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Brass and Bell Metal art is about 300 years old in Bihar. It is popular for decorative items like idols of God-Goddesses, statues and other daily utility items.
Bell metal is a mixture of copper and tin. Wax and wood which are essentially needed for these forest based metal crafts, are naturally available in abundance in tribal areas of Bihar. The craft received patronage from the Royal families, who used to pay the artisans to make idols.
Brass or bell metal craft items are prepared by melting the metal using a lost wax technique. All individuals and group artisans work around their houses or at a common place. Raw materials required for bell metal art are cluster of bees wax, brass metal and fire wood. The raw materials such as wax and metal are purchased from market. The others like clay and fire wood etc. are collected from the nearby forest itself. Artisans use a mixture of wax and resin and also pitch from coal tar. They mix two kilograms of pitch with 250 grams of resin, melt the two items and strain them separately. Then they mix the two and heat the mixture over fire, stirring it all the while. This process of mixing takes two hours or sometimes more. The mixture is strained again before using. The manner of use of this mixture is identical with that of resin. These artisans are very precise in their work and follow their technique meticulously.
The next step is to wax them. The wax wires are prepared by pure bees wax. The wires are separated and attached with the clay model from its front to back in a round fashion. The whole of the clay image is covered with the wax wires and then they make several designs with these wires. After the desired designs on the image are completed, it is immediately coated again with clay. This time they use local soil added with sand and goat dung. At the time of coating, a hole or an opening is generally kept at the base of the image. The metal is then taken in a container. Generally the metal is brass or bell metal. The container is then covered with a clay cup and is put into the furnace for two to three hours. After that the molten metal is poured on to the image through the opening. Then the mould is kept for cooling. When the mould is cooled then water is sprinkled on the image, which makes the clay coat to crack and break. The metal moulds into the shapes and designs made by the wax wires. Thus at last an artistic bell metal or brass object is ready. The image is then scrubbed with sandy clay to give it shine. Sometimes they are even polished with wet tamarind.
As the Bell Metal products started easily flowing into the external markets, the number of artisans involved in the craft increased and so did the production.
Upendra Maharathi Shilp Anusandhan Sansthan is training artisans and making them aware with modern techniques of bell metal craft.