South India is famous since ancient times for its metalworking. Similarly, the state of Kerala has a reputation for its age-old metallurgical heritage.Particularly known for bronze working and its various forms, like bell metal, the metalwork of Kerala is in great demand even today. Traditionally, the main products are idols of Hindu deities and bells, oil-lamps and various utensils. Bells are an essential element in any Hindu temple and the bells made in Kerala are a brand of their own, and are used in temples all over India. Apart from the varieties of bronze, copper and brass are some of the commonly worked metals.

Utensils and other items of everyday use, frequently employ the skills of the metalworkers. The ‘Charakku’ is perhaps the largest cooking vessels in Kerala, which is traditionally uses bell metal. Other items like the incense holders, copper jugs and water holders, plates, trays and ashtrays are usually metallic and a part of almost every household in India. Religion holds a special place in the Kerala society and unavoidably involves lighting and hence, the lamps have to be durable. Various oil lamps are popular and originate from Kerala, for example the ‘Arati Dipa’ or the Arati Lamp, Archana lamp, and Changalavatta, which is a lamp of Greek origins.These lamps are an indispensible part of a Hindu temple as well as a Hindu household and even several social events in India. Moreover they are also popular as souvenirs among Indian and foreign tourists.

 Another predominant use of metal tools made out of iron and steel is in the arts of granite carving. For centuries, idols, mortar and pestles, even structural pillars have been using granite, in Kerala and rest of south India. Metalworkers are also involved in making the props and accessories that are essential to all of the classical and folk arts of Kerala. The most important are the musical instruments that require resonators, for example, the percussion instruments like Mrindangam, Edakka (twin cymbals), Maddalam and Chenda. Many props used in the various folk and classical dance performances, like Kathakali dancers’ masks and heavily ornamented costumes. These costumes have to include delicate brass and bronze ornaments that only a skilled smith can create and their proper luster requires a keen knowledge of metallurgy.

Delicate gold ornaments with intricate designs and elaborate patterns are a specialty of the goldsmiths of this region. Every woman from Kerala boasts her fabulous collection of traditional gold ornaments, which she flaunts during times of festivity. One of the unique identities of the metalworking from these regions is the famed ‘horse lamp’ that is a type of hanging lamp. An identifying characteristic of this oil-lamp is the horse-riding ‘knight’ figure molded as a part of its rim.

The capital of Kerala – Thiruvananthapuram – is a capital also of the ‘Koftagiri’ metal artistry, which is the art of engraving flowing and realistic images in metal. Most of the Koftagiri art form depicts deities and natural themes. Another is the Arnamula Mirror, these mirrors do not use any kind of glass, but instead their reflecting surface is completely metallic. The only known fact about their creation process is that the reflecting surface is an alloy containing copper and tin. The manufacturing of these mirrors is strictly family business and the composition of the alloy is one of the best-kept metallurgical secrets.

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