A stroll around the village of Sarthebari village about 22 kms from Barpeta town and 80 kms from Guwahati will amuse the regular visitors to the place as there is hardly any tinkling sound of hammering of metals at the furnace – the music of prosperity for the bell metal craftsman.
As the nation braces for the extended lockdown to rein in the transmission of corona virus the home to the bell metal industry of Assam is reeling under the heat of lockdown and for the craftsman of the industry dead bells have started ringing who are fighting for their livelihood.
Haren Das a craftsman said, “There are more than 350 workshops with 600 plus craftsman in and around the neighbourhood where workers specialize in a particular piece of work and makes only one part of a product but during the lockdown the workers are finding it hard to meet ends’s meet.
“Though the ‘xorai’ are usually crafted in range of two kgs to 10 kgs, prior to lockdown I had received order for two 150 kg and one 60 kg of xorai and I am currently engaged in making them,” he added.
Another craftsman Jatin Deka said the industry was plaguing with myriad issues including the factory-made replicas of the craftedwares as customers fail to differentiate between the originals and replicas and often take products that retailers procure from outside the State for a higher margin but the lockdown have descended dark clouds over the craftsman fighting in their battle for survival.
Sailen Deka echoing the concerns said, “Brass and bell metal products demand both physical strength and artistic skill and to sustain the traditional industry we urge the Assam government to adopt special economic package for the industry Sarthebari is one of two main clusters – the other is at Hajo – of brass and bell metal industry in Assam.
The common objects made are kalah (water pot), xorai (a platter or tray mounted on a base), kahi (dish), bati (bowl), lota (water pot with a long neck) and tal (cymbals).
About 40 per cent of the populace of the village are engaged in the traditional bell metal industry which they inherited from their ancestors and it runs on hereditary system.
In the Assamese society this bell meta, a hard alloy a form of bronze with a higher tin content, usually in approximately a 4:1 ratio of copper to tin holds a special status and have utilitarian and aesthetic value in Assam; they are de rigueur in marriages and religious functions while taking food on bell metal plates is considered to have health benefits.
Historically the crafts form dates back to seventh century AD and written records traces the bell metal industry of Assam to the period of Kumar Bhaskaravarman the last king of Varman dynasty.
However the industry flourished during the Ahom rule specifically during the time of Swargardeo Siba Singha.