In Pune, Maharashtra, a four hundred year old community of copper workers continue to practise their craft
All metal workers are traditionally called Twashta Kasars, and the sub-community working here for the past 400 years, who works mostly with copper and some brass, are locally called tambats.
The Twashta Kasars migrated to cities like Pune, Nasik and Mumbai from the Konkan coast of Maharashtra to get better value for their articles of manufacture.
They were patronized by the Mughals, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the Peshwa kingdom as well as by local chieftains or administrative authorities like tax collectors, for whom they made idols of their particular deities, protective casings for stone idols, weapons, and most importantly, coins.
Shitolewada, the centuries old workplace of copper workers in Pune, presents till today an interesting mix of copper and brass products made entirely by hand.
Most communities in India have their own patron deity, apart from the overarching deities, who they believe gives them special powers.
Mahakali is the patron deity for the copper workers as she is considered to be the source of immense physical strength which is needed to handle all processes of metal work.
The Mahakalika Temple, housing the female deity Mahakali, is the central point of the locality in which copper work has been going on for centuries.
From the outside, the community centre housing the temple is typically colonial, with elaborate iron balconies.
The pattern originally included heads of Queen Victoria within the design, which were cut off later, leaving only one behind, which is barely visible.
The Ganesha temple is housed on the ground floor of the community centre, the interiors of which are built in the Peshwa style.
Lord Ganesha is considered the patron deity of the 'village', i.e., the larger community of people.
The Twashta Kasar Ganesha temple therefore has an important place in the community's life.
The locality also houses a library building to cultivate the mind, apart from hand work, by encouraging education.
The tax collector for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was the patron of the craft and is still considered royalty by the locals.
The tax collector’s old home in Shitolewada is still occupied by the later generations of their clan.
Sardar Shitole, the present head of the family, has many homes elsewhere but prefers to live here.
He says he cannot sleep unless he hears the constant, rhythmic sound of copper vessels being beaten by the workers!
Some iron railings along balconies of the house erected by the British, may today have images of Shivaji, welded to them later by metal workers.
The houses of the copper workers are often built as two floors where the workshop and home adjoin each other, both upstairs and downstairs.
Most craftsmen have their workshop in the front and their house behind.
The interior of a typical worker’s room shows hammers, clothes, pictures and an image of Lord Hanuman, also signifying power, hanging on the wall together.
The craftsman hang up their tools before changing their clothes and entering their living area after a day’s work.
Craftsmen find unique ways of honouring Shivaji, who was one of the earliest patrons, by painting his portraits on workshop walls.
The interiors of a coppersmith's house are purely functional.
The copper vessels that are produced are extensively used by the women in the kitchen.
The community lives in close proximity to one another and often share common spaces as well.
The workshops are an important part of the house and are equipped with all the necessary tools.
The craftsmen use all the available space in their workshop. The vessels are dried on the roof of the open workshop structure.
Water heaters are one of the most popular products that the craftsmen specialize in.
The workshops usually have water heaters and welding materials needed for making them.
Tulshi Baug market complex is where copper articles are sold. It is a busy market always filled with customers.
Studio Coppre is a Pune-based design studio for contemporary copper products.
They have been working to revive copper craft, by promoting and preserving artisanal skills of metal workers, and producing and marketing handcrafted contemporary wares.
The studio has been encouraging the coppersmiths to adapt their skills to contemporary designs.
With the encouragement provided by Studio Coppre, craftsmen have been able to showcase their skills in USA and Europe.
This contemporary range of products has been exhibited and has a market all over the world.
These design innovations have a universal appeal and help create new markets for the craftsmen.
Text: Jaya Jaitly
Photography: Suleiman Merchant
Artisans: Balachandra Kadu, Ishwar Karade, Sharad Kharavlikar, Manoj Photfode, Ganesh Wadke, Arun Patil, Mahesh Nizampurkar,Ganesh Photfode, Uday Kavale, Sunil Kharavlikar, Satish Nizampurkar, Chandrashekar Salvi, Ganesh Karade, Ajit Pimple, Bharat Nizampurkar, Sunil Wadke, Pravin Kharavilkar and Sandeep Kharavilkar and fellow craftsmen.
Ground Facilitator: Jui Tawade
Documentary Video: Suleiman Merchant
Curation: Ruchira Verma