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Both the literature and the metal images excavated by archaeologists establish the fact that the art of metal casting has been continuously practised in India for more than five millennia. The Indian metal smith is known for various methods of metal-working and has created forms with vision, conception and sensitivity of a sculptor. Copper and tin were the earliest non-ferrous metals to be used by man. Later, these were mixed to form an alloy called bronze.
Metal has remained one of the most important utility objects in North-West India from time immemorial. Metal is used in various forms: for making religious images; items for performing rituals; objects of utility and arms and weapons. Making of religious images is an ancient craft. The craftsman is required not only to know the methods and technique applied in casting but also to have the complete knowledge of the characteristics, symbolism, iconographic paraphernalia attached to it.
Nowadays there is an extensive use of brass, bronze, copper, iron and bell metal in India. Ornaments, utensils, icons and figures are made out of different metals. These objects are further embellished through punching, engraving, inlaying and enamelling. Copper vessels of Kashmir with floral designs and calligraphy show excellent artisanship. Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat present wide range of brass items. In South India, metal icons, especially of bronze, are extremely popular. Tamil Nadu is one of the famous bronze producing regions where the artisans or stapathis produce stylistic images conforming to Pallava, Chola, Pandyan and Nayaka periods. The images of Trimurthi and Durga are the most common. Kerala produces distinct bronze statues of Shiva's tandava dance, described as the gaja tandava. Karkal in Karnataka is an ancient centre that specializes in rare Jain icons.
Orissa is known for its Dhocra casting and silver filigree work. Cigar boxes, jewellery, baskets and decorative trays are the popular items made in the silver filigree. Hyderabad is famous for silver objects like paandaan (betel-leaves box), ugaldaan (spittoon), itardaan (perfume-box), silver models of Charminar and bronze statues. In North India, copper and brass lamps are made in a variety of shapes and styles. The pahaldar lamps and Jaipuri lamps are the examples.
The tribal society of Bastar is famous for their excellence in making exotic bell -metal items with a variety of designs and shapes. The Bastar tribals are famous in making bell metal arts, which are crafted by hand through the vanishing vax technique. These handicrafts include items like elephant, deer , horses etc of different sizes. Bastar also supports Wrought Iron craft made by black smiths .
The bidri work in which silver inlay work is done against dark metal backgrounds is practised in Bidar in Karnataka. Silver and brass are inlaid upon an alloy of zinc and copper, which is blackened by dipping the object into a solution of copper sulphate. It is the contrast between the black surface and the shiny inlay that makes the object look dramatic. It is done in various styles like tarkashi (inlay of wire), tainishan (inlay of sheet), zarnishan (low relief), zarbuland (high relief) and aftabi (cut-out designs on overlaid metal sheet).
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