Indian Metal Crafts – Artistry That Defined Our World Cultural Dominance
Dated to be as old as over 5000 years, the legacy of Indian metal crafts is something that has always astounded the world. Flip through our history books and you can see that metals have been used by us for generations to create everything from figurines of our countless deities to weapons for war to everyday objects like metal pots, pans, locks, frames, key chains, etc.
Granted, modernization has reduced the practical need (a lot!) for these age-old metal practices in India. in the last few years though, the attention to this lost craft has seen a big surge nonetheless thanks to the cultural values it embodies.
As lovers of everything artistic, we feel that it’s finally time to talk about the metal handicraft industry in India, its diverse types, and their work that has produced gems like the dancing girl from Mohenjo-Daro and the iron pillar at Mehrauli, Delhi.
Let get started;
The Indian Handicraft Industry – A Closer Look
The modern Indian handicraft field is majorly decentralized, small scale, and is labor-based, and is mainly being done from rural areas. In most cases, these handicrafts are made from materials that are locally sourced and often get inspired by the cultures, rituals, and vibe of their respective surroundings, thus bringing a unique value to them. From the time-tested hard metal crafts of the Tamtas and the Theateras of North India to the ancient craft of metal casting using wax that’s prevalent in central and south India, every artistic community across the country has added their unique flavor to this earth-born craft.
Zinc, Copper, Brass, Silver, and Gold – these are the metals used mostly to craft traditional Indian handicrafts. Each metal has its own exclusive artisan following (E.g. goldsmiths, Coppersmiths, etc.). Tools and practices differ depending on the materials, and metalwork also often involves infusing it with other objects – like melted glass to create beautiful Enamel works.
Metal Handicraft Types In India – A Magnificence Industry Unlike Any Other!
As far as metal crafts go in India, the styles are literally too many to count with every region having its own take on it – But still, some are better than others. Let’s talk about them;
Mainly practiced in Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Andra Pradesh, the “Dhokra” art (lost wax metal technique) is notable for its extreme details and the long-lasting luster that it brings to the table. The items are made using bronze scraps with their interiors being filled with clay. Statues of Horses, Owls, elephants to religious deities to artful figurines made by this unique metal craft often have a timeless appeal and rich quality that you simply can’t find elsewhere. The biggest example of this being the Dancing girl art from Mohanjodaro we mentioned earlier.
Modern practitioners of this unique 4000-year-old metallurgy style in India use it to also make artistic versions of everyday utilities like doorknobs, ash-trays. And Candle and incense stick holders among others. The Antique tone and strong designs make them a great choice to grace your living rooms and serve as a great conversation starter.
Inspired by the Mughals, the “Bidri” is a Metal inlay craft that uses a blackened alloy of zinc and copper which are inlaid with pure silver or gold in beautiful patterns. This is a multistep process involving everything from molding, engraving, inlaying polishing, and finally, oxidizing to give it that characteristic black and chrome finish.
This style of Metal handiwork is believed to have been first originated from Bidar. Karnataka (hence the name) but is now famous all over the globe. You can nowadays find this art on many custom crafted Cigarette cases, vases, Jewellery boxes, etc. Obviously, the Bidri work is a highly skill-intensive task with strength, dexterity, and creative chops to get it right. In fact, the art is so nuanced even the machines brought on by the British failed to copy it back in the day.
Practiced in Kamrupi, Assam, this Indian metal crafting style is known for its durability and beauty and is mainly used in pots, bowls, bells, containers, vases, glasses, candle stands, and more. They are mainly made using brass and can retain their sheen for decades without trouble.
Some are also made from Gold, Silver, and Copper and often feature hand-crafted floral and ethnic patterns on them. For a shinier look, some even varnish them in lacquer.
Jaipur Metal Craft
Jaipur in Rajasthan is the go-to place in India if you want the best of brass handicrafts, period. They are known for featuring stunning brass engravings on shiny pots, plates, and boxes, etc, and then coats them in shiny lacquer to give it that glossy vibe. The city is also known for its “Koftgari” metal art style which sees one metal is encrusted into another in the form of thin shiny wires.
The Embossed design this art style brings is super popular and is a mainstay in decorating everything from sculptures, swords, and shields to premium utensils here in India. Handcrafted, they make for great souvenirs and goes for a premium with the international crowd.
The Pembharti Metal art style which is found usually in the Warangal district in Telangana is popular for its high detail sheet metal art. They mostly use brass, copper, or gold and are mainly commissioned to adorn chariots, walls, and vigrahas (deity statues). Nowadays though, you can find it beautifying vases, plaques, and containers via the expert handiwork of generational artisans.
Interestingly, this metal art style is so unique to the region, it has even earned the geographical indication marker which is a big honor in itself.
A few more Indian Metalcraft styles worth mentioning…
Tamilnadu’s Tanjavoor region is known for its fascinating 13th AD Chola era bronze statues which were made using the wax casting method. These timeless “vigrahas” feature immaculate details like subtle smiles, classic poses, and ornamental grandeur and have stood the test of time with the same perfection as day one.
Move to the Kashmir/Ladakh region, we have the “Naquashi” work which features intricate embossed designs and patterns on silver and copper and is then oxidized to bring out its old-world charm.
Finally, we have the “Charakku” metal craft in Kerala which is used to make large cooking cauldrons that are used to make culinary delights like Payasam and avail. They are usually made using Copper or Bronze and are notable for their sturdiness and bright gold tint that can last for decades.
Owing to their huge market potential both domestic and abroad, the Indian handicrafts, metal or otherwise, have proven themselves to be a wonderful source of income for rural communities who till now were struggling to make ends meet. Also, many art lovers, architects, and NGOs are going gung-ho in their efforts to bring out such metal artistry hidden across India so as not to let these gorgeous crafts (and the artisans) wither away.
The cost of these products depends on the workmanship and the effort gone into making them a reality. The size and designs also affect the price tag a lot. In any case, the next time you see an Indian metal craft, be it even a spoon, give a bow in mind to the sheer skill and the immense history that has gone into creating it.