Metal craft is perhaps the single most important craft in
terms of the number of artisans engaged in its practice as in its close
links with the daily lives of the people of the State. The craft is
practiced by the people of the 'Kansari' caste who can be broadly
described as metal smiths while a particular variety, 'Dhokra', is
practiced mainly by 'Sithulias'. The largest concentration of the former
is 'Kantilo' and 'Balakati' in
although fairly substantial numbers are found in Cuttack,
Ganjam and Sambalpur districts.
The products of this handicraft can be broadly classified into three groups - items produced through process of beating, locally known as "Pifa", those produced by casting and the third group would include the residual items. These can also be broadly subdivided into two groups in terms of raw materials used, this is, brass and bell metal, the former being an alloy of copper and zinc and the latter of copper and tin.
The workshop is called "Sala" or shed and consists of a platform with a block of stone for the floor on which the beating is done, a heating furnace or "Bhati", a raised verandah with a local lathe for polishing. Tools used are hammers and anvils, pincers, hand drills, files and scrapers. The heating furnace with a crucible is fanned by a blower with leather bellows although of late the craftsmen have started using mechanical blowers.
The process consists of preparation of the material by melting the required materials in the crucible and then placing the molten metal into an earthenware container. After the molten metal sets, it is taken out and after repeated hammering and beating is given the desired shape.
Sometimes for making a single item two or three pieces are separately made and joined mostly with rivets. The major items manufactured in the beating process are plates or 'thali', deep round containers called "Kansa", small containers called 'gina' (tumbers), water containers called "Gara" and buckets or 'baltis', large cooking utensils and storage vessels called 'handi', various types of pots and pans, ladles or 'Chatu', perforated flat cooking spoons etc.
While the above-mentioned are items used in cooking and eating there are also a number of items used for 'puja' or worship. Of these most important of course, is the 'ghanta' or the 'gong' and thali for offering of the food to the deities. It may be mentioned here that in a few places the surface of the items are also engraved with various designs including floral and geometric patterns besides human and animal figures and occasionally they are also painted with enamel paints. The items produced by the beating process are many and the designs also vary from place to place.
The Types Of Casting
As for casting one can make two broad groups that is brass castings and Dhokra casting. Both follow the lost wax or cireperdue process. Brass casting is done by the Kansaris and items produced include icons - mainly Radha, Krishna, Laxmi, (pot bellied) Ganesa, Vishnu and crawling Krishna called "Gurundi Gopal", bells or 'ghanti', lampstand or 'rukha' and lamps or 'dipa'.
It is interesting to note that at present there is no bronze casting being done in Orissa although the craft seems to have reached great perfection centuries ago as evidenced by the discovery of a large number of bronze icons from Achutarajpur near Banapur in Puri District. Again no casting is done in bell metal although this is quite common in South India.
The Social Connection
The socio-cultural links of its handicraft are very strong. According to well-entrenched traditions the bride is presented with a set of brass and bell metal articles for starting off her new home, the quantity and quality varying according to the economic status of the family. While in the villages these are extensively used for eating and cooking, in the areas other materials like stainless steel, aluminum and ceramics have dislodged them.
Nevertheless the brides, even in urban areas continue to get their set of brass and bell metal items in marriage. Of particular interest is the round deep bowl called Kansa in which 'pakhala' a typical dish of Orissa, that is rice soaked in water and curd or 'torani' or fermented gruel, is eaten. In the villages and in terms of the rural economy the articles also serve another useful purpose as they can be easily pawned for borrowing money.
Besides, the old, broken and used items can always be exchanged at reduced rate for new items from itinerant metal ware vendors. As for metal icons, while in most orthodox families these are installed as deities of the home, frequently placed on a brass platform called "Khatuli", and also used in some temples as the presiding deities.
However, in all major temples almost invariably the moving image or the 'Chalanti Pratima' of the presiding deities are brass icons. It is these icons, which are taken out in various ritual processions and perform other mobile functions of the much larger and fixed principal. Of the major icons mention is to be made of the large brass image of Radha in the "Sakhigopal temple" in Puri district and similar images in temples in Ganjam district.
Similarly the use of 'Ghanta' and 'ghanti' the bell and the gong are both important and indispensable for all ritual worships, particularly during 'arati' and offering of food. During the "Rath Yatra" or Car Festival, hundreds of the gongs are beaten rhythmically by the devotees and priests in frenzied ecstasy as the divine chariots are pulled forward by the thronging millions.
The 'Manjira' or 'gini', two circular cupped convex discs tied to strings and used for beating the rhythm and the 'Ghunguroo' or ankle bells tied in the feet of dancers are also products of this group of crafts and are in indication of their whereabouts. The sound of the cattle returning to the village after the day's grazing mixing their sweet bleatings with the jingle of the bells leaving a trail of dust cloud is a familiar scene of rural Orissa.
Dhokra casting, a variety of metal casting is essentially a folk craft and is limited to a few pockets of Orissa, that is Kuliana in Mayurbhanj district, Kaimatin in Keonjhar district, Sadeiberni in Dhenkanal district and Haradagaria in Puri district being practiced by an aboriginal caste called "Sithulias".
While the lost wax process is followed the raw materials used is not pure brass but contains miscellaneous scraps of other metals, which give it is typically antique look. Its motifs are mostly drawn from folk culture. While among the animals, the elephant is most popular, the other motifs include human heads, kings, 'Manas' or miniature replica of measures, containers with lids, with or without locking devices, images of deities like Ganesh and Durga, and lamps and lamp stands, the last being made in several intricate designs in shape of trees and branches with as many as a hundred lamps in one stand.
Of late some utilitarian articles like candle stands, ashtrays and pen stands are also being made keeping the essential folk design intact. Dhokra is not exclusive to Orissa and is found in Bengal, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh also but it is a very important handicraft because of its more or less exclusive folk character.
The third group of items under this handicraft, that can be described as residual consists mainly of the unique flexible brass items like the brass fish and snakes made by the craftsmen of Belguntha in Ganjam district.