Metalwork in India

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Both the literature and the metal images excavated by archaeologists establish the fact that the art of bronze casting has been continuously practised in India for more than five millennia. The Indian metal smith is known for various methods of metal-working and has created forms with vision, conception and sensitivity of a sculptor. Copper and tin were the earliest non-ferrous metals to be used by man. Later, these were mixed to form an alloy called bronze.   The Matsya- Purana describes various methods of casting bronze images.

In India there is an extensive use of brass, bronze, copper, iron and bell metal in India. Ornaments, utensils, icons and figures are made out of different metals. These objects are further embellished through punching, engraving, inlaying and enameling. Interesting brass and iron-work is done in Ladakh, where highly ornamental and soundly effective kitchen stoves are made purely by hand. Many items are made here by the combination of silver, brass and copper. Copper vessels of Kashmir with floral designs and calligraphy show excellent artisanship. Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat present wide range of brass items. In South India, metal icons, especially of bronze, are extremely popular. Tamil Nadu is one of the famous bronze producing regions where the artisans or stapathis produce stylistic images conforming to Pallava, Chola, Pandyan and Nayaka periods. The images of Trimurthi and Durga are the most common.  Kerala produces distinct bronze statues of Shiva’s tandava dance, described as the gaja tandava. Karkal in Karnataka is an ancient centre that specializes in rare Jain icons.

Odisha is known for its Dhocra casting and silver filigree work. Cigar boxes, jewellery, baskets and decorative trays are the popular items made in the silver filigree. Hyderabad is famous for silver objects like paandaan (betel-leaves box), ugaldaan (spittoon), itardaan (perfume-box), silver models of Charminar and bronze statues, especially of Roman soldiers and the statue of Mephisthopheles and Margarita (male and female forms in one statue). In North India, copper and brass lamps are made in a variety of shapes and styles.  The pahaldar lamps and Jaipuri lamps are the examples. Uttar Pradesh is the largest brass and copper-making region in India with numerous centres. Centres like Etawah, Moradabad, Varanasi and Sitapur produce lotas or water-pots and ritual articles like tamrapatra, panch patra, sinhasan and kanchanthal.

Metal ornamentation is undertaken at Delhi, Jaipur and Moradabad.  Embossing work or repousse is done by raising the design in relief. Engraving is done on a metal by cutting or scratching lines on it. The Jaipuri engravers produce lacquered and engraved brassware in an amazing variety of articles: hanging lamps, boxes, bowls, picture frames and plates. In Jaipur the engraving is done in three styles. Marori work has minutely lacquered designs that cover the entire surface in its effect both rich and subtle; ‘chicken‘ has flowers motifs against a chased and lacquered background and ‘bichi’ is a delicate pattern of flowers and leaves on a lacquered surface. Marwar in Rajasthan is famous for it zinc-pots called badla. The badlas, which are usually round, semi-circular or rectangular, are sometimes fitted with ice chambers and taps.

Punching creates a decorative effect by arrangement of lines and dots in a definite artistic pattern. The kammalas of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu are famous for metal encrusting work. Moradabad has become famous for khudai or metal engraving work done in nakashi style. They produce a fine and delicate work called barik kamKoftagiri or damascening is another technique of inlaying a light metal on a dark one. It is mostly practised in Alwar and Jaipur to make popular articles are swords, daggers and shields.

Delhi and Jaipur are known for meenakari, the enamel work on gold. Maharaja Man Singh I introduced the beautiful meenakari work to Rajasthan around the end of the 17th century. Enamelling or meenakari was originally meant to protect gold, which in its pure state is so soft and malleable that it can easily wear away. However, the technique soon came to be used for all sorts of object de arts. The charming technique of laying fine brass or copper wire into carefully chiseled grooves in a metal or wooden surface is called Tarkashi. The patterns, an amalgam of Rajput and Mughal styles, are floral, leaf and creeper.

The bidri work in which silver inlay work is done against dark metal backgrounds is practised in Bidar in Karnataka. Silver and brass are inlaid upon an alloy of zinc and copper, which is blackened by dipping the object into a solution of copper sulphate. It is the contrast between the black surface and the shiny inlay that makes the object look dramatic. It is done in various styles like tarkashi (inlay of wire), tainishan (inlay of sheet), zarnishan (low relief), zarbuland (high relief) and aftabi (cut-out designs on overlaid metal sheet).

A metal craft unique to Himachal is the mohra. Mohras or metal plaques representing a deity are common in Kullu and Chamba. Most of them represent Shiva, but masks of the mother goddess Devi and other deities are not uncommon. The head is sculpted in bold relief, while the neck and shoulders are more summarily treated. These mohras are taken out of the temples on a palanquin in processions during religious festivals like the grand Kullu Dussehra.

Nepal has a unique art called the Newari art, which consists of bronzes with beautiful soft reddish patina. The phurpa or the ritual or magical dagger of Tibetan Buddhists consists of three-sided blades made of copper alloy and bronze in which the hilt usually shows three heads of protective deities, the common being the Mahakala.

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