Brass and Bell Metal Work

Brass and Bell metal work (Brass = ପିତଳ, Bell metal = କଂସା) is a peculiar form of art that originated from Odisha. This art is one of the unique art forms of Odisha which is mainly manufactured in Cuttack and its adjoining territories and has reached the peak of quality and beauty in producing varieties of excellent articles of utility. The manufacturing unit of Kansa is popularly known as Shala (ଶାଳ), where you can find our traditional blast furnace. The artisans engaged in this profession of bell metal work are known by many names in many places, popularly known as Kansaris, thattaris, kansa karigaras, or Khaduras.

Several wares which are made of brass and bell metal are used by most of the people in Odisha for various purposes, i.e., crockery, showpieces, home decorative purposes, etc. In Odisha, it is a custom to give utensils made of brass and bell metal to the daughters during their marriage. They are the assets of a family. Casting metal brass for shaping beauty and utility is a matter of pride in Odisha’s history. Now, brass and bell metal work has gained its popularity and validity in the study of brass, and the bell metal industry has become a part of Odisha’s artisans and art and craft.

 The current and living generations of Odisha still carry the ancient traditions. The traditional designs and techniques, processes, etc, recorded in the old palm leaves still guide the new generation craftsmen. The handicraft artisans received help and aid from the State Government, which helped develop their arts and crafts both in quality and quantity.

Initially, the artisans of brass and bell metal workers (Kansari) inhabited Kanyakbuja a.k.a Kanauj on the riverbank of Ganga. Kanyakbuja (Kanauj) was the capital city of the last independent ruler of the Hindus, Harsha-Vardhana. He belonged to the famous Pushyabhuti dynasty. The alluring beauty of this art attracted most of the locals in Kanauj. It started to gain popularity quickly which fascinated the king of Puri Gajapati Kapilendra Dev of the Suryavanshi dynasty who became curious to know about the emerging form of art. When Gajapati Kapilendra Dev invited the Kansaris to their prestigious kingdom, they had to sail from the Ganga to Srikshetra Puri. Gajapati invited the Kansaris for a purpose. He wanted them to assign Brass and Bell metal utensils of Lord Jagannath (Lord of the Universe) for his worship. Since then, the Kansaris spread to Kantilo then to other parts of Odisha. Since then, they have been succeeding in creating a dazzling impression of creative impact today.

From the earliest times, the Kansa Karigaras of Odisha has known the scientific process of preparing the alloy of Zinc and Brass known as Bell metalwork. According to the tradition of Odisha, the bride is presented with Brass and bell metal products. In villages, villagers used this art extensively for eating and cooking. This art is used in almost all major temples, for presiding deities. This art is used to make ‘Ghanta’ or ‘Ghanti’ which are important and indispensable for all kinds of worshipping. The ‘Majuras’ are two cupped convex discs tied with strings are also a product of this group of artists.

Brass and bell metal are the two earliest known alloys that occupy a pride of place among the various handicrafts produced in the state, The tools used in the making are molding pots of different sizes, chisels, and hammers. The first process starts with the melting of metals (Copper and Tin) with desired proportion. The melted allow is then transferred to small terracotta molds for their desired shapes and to get ready for the casting process. The casting material is undergone repeated heating and beating process. Due to the heat generated in Shalas, the process starts as early as 5 a.m and continues for a few hours. The shape and coordination among the workers are decided and maintained by their leader. One after another the workers continuously and tirelessly keep the hammering process going. The hard work put in it is astonishing to look at. Then comes the application of salt and clay for the finishing process. Once it's done, the Mathai process begins to add aesthetic value to it. After that, the process of “Chhlai” where the utensils are scraped to remove the charcoal from the inner bronze material. Finally, the end product is then sent for polishing followed by designing processes. The quality of a pure Kansa can be determined by its sound.

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