Kerala

Bell metal craftsmen struggling for survival

Craftsman P. Valsan giving finishing touches to Dasavatharam, a model cast in bell metal.   | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

It was a huge relief for P. Valsan, who is busy giving finishing touches to Dasavatharam, his new bell metal work. In so many months, it is the only order he has received from a client from Kochi. But not many craftsman like him, who are into making artefacts from bell metal, in Kunhimanagalam village in Kannur district, are fortunate enough to find work during the COVID pandemic.

With temples and shops being closed and people reeling under financial difficulties, the artisans in the village, which has a 700-year-old history of making objects such as lamps, vessels, ornaments, and weapons for deities using bell metal, are compelled to think of leaving their work and turning to other jobs for survival.

Mr. Valsan said there were around 100 craftsman families belonging to the Moosari community, who were into this craft. However, now there were only a handful of artisans, around 30, despite the work getting great recognition around the world, he said. With the outbreak of COVID-19, many had fallen into debt traps and feel helpless without work, he said.

To encourage the artists, a cluster named Kunhimangalam Bell Metal Heritage Private Limited was formed in 2018, with a corpus of ₹1.70 crore.

About 70% of the fund came from the Central government, but they are yet to get rest of the funds assured by the State government, said Mr. Valsan, who is the managing director of the company.

Temples, traders, and the public were not coming forward to buy the products. They were instead going for cheaper materials, he lamented.

The escalation in the cost of raw materials had compounded the difficulties of the artisans, said V.V. Sasi, another craftsman from the village.

“We are unable to increase the cost of materials even though the production cost has increased several fold during the pandemic. As a result, they are bearing the loss by paying from their our pocket,” he observed. Even traders were exploiting them by trying to purchase the product at discounted prices, claiming that there were no buyers, he said.

“I need ₹10,000 every month to pay back the bank loan taken for constructing my house. But now there is no income and I am neck-deep in debt,” he lamented.

Another craftsman, Chandran, said that they feared that the cluster started here may have the same fate that faced by the Traditional Bill Metal Employees Cooperative Society, which was closed down way back in 1963, without getting any support from the government.

He said there was no fixed income and unless the products were sold, they would have no revenue. The government should support them by finding an export market, using the products to give as mementos, arranging more exhibitions centres, he said.

The government had earlier arranged camps for people to learn the craft at the centre.

However, even that had been stopped. Only the encouragement and support from the government and people would help the age-old art to survive, he said.


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Printable version | Oct 28, 2021 12:05:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/bell-metal-craftsmen-struggling-for-survival/article36577588.ece

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