History of
Indian Crafts
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Indian Crafts >> Metal Crafts
Metal Crafts
History of Metal Crafts

Metal engraving is an ancient craft, which finds reference in the Vedas. Archeological findings of the copper tools of 300 B.C. at Pre-Harappan sites of Baluchistan and Kali Bangan in Rajasthan reveal the existence of metal ware in Indian sub continent. Moradabad, about 160 kms from Delhi, is known for its delicate, intricate work of brassware. The manufacture of brass utensils was an ancestral craft practiced at Moradabad during the reign of Mughal emperor Shahjahan. Decorative and utility brass articles were made exclusively for royal families. Lucknow was a traditional center for the Bidri like engraved wares.

Discovery of an anthropomorphic figure in copper sheet at Bisauli in Uttar Pradesh, dated around 1000 B.C., evidently supports, the existence of the image conceptualization during the vedic periods in Uttar Pradesh. The art of metal casting has been practised more than five millenia in India. Varnasi metalcraft industry excels in sheet repousse and solid casting works. The icon making industry is the oldest industry of Vrindavan. These idols are made of brass.

The antiquity of its use in India is proved by its reference in our earliest nonferrous metals which man shaped into tools.

Gujarat has been the home of metal workers from as early as the chalcolithic copper-stone age. It is well known that the Harappan man, whose remnants have been found in abundance in Gujarat, had excelled in forging, hammering and casting of copper and bronze. Aryans too had, in all probability, known the use of a metal known as ayas, which later on came to mean iron but had in that period perhaps denoted bronze or copper. One of the earliest and most formidable board of metal cast objects of Gujarat is the one discovered at Akota, near Boroda. A metal bell of the 6th century and an incense burner from the 9th century from this hoard are perhaps the earliest recorded metal objects of everyday art of Gujarat.

Brass metal casting in Goa is a craft passed on from one generation to another and it will be right to say that it is practiced here on hereditary basis. During the Portuguese rule in Goa, traditional designs were replaced with new designs.

Brass & metalware were probably the earliest non-ferrous metals, which man shaped into tools for lightness and resistance to corrosion.This is an old craft in Delhi, still carried on mainly in the narrow lanes of the old city.

The metalware in India may be roughly divided into the religious, ritualistic items and objects of utility. The metals used are brass, copper and bell metal. From the limited domestic use it has moved to various directions, especially into the prestigious ritualistic field.
Fine Art
Moradabad is well known as Peetal Nagri. Apart from casting of the metal wares, the centre excels in repousse, cut work and engraving works. The metal enamel work at Moradabad had varieties of fine delicate work called marori and shyah kalam. The designs variations in marori work included chikan, angoori marori. The delicate minute floral patterns of the past, have now been replaced by large and bold designs.

Icons in metal are preferred over the stone images for worshipping in India. The small icons are generally cast in the solid casting technique. Pran pratishtha (a ceremony of invoking the God/Goddess, the icon represents) is performed to change the form to a living deity. Apart from the figurative images the bold floral designs are also done in the repousse technique

The engraving is done on objects like walking sticks, nut crackers, carving sets, cutlery, garden scissors, daggers, knives etc. Products are often embellished with highly stylished motifs like the badam (almond), the mehrab (arch), chinar leaf and exhibiting a degree of skill at deep engraving or repousse.

The modern craft of engine-turning work on metals, mostly silver is practiced in Porbandar and Jamnagar. The process involves the shaping of the articles by hand, with the zig-zag pattern made with the help of a special machine equipped with grooved plates. A fair range of highly polished and modern frames,cigar and cigarette cases are being manufactured. Some artisans of Vapi manufacture ornaments of cheap metal for the adivasi community of Surat.

Metal ware craft is divided into two categories, i.e. sheet metal and brass metal casting. Both are original and traditional crafts of Goa. In sheet metal is usually practiced in making copper / brass utensils of utility value. Both utility and decorative items produced include tree oil lamps with flower motifs, oil lamps in various designs like samai, hanging oil lamps, statues etc.

Delhi is important for art metal ware. In lamps, perforations are used, first by choosing the selected design on the article, then cutting through the lines laid out to make the lacy patterns come out. Lamp making involves a most laborious chain of operations as so many diverse parts have to be separately made and then soldered.Delhi has a very special plate in the paildar design, popularly known as the pie-crust pattern as it resembles the border of a pie-crust achieved by a hemming process for which the narrow concave rim is inverted. For this the craftsman actually squats on the ground and beats the edge at an inward angle with an iron hammer while keeping the tray down with his weight. And as in hemming a piece of cloth, every care is taken to prevent frayed edges by doing the hemming in three successive stages.

The brass,bronze items include bowls, plates, small statues and ritual articles.
The brass wares are made by sand casting. A thin coating of lac is applied on the article, for making the engraved wares at Moradabad. A design is traced out on a metalware with a pencil. The artifact is placed on a tipai. The artisan sits on the floor while working. A pattern is traced on the part of the object to be engraved, with the aid of a kalam (steel pointed pencil). Engraving is done by controlled strokes with the thapi on the chisel, which touches the surface of the designed part. There are two methods of engraving. One is by chasing, where the background is chased, thus the floral ornamentation appear in relief. This work is known as shyah kalam is done on tinned copper vessel or brass vessel. The depressions created by chasing are loaded with the black lac fused by hot bolt . The excess of lac is rubbed off using the sand paper. This results in the liberal background in black, with the floral design in white/yellow surface. The appearance of this work was similar to the bidri work in the white surface. The actual pattern is engraved in the second process. The entire design appears in a dotted form, the engraved portions are filled in with silver/golden coloured lac for ornamentation and rubbed with sandpaper.

Icons- solid casting- a wax model is prepared for the desired object. Several clay coatings are given to this model to make a mould. Molten alloy is evenly poured in a thin stream, into the mould. On breaking the mould, the metal object is taken out.Artistic work at Varanasi is done mainly by the repousse technique. The motifs emerge in relief, when the object is hammered from the inverted side. After shaping the object, the artisan makes the pencil drawing of the design, reduces or expands it according to the shape of the object. The sheet to be worked upon is chemically cleaned of all the impurities and fixed into ral. The paper design is transferred to the sheet by controlled hammering strokes. After completing the repousse work the sheet is removed from the ral surface and oxidised if the article is to be given tarnished look Polishing and lacquering are done as the final finishes.

Tin is soldered on copper which has previously been graven over with diffused floral been graven over with diffused floral designs. The sunken ground of this is then filled with a black composition. When these objects are studded all over with raised flowers they shine like frosted silver on a darkened foliated scroll.

The three basic methods of metal working traditionally known in Gujarat are hammering, forging and casting. The Technique of hammering metal sheets to different shapes was used most frequently for making utensils. Several independent parts hammered to the required shapes were joined together to make a pot or any other utensil by the indigenous method of dovetailing the parts and wedding them strongly by beating and soldering. Forging, though possible with any metal, is used mainly for iron working. Casting was more popular with three-dimensional objects such as images, toys, etc. But since each of these techniques could be used for each category of objects mentioned above, it is not difficult to find cast utensils and images constructed by sheets hammered on dies. The combination of two different metals or inlay of one metal over another has been very popular all over Gujarat due to the visual charm of intricate or ornamentation and the beauty of contrasting metals of different shapes.

Sand casting method is the most common process used in brass casting. A mixture of boric powder and aluminums dust is mixed with sand. The mixture thus ready is filled in the mould box made of iron. At first, masterpiece is made of wax mixed with charcoal to avoid transparency of wax. It is then covered with clay till a thick and solid cover is obtained. By heating, the mould is de-waxed and thereafter-molten metal is poured into the mould. After cooling, the clay shell is broken and the rough cast figure is chiseled. Details are worked out to give it a finishing touch. Finally, the item gets polished.

The production process begins with melting old scrap or using sheer metal. Later, shaping is done while heating or pouring molten metal into a mould. The turning process on a lathe smoothens the article by scraping and brushing. Soldering is done by using metal alloy, prepared by the artisans followed by vigorous hand polishing. Attractive contrasts in colour and texture of metals are created through the techniques of inlay, overlay, appliqué and fusing of colours.

The shaping of an object is done by beating the ingot or metal sheet with the hammer, according to the desired shape. The beating process is done so as to make the object more durable. Further it is tempered for strengthening by heating the article red hot. After this, it is immediately dipped in cold water. If it turns black in this process, it is rectified by light hammering. The turning process is done on the lathe. The part of the article which has to be turned is fixed to the outer end of the lathe by gum. As the lathe rotates, the chisel is applied to the part requiring turning. It not only smoothes the article scraping and bushing but also removes the unwanted bulk. After this, soldering is done by using metal alloy which is prepared from the several pieces joined together. Then polishing is done by vigorous rubbing by hand.
Basic Material : Brass, silver, copper metal, brass billets, counch shells, hard coke, sealing wax, resin, mustard oil, brick dust.
Decorative Material : Lac, tin polish.

Basic Material : White metal Brass / copper sheets or scrape, ral (a mixture of lac and resin in which the sheet to be worked on, is fixed).

Basic Material : Motifs, badam (almond), mehrab (arch), chinar leaf, intertwining vive, tin copper.
Colouring Material : colours.

Basic Material : Metal sheet, wax, bronze, brass.

Basic Material : Copper, brass, metal sheet, boric powder, sand, wax, mould

Basic Material : Molten metal, mould, brass, lathe, colours, polish, hammer, chisel

Basic Material : Hammer, chisel, lathe, copper, bronze, tin, alloy of copper & zinc, sheet metal colours, polish, powder.
Lathe, hammer, chisel, kalam (steel pointed pencils), thapi ;a soft mallet, tipai; stool with wooden legs tin, polish., hard coke, sealing wax, resin, mustard oil, brick dust.

Hammer, chisels of various sizes.


Bowls, spoons, lotas, surahis (water pots), tumblers, boxes, itradan (perfume bottle), thali, parat, ugaldan (spitting vessels); machine, jug, glass, bucket; ash trays, tea trays, plates, hukka(smoking pipes),nutcrackers, bangles, paperclips, knives, table lamps, cigarette cases, flower vases, pandans, powder boxes, calendar stands .pin cushions, writing sets, photo frames

Plates, trays, bowls depicting pictures of landscapes, deities, war and court scenes, animal figures and floral designs, office accessories like tableware, decorative objects like flower vases, pots with long necks, bells, candle stands, shields, swords and swords hilts, daggers. ritual items- icons, temple accessories

Bowls, cooking versels, flasks, samovars for brewing tea, cups, tumblers, trays, jars, vases.

Lotas, cigar boxes, modern frames, cigarette cases, utensils, images, toys.

oil lamps, samai hanging oil lamps, statues, bells, kalsi, lalsa, pancharati lamps, ganatha

utensils, tabletops, wall plaques, plates, planters, hanging lamps, lamps

bowls, plates, ritual items, small statues.

Indian Crafts : History of Metal Crafts