Bell making craft of Kutch
The skill of making articles from bell metal is a traditionally important craft form in Kutch, Gujarat, one of the most environmentally and culturally rich landforms. Made using a combination of raw materials like iron sheet, wood, metal powder, metal compass, cutter, holder, hammer, kiln, raw cotton and clay, the metal bells are manufactured by the traditional process of heating and beating.
Copper-coated iron bells from Kutch in Gujarat were made initially in Sindh, now in Pakistan. The art skill has been passed down over the generations and now has its presence in the Nirona, Jhura and Bhuj, the only places these are currently being made at. Initially, the bells were exchanged for wheat, vegetables, milk, pots and pans or clothes.
Most of the bell making is done in Kutch, Gujarat by the Lohars of the Muslim community. The entire family is involved in the process, though women only do the mud coating on the bells before they are put into the oven. Men perform the technical and critical tasks of shaping the bells and setting their sound.
Each artisan gets a different and distinct tone from the bells that he makes. The sound that emanates from the bell is set by the bell maker with the help of an instrument called ekalavai. The sound that each bell emanates depends on how well the metal is beaten, the shape and curvature of the bottom rim of the bell.
In the local markets of Bhuj and Nirona, bells are often referred to by their original names such as chota-paila, paila, dingla, do-dingla rather than their sizes. These names are the local currency equivalents for which the bells could be bought at that time.
Locally, copper bells are used at entrances to homes and are also hung around the necks of grazing animals like cows and goats. These bells and jhumars (sequential combination of bells) are sold in the local markets of Nirona, Jhura and Bhuj. These bells are appreciated and used as decorative musical items across the world since their tonal quality is meticulously crafted.