Iqbal Ahmad

The fine ‘Copper Works’

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Handling Metal is a bit difficult and tedious when compared to handling wood. It requires not only high skill but also improved instruments and casting as well as clipping technologies. Romans and Greeks were the first to introduce metal in various forms. Harappan people also made ornaments and seals of it and people of Kashmir did not remain far-behind in making impressive objects of copper and bronze.

The tale of Kashmiri metal works is very old, perhaps as old as the political history of the land. The metal workers commissioned impressive objects to meet the social and economic requirements of the country. Official coins, ornaments, religious icons, domestic utensils etc. are the things, which have a long history in the Valley.

The craftsmen of the land produced brilliant metal works. The early medieval and medieval ages witnessed the promotion of Hindu and Buddhist cultures here. The followers of these faiths required icons of various deities. These deities were not only made in stone and wood but also in bronze. The land is said to have cultivated a rich tradition of metal images, rarely found anywhere else. "Unlike other regions where copper alloys were preferred, Kashmir sculptures had been partially of brass which were often inlaid with silver and copper,” says Pratapiditya Pal, in his book, ‘Kashmiri bronze works’. Besides masterpieces in copper and bronze, Kalhana has made mention of several gold and silver images and some of such images, according to his reports, were installed in the temples of Parihaspura.

The European and local archaeologists recovered a number of wonderful bronze images from excavated sites that today have become the zenith of stalls of world museums and art galleries. Prepared through casting technique these wonderful images clearly speak of the valley's high skilled metal art. Percey Brown, George Watts, Pratapaditya Pal and John Seuidmark like veteran scholars on the subject have made a detailed mention of Kashmir metal works in their respective accounts.

They have classified the Kashmiri works in separate groups and found its influence on the bronze produced in other regions. It was during the Hindu and Buddhist ages that impressive bronze images were commissioned here while the practice was discouraged by the new faith that got cultivated here from 14th century onwards. It was the advent of Islam wherein not only worshipping but also commissioning of the image was strictly prohibited. So the communities involved in making brilliant images shifted to other trades.

The trade involved making of various types of domestic vessels used for cooking and serving food made from copper. This new trade also developed very fast as its makers extended their ingenuity and skill to working in copper with Persian and Iranian influences. The copper utensils turned more popular and Muslim society adopted it quickly. This gave rise to copper industry, which rapidly flourished throughout the valley.

Centuries old magnificent utensils of Kashmir also found their place in the art galleries of the world. Although many old traditions of land vanished from the scene but copper utensil manufacturing is flourishing all over Kashmir. Despite inroads made by the machine-made objects, the popularity of using copper pots has not diminished, says Muhammad Ramzan, who runs a copper shop in old Srinagar city. As per unofficial estimates four to five hundred families are involved in making these objects while thousands of people are involved at various stages of this trade.

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