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 A Historical Perspective


India ought to be known as the Great Grand Father of the World Metallurgical Industry. However due to the unfortunate Historical circumstances many Indians themselves remain ignorant of this fact. The art of Bronze Casting had been practised in India for several centuries before the Modern World Discovered "Metallurgy". Copper and Bronze were perhaps the earliest Non-Ferrous Metals which man shaped into tools. Metal is part of the Indian mystique as each Metal has its own alchemic and healing powers as documented in ancient Indian Scriptures written over 5000 years ago. Metal in India has been used as a way of expressing Art in several forms using techniques such as Inlay, Casting, Carving, Applique Enamelling, Engraving etc. Metal craft has also been an integral part of Indian culture.


[ Image : Dancing Girl metal figure, Mohenjo-Daro ]
Metal Figure
of Dancing Girl
One of the earliest figures to strike anyone would perhaps be the Metal figure of the Dancing Girl found at Mohenjo-Daro which intrigued the archiologists as to how Metallurgy and Metal Casting techniques were known to those who lived in that ancient age who left behind nothing but remnants of their Lost Culture which still remains to be re-discovered.

Another beautiful Metal figure in ancient Indian culture is that of Lord Shiva dancing with one leg raised high, his face very calm, as he destroys all life until new life is born again. However few of us have bothered to look at the story behind these Indian bronze sculptures! The technique of Bronze Casting was perfected in Southern India and till today the same Casting Methods are used to cast Bronze and Metal Idols. The art of creating the Bronzes flourished in the Southern kingdoms of the Pallavas of Kanchipuram, the Cholas of Thanjavur, the Pandyas of Madurai and the Vijayanagar rulers.

Though often referred to as 'Bronzes' these statues seldom use the alloy of Copper and Tin that makes up Bronze because Tin was not said to be pure enough for statues of the Gods and Goddesses. Usually, pure Copper or Brass (an alloy of Copper and Zinc) was used for Metal Casting. Later, the mix of the Alloy changed to 20 parts of Copper, to one of Brass and one of white Lead.

Who were the people who made these statues? And how did they do it?

[ Image : Lost Wax cast sculpture of elephant, West Bengal ]
Lost-Wax Cast Sculpture
of Elephant, West Bengal.
It is said that by the Divine Grace of the Gods that ancient Seers & Sages acquired this knowledge which they had documented in the ancient texts (Puranas). Even the Rig Veda refers to Lost Wax Casting technique as 'Maduchchista Vidhana'. And "Manushya Purana", another ancient text, refers to Viswa Karma's five skills as those of, Manu [ Iron Monger], Maya [Wood worker], Twastha [Vessel maker], Viswajhan [Gold smith] and Silpi [ Icon maker]. One who masters 3 of these 5 skills is said to be a "Sthapathy". Lost wax [Cire Perdue, in French] Bronze Casting falls under Silpi Shastra and has its established grammar, tools, techniques and Metallurgy. In ancient India, the "Sthapaty" or Metalworker was honoured by kings and commoners alike. His skills were often revered as a Gift from the Gods, even finding a mention in the Yajur Veda.

Indian "Metallurgists" had perfected the complex process of extracting Zinc from its ores by the Downward Distillation method that required exceptional care in the type of furnance, retorts and a reducing atmosphere as well as temperature management, as evidenced by the archaeological finds at Zawar in Rajasthan as early as the 4th century BC. It may be noted that it was only in the 18th century AD that the same process was re-adopted in Britain, and patented too. In the Classical Age of India, the Metallurgy of Copper also assumed macro-dimensions. In the field of Copper Metallurgy too, the huge 5th century Copper statue of the Buddha, over two metres in height and One tonne in weight, (now in the Safe Custody of Birmingham Museum) is a remarkable product of macro-technology.