The Undying Pembarthi Metalcraft

What is the first thing that meets your eye soon after entering a temple? If the image of a vertical pillar, enveloped in brass engravings, has evoked in your mind, then perhaps you’re aware of the art form that can be traced back to more than 800 years. The opulence of the Pembarthi handicraft can also be witnessed in huge processions-in the form of statues of deities and their chariots or even the magnificent doors of the temples. While the exquisite metal artworks and the outstanding workmanship contribute to India’s rich art and culture, the metalcraft is unique to an artistic village called Pembarthi of Warangal district.

It is believed that the history of Indian civilization has had an impact on every aspect of the present society. Likewise, this glory of the Kakatiya dynasty, materialised by the workers, commonly known as the Vishwakarmas, is seen in many places of worship even today. Since most of the ancient temples in Telangana were built during the Kakatiya rule, these temples boast distinct styles of the Pembarthi art, encased as vigrahas (statues) and vahanas (chariots) in the Hindu culture. In the past, people showed their creativity by carving on stones, which are a common sight in temples. But with the introduction of brass, the art of engraving found a new canvas.

At the advent of the Muslim rule, the style of the Pembarthi art subsequently evolved as a decoration to items, such as paandaans (betel nut cases), attar pots, jhummars (chandeliers), plaques or mementos, and vases. Over the years, the Pembarthi brassware has captured the essential traces of both Hindu and Muslim influences, since it blended into both the cultures seamlessly. And presently, this rare skill of metal sculptures has become synonymous with Telangana’s artistic heritage.

From figures of deities back in the day, the handicraft is shifted to modernised products and décor items over a period of time. These fine pieces are manufactured through the ancient art of wax casting using lac. After choosing a fine sheet of brass or any other metal, the artisans first draw the design on the canvas. Later, fine instruments are used to engrave the intricate details on the lac mouldings. And after a while, the lac and white paper are removed, and the metal sheet is then subjected to finer carvings and sometimes even embossing, to finish the art.

At present, the growth and promotion of this unique art form are rife. The products that are promoted among tourists, as well as locals, include panels depicting the Dashavatara of Vishnu, the Navagraha and Ashtalakshmi, decorative flower pots, and paperweights. An extravagant depiction of the Gitopadesha with attention to detail and stunningly embossed depictions of certain scenes from the Mahabharatha and Ramayana are also crafted on solid brass moulds bearing intricate designs. With over 60 families dedicated to maintaining the art for the benefit of posterity, this ancient art has found modern popularity by garnering an international appeal for a variety of decorative and domestic purposes.  


 - Sumana