Tinkle, tinkle, Kutchi bells

Craft

Tinkle, tinkle, Kutchi bells

At first glance, they are not impressive. But as you observe them for sometime from a distance, you will be able to appreciate them.

Like all beautiful art, they are not intrusive. Their rustic charm grows on you. As the breez
e blows through, the bells make a gentle tinkling sound. Each with its own voice, each with its distinct musical sound. They are Kutchi bells.

Abdul Sattar Lohar, the award-winning traditional craftsman who makes and sells these bells, is as subtle as his bells. He does not persuade you to buy his bells. The bells speak to you on his behalf. He exhibits them across the country in art and craft exhibitions.

The unique melodic tones that emanate from Kutchi metal bells give voice to a centuries-old craft tradition that the Muslim Lohar community brought to Kutch in Gujarat from Sindh, Pakistan. The expertise in making these bells is unique to this community.

These metal bells, burnished in copper and brass, have long adorned the necks of cattle, camels, sheep and goats which graze in Kutch’s arid plains. The bells signify each animal’s status and position in the herd. In fact, the sound of bells helped shepherds and cowherds to locate their flock from a distance.

There are 14 standard sizes which range in length from 2 cm to over 30 cm; size 0 is the smallest and size 13 the largest. Only the head of the herd is worthy of wearing the heavy 13 number bell.

Today, the use of Kutchi traditional bells has expanded; they hang at the entrance of homes, are combined to make wind chimes, and are used as other forms of festive decoration. Finely tuned bells, seven in number, also serve as an ethnic musical instrument.

Metal bell craft requires highly refined skills. Artisans dexterously hand set each bell’s unique tone with a tool called an ekalavai, a skill these Kutchi bell makers have mastered over the years.

The quality of a bell’s tone is a reflection of the artisan’s skill and three factors: the size and shape of the bell’s body; the size and shape of the ringer and the shape and curvature of the bell’s lower rim.

Waste iron sheets are bought from Bhuj market. Outlines are marked on the sheets using master patterns. Following the mark, the sheet is cut. Then it is fashioned into the shape of a bell with punching tools. Designs are worked out before shaping it.

They are soaked in water mixed with mud and in which copper and brass bits are sprinkled. A mould is made from a mixture of cotton wool and wood paste.

The bell is then fired in the kiln (coal fire) and hammered carefully to produce the required sound.

Bells have an unusual resonant sound due to the individual tuning of each bell. Finally, a tongue made of wood is fixed from inside.

Today, these roughly fashioned bells are used as an item of decor to add a dash of rural chic and melody to urban homes.

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