Bell-metal ware - dominantly cooking ware, now supplemented with some decorative items - made in Odisha is the preserve of the kansari community, experts at this particular craft. Bishnu Sara Sahu, a mastercraftsman, describes the making of bell-metal cooking ware as a traditional craft, passed down through generations, focused within a particular set of villages in Odisha, with Chandanpur and Baghi being two of the well-known ones in the area.
The reason for traditionally making cooking ware and kitchenware from the bell-metal alloy is thatthis alloy has several medicinal properties, which the food or water kept in them acquires. These medicinal properties are derived from the medicinal properties of the individual metals in the alloy. The ability of copper to relieve joint inflammation and pain is well known in natural medicinal systems, as is the antiseptic-like effect of zinc on skin disorders. Bishnu Saha says that the bell-metal vessels, at the very least, ease the symptoms of several ailments like gastric, diabetes and allergies; he says that regular use of vessels made from this alloy can have long-term effects towards preventing and relieving several ailments altogether.
Between 200 and 300 people - all of them belonging to the same caste - in each relevant village make this cooking ware. There is a strong sense of community among these artisans, with each village having not more than 20 to 30 kilns (bhattis) where the bell-metal ingots are heated before being beaten into shape. This notion of sharing resources rather than competing for them is despite the fact that the artisans in each village specialises in the production of only a particular item: a village produces either cooking vessels, or bowls, or plates, or ladles. Naturally, as Bishnu Saha clarifies, despite the specialisation, most artisans can make all the various items - a person who makes bowls is of course equipped to make plates, and vice versa. However, they prefer to specialise in one particular item, and to experiment and innovate with shapes, textures and finishes.
The artisans who make bell-metal cooking ware also make items only of brass or copper; however, bell-metal ware remains their speciality. Predominant items include kitchen utensils like cooking pots and pans; serving vessels and ladles; and plates, glasses and bowls to eat from and drink in. Cooking ware is the traditional bell-metal product made by the kansaris and remains the staple product.
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