The bell metal handicrafts of Kerala are something that most tourists take back as souvenirs from God’s own country, but sadly today, only a few artisans in the state remain to carry forward the legacy.
In the quaint little town of Kunhimangalam in Kannur district, the livelihood of close to hundred families belonging to the Moosari community rests on the bell metal craft. However, only 15 craftsmen practice the craft.
With the introduction of plastic wares and other cheaper alternatives, quintessential Malayali household items made of bell metal such as kindi (water container with a nozzle), uruli (shallow cooking vessel), a charcoal iron to press clothes, and spittoons, are now no longer in use, leaving most artisans in Kunhimangalam with no other option than to move on to other livelihood prospects.
To provide their craft with more visibility & essentially, ensure that there are more takers of the handicrafts, the artisans have now teamed up to form a collective that will work towards making the town a bell metal heritage village, in addition to showcasing their craftsmanship and expanding the market for their work.
With a grant support of ₹1.40 crore, the artisans formed a cluster Kunhimangalam Bell Metal Heritage Private Ltd. (KBMHPL), which was inaugurated by Industries Minister AC Moideen on April 8.
The cluster will soon set up a common facility centre (CFC) that will be equipped with pertaining machinery along with a workplace for artisans. Amongst other plans, a heritage museum that will feature the craftsmanship of the artisans is in the pipeline.
“The cluster will soon organise a design workshop which will be attended by experts from the National Institute of Design. Experienced artisans and newcomers will be introduced to the new trends in design,” P Valsan, the Managing Director of KBMHPL, told The Hindu.
While 70 percent of the grant funding has been sanctioned by the Commissioner of Development Handicrafts under the Union government, the remaining has been contributed by the Handicrafts Development Corporation of the State government.
It is reported that the latter will supply toolkits worth ₹10,000 to each bell metal artisan in the village.
Through this initiative, the artisans also aspire to keep their legacy alive by encouraging the next generation to take up the craft.
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According to Ramachandran Kunhimangalam, who is the chairman of the Kunhimangalam Bell Metal Heritage Protection, Study and Research Centre, the younger generation hardly finds the profession appealing due to the lack in demand for the products. The trust was constituted couple of years back to revive the tradition.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)