are malleable, which means they can be shaped, pressed or hammered without breaking or even cracking.
This quality of metals makes it craftsman’s delight. And hence metal crafts are popular all over the world. Quite contrary to their sturdy image, metal crafts exude a combination of style, artistry, as well as, dependability.
Metal crafts in India date back to the Indus Valley Civilization. The discovery of the Dancing Girl sealed the fact that people of the sub-continent region were masters at moulding metal since long. The legacy of metal works is seen till date in bronze statues of the Chola kingdom or the iron pillar at Mehrauli in Delhi made during Ashoka’s time.
But though the metal crafts have been an intrinsic part of the Indian artists and sculptures they have also served their purpose in utilitarian and practical usages. On one hand metals have been widely used to create mythological figures and deities, whereas, on the other, metal pots, pans, frames, locks, key chains etc. are also very common in our cultures. There are large variants of how metals are handled and what they finally turn out to be.
Types of Indian Metal Crafts
Before we move on, a quick look at the different types of metal crafts is required. The art of working on the metals also means infusing it with other objects.
Enameling for example is when a glass substance is fused with metal at high temperatures. A blacksmith shapes the iron to create objects including sculptures, weapons, gates etc. A tinsmith creates utensils out of metal, whereas, a silversmith makes fine items from the silver metal. Where a coppersmith creates objects out of copper and brass, a goldsmith forms valuable designs and objects with gold.
Indian Metal Arts
There are various uses of metal. But when it comes to recognizing metal arts, there are a few distinct centers in India that are known for their regional metal crafts.
The most popular is the Bidri ware of Andhra Pradesh. Using zinc and copper first and then overlaying the grooves with silver and gold designs makes the Bidri metal art a unique and stunning artistic device. Originating from the town of Bidar the inlaid work of the metal ware is its biggest attraction.
Pembharti found in the Warangal district in Telangana is popular for its sheet metal art. Used extensively during the Kakatiyas Empire, this form of art was used in chariots and in temples. Using brass the art is today used on vases, containers and plaques.
Dhokra is the technique of using lost-wax casting and the Dancing Girl from Mohenjo Daro is the earliest statue that exists made using this technique. Well-known today, the Dhokra metal craft is most practiced in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. The statues are made usually from bronze scrap but the interiors are filled with clay. A variety of statues, ranging from figures of horses, elephants, owls, peacocks to religious motifs are made using this form of metal craft.
Kamrupi metal craft is practiced in Kamrup, Assam. Made from brass and bell metal the items produced by this metal craft are pots or kalah, the sarai, lota (water pot), bati (bowl), cymbals and more. The craft also uses copper, silver and gold to create objects. A lot of metal crafts from Kamrup are displayed in State Museum in Guwahati.
Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh is famous for a range of household items made from brass. The items are also widely decorated with intrinsic designs. Similarly, Varanasi is where cast sculptures of deities, as well as household utensils are made using copper and brass.
Jaipur Metal Craft
Jaipur is the center for lacquering and brass engravings in Rajasthan. Beautiful designs are embossed on the glossy surface of the pots, plates, boxes etc. It is also well-known for bronze sculptures and Koftagiri, which is the art of encrusting one metal with another.
Metal Craft in Other States of India
The Ladakh region has its own traditional vessels made from brass and iron, whereas, the Kashmir region is also popular for the naquashi work. Here the designs and patterns that are embossed on silver and copper items are oxidized.
Bronze statues of Jain deities are famous in Palitana, Gujarat, whereas, in Tamil Nadu brassware items include lamps and other traditional objects used for religious functions.
The Silver filigree work of Odisha and Andhra is made using thin silver wires to create animals and bird pieces. Key chains, trays and other decorative items are also made using this form of metal craft.
Metal crafts are wide spread with artisans specializing in the art of their respective regions. Different types of metal crafts are popular in different parts of the country.
Next time you look at a metal craft, even if it is a vessel or items that are used daily in mundane activities, note that it takes artistic skill to mold and shape a solid metal into a beautiful piece.