While searching for hand-made bells in the villages of Kutch, I had actually landed at the doorstep of a bell maker turned part time Morchang Musician. After a musical session at his home in Nirona village, (on the way to Great Rann of Kutch) we got down to observing the art of making Handmade Copper Bells of Kutch. His wife and mother joined us doing the session and over the course of the next 30 minutes we come to know that the whole process is a family affair.
Making of a Copper Bell
While the men of the house (Lohar- blacksmith) are engaged in working with the iron pieces to make the bell, the ladies of the house are responsible for polishing the bells using mud and copper powder. He took a rectangular strip of iron and manually beat it to shape using a hammer and other tools, folding it in the shape of a cylinder and locking the open ends.
Next he took another strip of iron, and cut it into a circle which was bigger than the base of the cylindrical piece earlier prepared. This circular strip was then continuously beaten and shaped like a dome or an inverted bowl. The circular dome was then fitted on to the cylinder and then beaten to shape to create the bell.
A thin strip is then used to create the loop on top of the bell. Two ends of the strip are inserted into the top of the dome to create a loop on top of the bell. The open ends inside the bell are twisted to form another loop. A small piece of wood available locally is pierced on one side with a narrow iron hoop which is used to hang it inside the bell. The wooden piece is generally inserted after the bell is polished with brass and copper.
Polishing and Finishing the Copper Bell
At this juncture, his wife took over and explained the process of polishing which is equally tedious and laborious. The iron bell is first dipped in a solution of mud and water and then smeared with a mixture of brass and copper powder. This metallic powder sticks to the bell which is already coated with the thickened mud water solution. Next, chunks of cotton dipped in mud water solution are flattened like a cake and wrapped around the coated bell. This wrapped bell is then baked in the country oven powered by wood /coal. The baking time depends on the size of the bell and can vary between 30 minutes to about 2 hours. Finally, the cotton coating and excess mud is then peeled off the bell to give it the golden lustrous look.
I was lost for words, looking at the bells around and appreciating the musical notes that filled the room. I picked up a few for friends and family but my heart was set on the string of 7 bells of different shapes which created musical notes. The bells were priced between Rs 200 to Rs 2000 depending on the size and the design. The small bells adorning a geometrical, floral and other shapes are pretty popular. While walking back to the car and for the remaining journey, I was contemplating on the bells. No two bells were alike, nor were they even, but they represented the power of sustenance, creation and love for life enhancing their rustic charm. My attraction for these was an expression of acceptance of perfection in imperfection. Every morning, as I wake up to the sound of musical bells in my balcony it is a reminder to accept this human body that the creator has gifted to me with love and to bid good bye to all physical complaints.
If you are in the vicinity, do drop by, in a bell makers home in Nirona or Zura village and trust me it will be an enriching and humbling experience !!! Nirona is about 40 kms away from Bhuj on the way to Great Rann of Kutch. The best way is to take a car and visit Nirona and all other handicraft villages around. Make sure to inform the cab driver in advance so that he takes the slight detour for Nirona.