Nestled in the snow-capped Himalayas with the Ravi and Chenab rivers meandering through its magnificent landscapes, Chamba, a former princely state, has a rich heritage of arts and crafts. Metal smelting is one of those incomparable art forms with its origin in the 10th century when King Sahil Verman moved his capital from Brahmpur (now Bharmour) to Chamba.
Believed to have been introduced by Kashmiri artisans, metal craftsmanship, which features relics from Chamba’s past, looks to an uncertain future. Once a source of income for thousands of people, this unique skill is rapidly declining with only two families in the business today.
Ankit Verma, whose family has worked in metalworking for centuries, says the intricate craftsmanship passed down from generation to generation takes years of practice. “We usually make idols and Mohra masks of deities, folk musical instruments and vessels. Chamba Thaal, a brass plate used for rituals, which was introduced only 40 years ago, is now representative of Chamba’s metal craftsmanship, ”explains the young artist. “However, there are few takers for this art today and it could soon disappear if steps are not taken to promote it,” he adds.
Livelihoods take precedence over art
The new generation has shown little interest in metal casting and is exploring other career options to make a safe living. “It takes a long time to master this art and requires large investments. In addition, there is a lack of knowledge about its value in terms of our cultural heritage, ”says Verma.
He believes that the craft has a chance if it is introduced in schools and taught in art institutes to encourage young people to make a profession of it.
Cast idols, make an inheritance
The manufacture of Chamba metal objects uses two techniques: the lost wax method (lost wax) and sand casting.
Lost wax consists of making a wax model (a sculpture), by coating it with a refractory (clay) to form a mold. The wax is heated until it melts and flows from the small holes left in the mold, then pours metal into the space left vacant. Each artifact made using the lost wax technique is unique and a masterpiece.
Sand casting is used for mass production.
Vijay Sharma, winner of the Padma Shri Prize for miniature painting of Kangra and researcher, claims that the statues at Bharmour and Chamba temples are marvels of Chamba metal craftsmanship. The beautiful craftsmanship is also seen in the form of metal casting on the walls and door frames of the temples.
“In recent times, art has lost favor due to a lack of promotion and a marketing platform,” he says.
Glorious past, uncertain future
Another artist, Himanshu Anand, claims that his grandfather won a national award for metal craftsmanship in 1973, while his father Rajesh Anand’s works have been shown in museums overseas, notably in the United States. “We need a suitable platform for our products. Previously, there was a government purchasing center in Chamba, but it closed its doors a few years ago, ”he says.
“In an industrial and tech-driven age, people are forgetting about traditional craftsmanship and turning to machine-made artifacts that are cheaper. The younger generation of artisan families are also abandoning art for lack of secure livelihoods, ”he says.
In the midst of darkness, a glimmer of hope
There is still a glimmer of hope as the Chamba Thaal, the premium brass decorative plaque with vibrant images of gods and goddesses, such as the 10 incarnations of Vishnu and the nine incarnations of Goddess Durga, gains in importance. popularity as a souvenir of Chamba.
Surender Thakur, head of the Bhuri Singh Museum in Chamba, said Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur recently presented the Chamba Thaal in remembrance to Tokyo Olympic medalists Mirabai Chanu and PV Sindhu. “This will help promote Chamba art nationally and internationally,” he says.
The district administration recently formed the Chamba Art and Craft Promotion Society to support Chamba art. Company adviser Manuj Sharma said the Union Sports Ministry requisitioned more Chamba Thaal to congratulate hockey teams and other medalists.