Beaten copper ware is made prolifically in Uttarakhand, especially Almora district from where Suresh Lal Tamta-who works with the material-hails. Suresh Lal Tamta learnt the ancestral craft from his father, working with him since he was 10-12 years old. Each family has its own workshop. The Tamta people, he says, traditionally work with copper. Almora has a lot of copper-workers.
The basic raw materials used are sheets of copper, or patches made from melted scrap. The sheets are of varying thickness, with thickness being measured in gauges; the higher the number of the gauge, the thicker the sheet (and, correspondingly, the lower the number of the gauge, the thinner the sheet).
The process is basically that of beaten metal-work, in which the metal is beaten into the required shape. A wooden hammer is used while shaping the metal; a much heavier iron hammer for processes that involve sizing, like increasing the size of a strip.
According to Suresh Lal, a lot of the items - especially the smaller ones - are worked from a single piece of the metal. Jointing, however, makes the work simpler. The sheer time and craftsmanship required in making a single-piece item makes the end product very expensive; that kind of craftsmanship cannot be often afforded.
The joint is made with a combination of brass and zinc, which is melted in an earth-kiln fire and is then mixed with suhaga - a white, grainy powder that is bought in the market, and is commonly used by goldsmiths. The joint, says Suresh Lal, can be taken apart by craftsperson's only by heating the metal at the joint and then beating it - not otherwise.
The design element is introduced using a sunni or iron rod, on which force is applied with a hammer. The finished product - that is, after jointing, if jointing is involved - is washed with acid or placed in heated grain heaps; the hot piece is covered with chaff. No air must touch the piece. When the object is removed from the slowly cooling chaff, the metal is seen to have acquired luster. Besides specific motifs, a pattern of small squares is impressed all over the piece by hand-beating using a hammer.
Copper is well-known for its medicinal and curative properties. Several items of everyday use are thus still traditionally fashioned out of copper; these are widely used in the villages in Almora says Suresh Lal Tamta. Water - if kept for some time (for instance overnight) - in copper vessels is supposed to absorb the medicinal properties of the copper. Copper surahis (traditional, jug-like vessels, with spouted mouths), glasses, and flat-bottomed traditional water containers called lotas are common products. Plates and bowls for everyday use are also made of copper. Vessels in which the metal has a low gauge (thus making the metal thick) are used for cooking - most frequently, they are used to cook those foods that require sustained low heat. Storage jars, vases, and diyas (lamps) are also made by the Tamtas.
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