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  • Writer's pictureBenny Kuriakose

Preserving the Bell Metal Craft of Mannar

Alloys like bronze, brass, etc., have been used since ancient times. They were utilized for making various sculptures, utensils and other products. The Mahabaratha, Ramayana, and Vedas also suggest that using such alloys can positively control forces such as hunger, thirst, and sleep. One such hard alloy of copper used for making bells, gongs and musical instruments like cymbals is Bell metal. Bell metal crafts are carried out in various parts of India as a massive business. This article explores the bell metal works of Mannar, a town in Kerala that is the second-largest destination for metal products in India.


List of Contents



1. What is bell metal?


Mannar is a prime business town in Alappuzha, situated on the river banks of Pamba. It is known for its vessels, lamps, and bells made using brass, bronze, silver, and other metals. Among other metal crafts, bell metal is considered a precious metal like gold. But, what is this bell metal alloy? It is a copper and tin alloy with a tin content of 22-24 per cent by weight. When struck, the tin in the bronze produces a delightful sound, like that of a vibrating string.


2. History of Bell Metal Craft in Kerala


It is supposed that around 200 years ago, the Vishwakarma community was brought from Tamil Nadu's Shankarankovil and Tanjavoor areas to build temples in Kerala. They began to travel to different locations for work and eventually settled in the state. Metalwork became their speciality. Consequently, the lost wax process used by these metal workers required fine clay, found abundantly along the river banks of the Pamba. The migration of many craftsmen from other states like Tamil Nadu aided the town's development to become the principal bell metal handicrafts centre.


3. Uses of Bell Metal


The artisans work in alas(forges) to produce an array of bell metal products such as household utensils like Uruli (a wide-mouthed vessel), Nilavilakku (a wick lamp), Kindi (a spouted pitcher) and so on. Bells and idols in religious places are made of bell metal alloy. It is used to produce cannons due to its strength and corrosion resistance properties. The body of a few musical instruments is made from it as well.


Uses of bell metal
Uses of Bell Metal Craft

4. Present Scenario


The metal crafts and the exquisite workmanship of Mannar are in high demand all over the world. However, the metal craft has slowly died for the last 25 years. Due to a scarcity of locally available trained labour, several skilled and unskilled artisans have immigrated to other areas. The jewellery sector used to employ more than 300 people, but now just about 20 people work in it. There were 34 enterprises 25 years ago, but only six establishments function now. Out of the six, only four are running profitably. The rise of aluminium vessels and the machine-made bronze vessels from UP etc. made it difficult for this metal craft to survive.


bell metal factory
bell metal factory
Present Condition of the Bell Metal Factory

5. Living Museum to Preserve the Craft


This handicraft industry can be restored by uniting them under one roof with adequate encouragement, training. The local community have many suggestions that can help in reviving this craft. There is also a Government Proposal to make Mannar into a heritage village for all the bell metal crafts.


bell metal craft making
Step 1- Mould Making
bell metal craft making
Step 2- Wax Coating
bell metal craft making
Step 3- Heating of Clay Coated Mould

The details of the proposals will be worked out and executed by our office. It includes identification of potential heritage sites in the area, the revival of the handicrafts industry, forming a heritage circuit by connecting the living museums, etc. The plan to conserve the Mannar bell metal craft consists of a museum to display the traditional bell metal products. It will recite the story of the metalwork industry to the public. It will also contain various galleries to exhibit the history and the process of the bell metal craft. Further, the existing workshops in the region will be converted to living factories, where visitors can see the various stages of making these handicrafts. Souvenir shops to display and sell the bell metal products will also be present.


bell metal craft making
Step 4- Melting of Metals
bell metal craft making
Step 5- Pouring of Molten Metals
bell metal craft making
Step 6- Breaking the Mould

6. Conclusion


Many of the traditional crafts of India are facing the threat of extinction, and the Mannar bell metal craft is no exception. The present generation may also be reluctant in learning this craft. In a few years, the custom metalwork of Mannar might become obsolete and might get replaced by machine-made items. Therefore, we must preserve this metalwork and other traditional handicrafts of India that provide a unique identity to their respective region. The establishment of living museums and heritage routes can be one way of doing them. This method has been observed in Mannar for the bell metal crafts. It can also become a model to be followed by other regions.

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