The Famed Bell Metal Craft of Payyanur

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Payyanur bell metal form and process

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
Making the mould
The famed bell metal craft of Payyanur is an example of how traditional crafts are sustained through local practices and demand. The Sri Subramanya Swami Temple in Payyanur, in Kannur, is one link and focal point for this art form. The craft has been practised in Payyanur for several generations. The processes are dramatic, involving a number of workers and require strenuous manual efforts. It is the devotion and demand that keeps this art form alive.
Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Clay mixed with jute is used to make a mould.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A handmade mould, made of a mix of jute and clay, is partly completed.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A ready clay mould is dried before it can be cast.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Clay moulds, that have been used, lie at the doorway.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A variety of clay moulds await to be casted.

Process : Casting, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

These clay moulds are for hollow articles, like lamps and bells.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The word ‘bell’ of bell metal indicates that this strong alloy of metals was used to make temple bells.

This picture shows a dried clay mould of a bell before being cast.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
Melting the metal
The fuel used for casting the articles in the lengthy process of bell metal craft are cow dung cakes, dried coconut husks and coal. For de-waxing the object they use dried coconut palm leaves. The only infrastructure required is the furnace, which is a permanent kiln made by the craftsmen themselves. This open furnace does not maintain a uniform temperature.
Bell Metal Casting: Moulding process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The metal pieces are placed inside the crucible to be melted.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Broken bell metal vessels after the casting process.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The only infrastructure required is the furnace, which is a permanent kiln made by the crafts persons themselves.

This open furnace does not maintain a uniform temperature.

The temperature required for melting the metal is around 1100 degree celsius, which is achieved by firing the vent with many coconut dried shells and coal.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The fuel used for casting the articles in the lengthy process of bell metal craft are cow dung cakes, dried coconut husks and coal.

Coconut shells are a cheaper alternative to ignite the fire in the furnace.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The furnace is fired to perform two activities simultaneously, baking the mould and melting the metal in a crucible.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

While the mould gets baked, metal is melted in a crucible.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
Pouring hot metal
Once the raw metal is completely melted, the iron vessel is taken out and the piping hot liquid is poured over the flat round surface of the earthen crucibles. Equal temperatures of the mould and the metal fluid ensures a smooth flow of the molten metal in the hollow layer. The metal is poured into the conical openings in the moulds, while the air escapes through strategically located vents.

Piping hot liquid metal is poured over the flat round surface of the earthen crucibles.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Equal temperatures of the mould and the metal fluid will ensure a smooth flow of the molten metal in the hollow layer.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The metal which is heated in a crucible is poured into the conical openings in the moulds; air escapes through strategically located vents.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The process of pouring the molten metal is a carefully managed group effort.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The craftsman shows the molten metal inside the mould during the casting process.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Dried coconut husk is used as a fuel during the casting process.

Process : Casting, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
Removing the mould
Bell metal casting process involves casting, removal of the mould and finally, the finishing and cleaning of the final piece.
Process : Casting, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

After cooling, the clay core and the investment are broken open using a hammer, revealing the metal object.

Process : Casting, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The furnace is broken open with a hammer to take out the moulds that have been cast from the ground.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

This picture shows the cast metal objects waiting to be polished.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The workshop where casting takes place has numerous deities on the walls. Clearly, work is worship in this community.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
The finishing process
The articles are cleaned by chiselling and filing. During the finishing process the article is polished by vigorously rubbing it till it achieves a remarkable shine, akin to old gold. This is a unique feature of bell metal.
Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The craftsman cleans the articles by chiselling and filing.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

During the finishing process the article is polished by vigorously rubbing it till it achieves a remarkable shine akin to old gold. This is a unique feature of bell metal.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The craftsman gives the finishing touches to the bell metal lamp.

Bell Metal Casting: Old bell metal objects in the temple, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The craftsman cleans an old bell metal artefact.

Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A small vessel, called a kindi in Malayalam, which used to pour water during a ritual or to wash hands, has just emerged from a broken mould.

Bell Metal Casting: Tools, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
Workshops and the tools used
The process of bell metal work is skill intensive and performed with the simplest tools. The craftsmen consider themselves descendants of Vishwakarma, the divine architect, and see their craft as a sacred art to be passed on down the generations. This area is also famed for its history, ancient dance forms like Theyyam, astrology and other facets of an intangible cultural heritage.
Bell Metal Casting: Casting process, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Inside a workshop where oil lamps are stored in a large number of styles and sizes.

Bell Metal Casting: Tools, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Various tools used in bell metal casting.

Bell Metal Casting: Tools, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Various tools used in bell metal casting.

Bell Metal Casting: Tools, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Hammers are used to break open the clay core and the investment layer.

Bell Metal Casting: Tools, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Tools used for cleaning

See more of how Bell metal casting is done in Payyanur.

Bell Metal Casting: Old bell metal objects in the temple, 2017, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
Dastkari Haat Samiti
Credits: Story

Text: Jaya Jaitly
Photography: Chirodeep Chaudhuri
Artisans: Govindan, his family and fellow metal casters from Kunhimangalam Society
Ground Facilitator: Ankit Kumar
Video Documentation: Ankit Kumar
Curation: Aradhana Nagpal

Cinematic Video:
- Director: Jyoti Neggi
- Production: Studio Gola

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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