Origin: The meeting ground of diverse cultures, Assam, is home to people from varied races such as Mongoloid, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Iranian and Aryan. Since ancient time, the inhabitants of Assam have introduced great crafts.
There is no page in the Indian handicraft history that can be bookmarked as the birth date for brassware. However, historical documents signal to de facto that in 7th century AD, a monarch of Kamrupa, Kumar Bhaskar Barma, presented Kangshapatra (bell metal) to King Harshavardhan.
It is believed that Hajo, the ancient pilgrimage centre of Assam, established the brassware industry. While, the history of bell metal craft began in Sarthebari in Barpeta. Artisans claim that their ancestors moved to Sarthebari in 14th century. The Ahom King loved the craftsmen and rewarded them.
Historians state that the ancestors of brassware craftsmen were a part of Mughal general Turbakas troop that aimed at invading Assam. This invasion was defeated by Ahom King Chuhungmung. The brassware craftsmen had now become prisoners of war. With time, King Chuhungmung discovered the talent of his prisoners. He then settled them in Hajo. During the 19th century Burmese invasions a large number artisans fled. Some families decided to stay back and carry forward their family legacy. Later, British rulers also encouraged this art.
As per an Assamese wedding ritual, the bride must carry brass utensils and bell metal to her in-laws home. For centuries, the Xorai and bota has been used to offer betel-nut and paan.
Historically, artisans would go to nearby jungle areas to create Brass items. The reason being, these humble artisans were cautious of not disturbing the village with their hammer noises.
Present Day: Over centuries, this craft has seeped into the Assamese culture. Even today, a sarai made of brass holds religious significance. Each and every household has traditional brass utensils as well decorative brass craft items.
In 2000 at Guwahati NEDC was established with endeavour to improve the social and economic conditions of North-East people. The entire population of Hajo and Sarthebari have dedicated their life to this craft. Along with tradition techniques, craftsmen have started adopting innovative skills.
The famous brassware items are kalah, sarai, kahi, bati, lota, taal, saki, dhuna–dani etc. To preserve and encourage artisans, the Assam Cooperative Bell Metal Utensils Manufacturing Society Limited was established in 1930s.
Procedure: Iron, or Brass is heated and the molten is poured into moulds and/or hammered and beaten into the required shape.
Lost wax casting (Bharai Kaam) is chiefly a tribal craft, where a wax mould is created from an existing item, so in essence an exact negative is made. Once the wax has dried, hot metal is poured into the wax mould, after the metal has hardened, the wax is drained away.
There is another technique of Metal Handicrafts which makes use of wired metal. This technique is famous in Tikamgarh. This wired art is famous for making traditional utensils and tribal jewelry like paayal (anklet), bichua (toe ring), maala(necklace) etc.
Bring Home Brass Craft of Assam: If this beautiful heritage craft strikes a chord with you then stop over at Hajo and Sarthebari villages. The shopping markets in Guwahati sell these stunners. Go pick one for yourself.