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Traditional brass and copper craft of utensil making among the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru, Punjab, India

  • Traditional brass and copper craft of utensil making among the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru, Punjab, India
  • Traditional brass and copper craft of utensil making among the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru, Punjab, India

The craft of the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru constitutes the traditional technique of manufacturing brass and copper utensils in Punjab. The metals used – copper, brass and certain alloys – are believed to be beneficial for health. The process begins with procuring cooled cakes of metal that are flattened into thin plates and then hammered into curved shapes, creating the required small bowls, rimmed plates, to larger pots for water and milk, huge cooking vessels and other artefacts. Heating the plates while hammering and curving them into different shapes requires careful temperature control, which is achieved by using tiny wood-fired stoves (aided by hand-held bellows) buried in the earth. Utensils are manually finished by polishing with traditional materials such as sand and tamarind juice. Designs are made by skilfully hammering a series of tiny dents into the heated metal. Utensils may be manufactured for ritual or utilitarian purposes, both for individual and community use on special occasions such as weddings or at temples. The process of manufacturing is transmitted orally from father to son. Metalwork is not simply a form of livelihood for Thatheras, but it defines their family and kinship structure, work ethic and status within the social hierarchy of the town.

Jandiala Guru, commonly known as Jandiala is a village located in the Majha district of Amritsar, Punjab, India. Majha district is referred to as a historical region of Panjab and lies between the two rivers, namely the Ravi and the Sutlej.

In the mountainous terrains of Punjab, the metalworkers (also known to be masons and carpenters) were called Thavi and in the plains they were known as the Kasera and Thathera. In Amritsar, they are known for their unique techniques of casting, soldering and methods of decoration such as repose, pierced work and engraving. In the present-day village of Jandiala Guru, there are settlements of around four hundred families of the Thatheras. It is also home to other communities like Ghangas, Malhotras and Khatris.

It is said that before the partition of 1947, there was a colony of Muslim craftsmen who were possibly from Kashmir. They had settled primarily in Amritsar and Lahore. Having seen their craft in Kashmir, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the 19th century Sikh monarch, invited them to settle in Panjab. The name of the settlement is “Bazaar (market) Thatherian, Gali (street) Kashmirian.” It is also said that the colony of skilled metal craftsmen was established here in order to increase the trade in Amritsar.

The Thathera community of Jandiala Guru was once an active colony of artists and craftsmen who make utensils by hammering metal sheets. This craft is transferred from one generation to the next. Thus, the craft has been categorised as a ‘Living Tradition.’ The Thateras of Jandiala Guru were recognised by UNESCO for their craft, and inscribed into the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in the year 2014.

The utensils made by these craftsmen carry great social significance as well. For instance, ‘Chaayapatra’ is a shallow vessel filled with oil and after marriage the newlyweds are supposed to see their reflection in it as a ritual. ‘Vijaykanth’ on the other hand is a sacred gong which is pounded rhythmically in temple ceremonies. It is believed that copper and brass utensils have therapeutic benefits. Jandiala Guru has always been the centre of peetal (Brass), tamba (Copper) and kansa (alloy of tin and copper) making. Conventionally, these utensils were used for cooking and eating meals. However, people are now increasingly shifting to more convenient utensils and cookware made of aluminium, steel and glass. As a consequence, the Thatheras are losing their small scale businesses of brass and copper utensils. On this ground, the Government of Punjab  is now working under Project Virasat to rejuvenate this craft.