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Bells – The Craft behind the melodious chimes

I once watched a film called ‘Godhuli’ on Doordarshan when I was in school. We had bought a television for our home, and the excitement of ‘gaping’ at whatever was being aired was immeasurable. ‘Godhuli’ wasn’t exactly an interesting story for a bunch of children between the ages of 10-15! All I remember today is that it was ‘black and white’ film with a lot of cattle and ‘dust in the air’ scenes. I didn’t understand much, but for the sound of bells around the necks of hundreds of cows walking back home in the evening. The sound of bells, I really loved then, I love now too…

Bells have been known to human kind for centuries, with the first set of bells traced to ancient China, some 4000 years ago. Bells are usually made of ‘bell metal’- a hard alloy of copper and tin (basically a form of bronze) in the ratio 4:1. In India, this craft is being practiced for centuries across the country. Nirona in Kutch, Gujarat, Mannar in Alappuza district, Kerala, Dhokra of Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, the brass belt of Moradabad, Brass bells of Jodhpur…the list of this beautiful craft being practised in India is endless (well, almost!)

I met an artisan from the ‘Lohar Community at the recently concluded ‘Dastkar‘ in New Delhi. The sound of 13 different sized bells arranged as a wind chime allured me to the stall as I was leaving after a busy day,  learning about new crafts and of course, shopping! He graciously explained the history, and ‘science’ of making these bells that are made of iron and coated primarily with copper with the help of mud paste, along with a few other metals. The bells are then heated in a furnace to fix the powdered copper on the surface of the bells. Once cooled and ready, a wooden piece is attached to the centre of the bell for that characteristic sound which is beautifully sonorous. If you’d like to know more, read this interesting article on the making of bells here.

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bells-nirona-kutch

Another region and craft form known for bells (as well as beautiful artifacts) is Dhokra. Practiced in Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Orissa, this craft locally known as “Bharai kaam”, is the art of sculpting brass with the ancient technique of lost wax casting. I read an interesting article on the technique used in Dhokra craft. Read it here, it is beautiful!

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Dhokra hand bell via
Dhokra bell
Dhokra bells via

It is impossible to talk about bells and not mention South India! From the sonorous Church bells to the traditional brass/bronze bells used primarily for decoration or temples, the range of bells being made here is varied. Mannar, also known as the bell metal town, churns out some of the largest bells in the world. Bell metal is used to make bells, mainly – bells for temples, bells for homes, churches, hospitals, schools and anywhere else they find a use. The technique used here is the Lost wax method, similar to Dhokra, though Mannar spins it’s own twist to it.

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Mannar bell making via
Nachiarkoil in Thanjavur is another place famous for metal-casting primarily because of the rich source of sand found on the banks of the Cauvery River which is excellent for moulding.
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via

The brass belt in North India consists of Moradabad, Hathras, Aligarh and Varanasi. The metal craft of Moradabad is famous the world over. They make brass bells too, in addition to the large variety of other products. The brass metal craft from Moradabad and the rest of India deserves a separate post, to cover the history, tradition and a lot more trivia.

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Himalayan bells via
Bells
Hand crafted bells enhance the festive decor via

Another place where one can find treasures in Brass (and bells of course) is Jodhpur in Rajasthan.

Brass bells and other brass crafts from Jodhpur via

There is so much more that can be written about bells, the science, the craft, the artisans, but that would take much more than a post.

Have you ever wondered why is the bell, well, bell shaped? I read this interesting piece of information and I had to share it.

The bell is typically bell-shaped for two reasons, first because the circle is structurally strong and this allows bells to be struck with greater force than if the shape was flat or had sharp edges which would be more prone to cracking. Further the circular shape allows a wave to travel around the bells perimeter so that standing waves can develop around the circumference of the bell. It is the resonance from standing waves that is responsible for the sound of the ringing.

You can go anywhere in the world, any city, any town and the one thing you are sure to find is a ‘bell’. They come in many shapes or forms, can be used as a decor item or just serving a useful purpose. You could love them or couldn’t care much for them, but you can’t ignore them. They even have songs dedicated to them, and it’s the season for bells…jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way! My special memory of bells is from my childhood – from the bells of the cathedral in school to the hand bell used by my grandfather. What’s your special memory?

XO, Nupur

Cover Image via

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