Kansa Utensils of Odisha

Origin: Picking a cue from The Bronze Age, we have played with the beautiful bronze for over 30000 years. Occasionally as weapons, sometimes coins, on other days as utensils… the humble metal embraces varied facets. An alloy of Copper (70-80%) and Tin (20-22%), Bronze holds huge significance in Odihsa. 

Historically, kansaware has been employed by the people of Odihsa to cook and serve food. They hold immense faith in its therapeutic values. Traditionally, as per a ritual in Assamese wedding, the bride takes Kansa utensils to her new home. These golden utensils are churned out of bell metal.  A set of bell utensils are presented by maternal uncle to the bride. 

As per another Assamese wedding ritual, the Bride and Groom serve betel nuts and leaves to guests on a ‘bota’ crafted out of bell metal. This alloy’s historical and cultural connotations dates back to Ahom dynasty in Assam.

In the 5th century, an eminent Ayurvedic scientist known as Charaka pointed out that eating and storing food in Kansa utensils balances the body’s PH level. This is achieved as Kansa utensils make body more alkaline. However, to accomplish this benefit, alloy must be in prescribed proportion. Charaka, determined the exact proportion of copper and tin to be mixed to produce the alloy.
Ayurveda has termed the Kansa as the ‘healing metal.’ The reason being it embraces nutritive and hygiene values. Kansyam Buddhivardhakam, a Sanskrit saying translates into Kansa sharpens our intellect. 

Present Day:  Once upon a time, Assam was witness to the hammering of bell metal in almost every household. The cultural sound of hammering echoed the tinkles of prosperity. Cut to present day, statistics suggest that 40% of Sarthebari people are still keeping the bell metal handicraft industry alive.  Kanhar Shal is the title given to bell metal craft production centres.  

Generation of artisans have been crafting bell metal handicrafts such as Kansa utensils. Every Assamese kitchen is stocked with kaahi (plate), baati (bowl), baan (traditional bowl), lota (traditional glass) etc.  Healthy copper is becoming a range across Globe. Kylie Jenner, American reality television star and designer Tom Dixon endorse Kansa. 

Odhisa is home to a fascinating village of bell metal artisans. This village is situated by the banks of Mahanadi River. This uniqueness of this village is that it embraces the unbroken tradition of making Kansa utensils for approximately 2000 years.  Till date, the house of this village speak of age old methods of heat and beat to produce Kansa. In Odhisa, Kansaris from the house of Hastakala Vikash have been making these utensils for generations. It takes them weeks to make the perfect utensil using the age old formula. 

These utensils have been used for generations and generations thanks to its anti-inflammatory and anti-septic properties. Kansa metals alkalinising effect on water and food encourages healthy red blood cell development, regulates thyroid gland functioning and strengthens bones.

Procedure: The process of making Kansa utensils begins with melting metal in the prescribed proportion that is 85percent copper and 15 percent tin. Then comes the casting. For casting the ingots, metal is put inside moulds and wheat husk is sprinkled all over. This is followed by repeatedly heating and beating so that the metal takes the desired shape. On a charcoal furnace, metal is continuously hammered and heated. Numerous hammers of varying weights are used to attain the refinement of the desired shape.
Post this, salt and clay are applied to prepare it for the finishing process.  Next step is the process famed as Chillai. This process adds aesthetic values to the designs. Scrapping marks open this process that lends a contrast of coloring texture.  Final step is the finishing process, in this the utensil spins on a lathe. Sometimes, during this step artisans add a few lines of decorative inscriptions. 

Historically, this removal of black colour with Amandhi is carried off by womenfolk. In fact, this is the only time, women participate in the process.  Cleaning is followed by polishing, that is done on a stone polishing wheel. While pure copper and Tin Bars are heated together upto 400 -700 degree C to form Bronze. 

The purity of the metal is tested by striking it. That is if it makes a sweet resonating sound it is pure. Alternatively, it can also be tested by rubbing it with sour substances such as lemon juice. The colour of pure Bronze does not change. Any amount of impurity is shown as discoloration. 

Bring Home Kansa Utensils: Gift yourself health with this handicraft. Buy it from artisan fairs or Suruj Kund Mela. 

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