Originating in the Sindh region about a thousand years ago, the tradecraft of making metal bells, or ghantadi, by the lohars, or blacksmiths, came about as a necessity of the pastoral communities such as the maldhari, bharvad, and rabari. Their herds of far-roaming cattle needed to be accounted for like clockwork, so they were collared with iron, or copper-coated bells, which gave away their locations. It is said that the cattle owners would discuss with the blacksmith, in detail, the sounds that they wanted for the bells. Each type of livestock had a bell with a different chime.
Steps To The Tune
Even today, all the material for the bells is locally available, and right from the metal, to the cotton, and furnace which has been built in the homes of the smiths. It is as sustainable as a craft can get. The bells are made from an iron sheet, which is made from metal scrap bought at the local market, a log of the indigenous khirad wood is used to carve the bell-clapper from, metal powder of copper and zinc for the rub down process, raw cotton, clay, and a metal compass. All the materials are cut, folded, joined, primed, polished, and baked using a cutter, holder, hammer, and kiln.
Once the metal sheet is marked and cut to the required size, it is hammered into the desired shape. The bell cap is cut from the sheet, hammered into a bowl shape, and fitted into the cylindrical bell body. The loop for the string is also cut and rolled from the metal sheet itself and then expertly inserted into the hole drilled into the bell cap. Inside the bell, the open ends of the loop are twisted into another one when the wood gong is fitted. The entire bell is made from interlocking parts, and not a bit of welding is done. The bell is then dipped in clayey water, coated with copper and zinc metal powder, wrapped in a mash of raw cotton and clay, and placed in the furnace to bake. Once the bell is ready, it is allowed to cool, and the baked layer of cotton and clay is hammered to be removed. A unique tool called the ekal, a type of harmonic hammer, if you please, is used to hammer the bell to set its pitch. Every blacksmith has his personal ekal. In the end, comes the wood gong, which is attached to the inside of the bell to the loop which was created earlier. The sound of the bell is dependent on the length and thickness of the wood clapper, the bent of the bell edge, the thickness of its walls, and the size of the bell.
Homemade For The World
Nowadays, ghantadi blacksmiths in villages such as Zura, Nirona, and Kunaria in the Kutch region, who have always carried out their craft for the needs of the locals, are taking orders from across the world. These are for bell-making and home decor items that incorporate bells. The clever blacksmiths have successfully designed different sizes of bells, customised to chime in the saat sur or seven key notes of Indian classical music. These bells are then purposed as wind chimes, amateur musical instruments, souvenirs, etc. These innovations, and more, have turned this corner of Kutch into a locus of heritage art and artisans that attract global attention.
How to get there
Distances Ahmedabad to Zura and Nirona in Kutch is 357 and 367 kilometres, respectively, and approximately. From Gandhidham to Zura is 84 kilometres, and to Nirona, it is 93 kilometres.
By air The Bhuj Airport is the closest to the Kutch and is serviced by flights from Ahmedabad, Rajkot, and Vadodara airports. It is 27 kilometres from Zura and 37 from Nirona. Gandhidham airport, also known as Kandla Airport, is also serviced by many airlines. Ahmedabad is well connected to the rest of the country by air, rail, and road routes.
By road State and private buses service the Kutch from all major parts of Gujarat. You can also book yourself a private taxi for a tour of the villages.