Charming copper-coated iron bells, from Kutch in Gujarat, evoke a world of sound and tonal memories entrenched deeply in the subcontinent's cultural landscape. As Mohammad Adham, a bell-maker, runs his fingers through a row of bells he has strung up for display, a series of enchanting notes gently filter into the surrounding area. Seeing my obvious delight, Mohammad Adham dangles a jhumar - a series of bells attached, at various points in a pre-determined sequence, on a metal frame - before me. On discovering that I am there not only to purchase these copper bells, but also to seek and document information about the craft of making copper bells, he settles down to explain with alacrity the tradition, processes and techniques of what is, for him, a livelihood and profession as much as it is a craft activity.
According to Mohammad Adham, copper bells were made, traditionally, in Sindh (now in Pakistan after the partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947). His memory dates back to three generations ago: to his grandfather, who instructed his father, who, in turn, instructed Mohammad Adham. Currently, most of the bell-making work is done in two villages - Nirona and Zura, in Gujarat by the Lohars of the Muslim community. The entire family is often involved in process, though women and children are involved in the less technical aspects. Only the men perform the critical tasks of shaping the bells and setting the sound on it.
Locally, these bells are used at entrances to homesand are also hung around the necks of grazing animals like cows and goats. They are even used as decorative musical items, somewhat likes chimes, all the more since their tonal quality is meticulously crafted. Mohammad Adham does not recall any particular myths linked with these bells and their use, though he thinks that these copper-coated iron bells are the local expression of an enduring pan-Indian tradition of bell-making and use.
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