When we go to a temple the first thing that strikes us about it is the dhwajasthambam, the vertical pillar which is seen in front of the entrance or the cradle where the utsava statues are arranged or the chariot and the temple doors covered with brass. This metal plays a very important role in temple premises and on auspicious occasions. Ever wondered who makes these beautiful covers and shields?
Telangana is filled with talented artisans who create beautiful handicrafts from varied materials, Pembarthi is one such artistic village which is located 80 kms from Hyderabad, renowned, both nationally and internationally for its handmade brass products.
The history of these intricate sheet metal brass engravings and artifacts can be traced back to more than 800 years ago to the Kakatiya regime. The craft flourished during the period in Pembarthi owing to the large number of talented artisans in the region, known popularly as “Vishwakarmas”.
Since most ancient temples in Telangana were built under the patronage of the Kakatiya rulers, all bear the signature style of Pembarthi craftsmen. Later during the Nizam’s rule, these craftsmen evolved their artistic style and began creating individual items such as betel nut cases, paandaans, perfume containers, ittar pots, hanging metal chandeliers, vases, plaques and mementoes.
Today, the village is home to 100 families, out of which 10-20 families continue this unique art. What’s fascinating is that each member of the family knows how to work with the metals. One artisan couple is K Sampada Chary and his wife. “We get orders from the temples and draw the design with the help of a trace paper according to their instructions. We then cut the brass sheet and start molding it. The embossing work is done at the last step,” says Sampada Chary. Once the desired look is achieved, the metal is sent for polishing. The raw metal or the thin sheets of brass is bought from Begum Bazaar.
“This is really hard and skillful work. Due to that, many don’t take up the craft as the wages are very less. Fortunately, families encourage everyone to learn the art form no matter how educated one is,” adds Chary. Some of the older artists have evolved with the times and work with different metals besides brass to sustain themselves. Award-winning artisan AilaVenkateshwarulu says, “These days, I do more of mementoes and shields. I also make silver articles called Kavachas for temples. It takes minimum 4-5 days to work on one piece. Though work is plenty, the amount I make is not sufficient to run a household.” Barring festival time, the orders are not consistent adding to their woes. Moreover, as the artisan grows older, weakening eyesight and energy makes it difficult to continue the work.
“If the government helps us by introducing a pension scheme then life for the elderly craftsmen can become a little comfortable. Brass metal work still needs a permanent recognition,” says an elderly artisan from the village. It’s why most artisans are encouraging their children to study and look for alternative professions with better pay.
However, certain youngsters in the village still believe in the value of the fine work. Seenu Chary Maheshwaram, an MBA holder from Osmania University took action where none was being taken. Knowing the benefits of the right kind of exposure, he spoke to his village artisans and developed an e-commerce portal called ‘Pembarthy Metal Handicrafts’ which made their craft available on a global scale. Based on the online orders, he delegates the work to his fellow artisans and delivers to the customer within the deadline.
“It’s not easy what we are doing and we still need encouragement for this art. In fact, I tweeted to IT Minister KTR asking for help. Luckily, he responded positively. I know he is busy, but hopefully he will keep his word.” In his small way, Seenu is making a difference to bring attention to the art form, unchanged mindset of the villagers still poses a challenge. “Even though I tell them about the benefits of technology, many artisans still have this thinking that we are young and don’t know how to go about selling the product. Only when that changes, can we progress,” adds Seenu.