Brass and Bell Metal items are used freely and used to be manufactured in Manipur, although there are contradictory opinions by various scholars on this craft in the state. T. C. Hodson in his book ‘The Meitheis’ stated, "Brass, copper and bell metal cooking pots are in common use but are imported from Cachar." This implies that there was no tradition of manufacturing brass, copper and bell metal items in Manipur, which however, is not completely true if the statements of other scholars are considered, along with Hodson’s own elsewhere in ‘The Meitheis’ where he describes the various offices of Manipur and the duties allotted to them, recording that the Konsang was the department of brass workers, which drew its personnel from the Tourongbam, Loukham, Angonjambam, Kongabam, Keisham and Konsam communities of Manipur and looked after the manufacture of silver and brass vessels in the land. Maintenance of a separate office only justifies the existence of tradition of brass and bell metal manufacture in Manipur, and perhaps a few specific types of utensils were imported from Cachar.
Bell Metal Coinage in Manipur
Up till the time the British took over and British coinage started circulating, Manipur had its own coin known as "Sel", made of bell metal. The Lois of certain villages were assigned duty for coinage. Dr. R. Brown in the Annual Report on the Munnipore Political Agency for 1868-1869, Selections from the Records of the Government of India, Foreign Department, No. LXXViii Statistical Account of Manipur, 1874, reported that the only coin proper to the land of Manipur was of bell metal, small in size and weighing merely about 16 grains (1.04 grams). It was coined by the Raja as required and goods or money was taken in exchange. The metal was obtained chiefly from Burma and consisted of gongs etc. Some of the metal was procured from the British provinces. The process of coining was very primitive: first, the metal was cast in little pellets, then softened by fire and placed on an anvil after which one blow of hammer flattened the pellet into an irregularly round figure; a punch with the word “Sri” cut on it was then driven onto the figure by another blow, completing the process. The market value of the Sel, as it was called, varied - when rupees were plenty, then Sel was cheap and when scarce, the opposite. The value of the Sel at the time Brown drafted the report stood at 480 to 1 British or Burmese rupee, and its usual variation was said to be from 450 to 500.
Brown had examined 8 varieties of the Sel coin, dating from the reign of Pakhangba downwards. The coin shown to him as Pakhangba's was, as the Manipuris said, the oldest in the country. It was a shield shaped disc of bell metal, very thin but large in size, measuring little more than 3.5 inches in diameter, having no mark on it of any kind. In Khagemba's reign, the coin was almost square and had a faint mark on it. Col. W. McCulloch credited Khagemba for the first introduction of bell metal coinage, figuring the coin to be round. Brown was however shown all the old coins by the Manipuris and he adopted their nomenclature with regard to the reigning Raja who issued it. Marangba was coined of a round shape smaller than those of Pakhangba and Khagemba, with well raised characters; Keeyamba was of an irregular square form with very indistinct characters; Paikhomba was irregularly rounded and faintly marked; Charairomba was coined square and with distinct lettering; Gureeb Niwaz was a round well-made coin with very superior lettering and the finest finish of all the coins. From Chingtungkomba downwards, around 1760 AD till date, the coin did not alter much and was much smaller than any of the above.
Crafts of Other Metals in Manipur
There is no evidence whatsoever for any existence of gold coinage in Manipur, but it is still stated that King Chourajit Singh had coined silver of a square form in the state, of the same value and weight as the British rupee.
The Meitheis and others in the valley of Manipur traditionally preferred gold ornaments if they were affordable to them, but there were silver, brass and bell metal ornaments prevalent as well. Even during those days when gold was affordable, brass and bell metal armlets were made for those living on the hills. During the contemporary era of snatching and extortion, quite many rich women have switched over to brass and bell metal ornaments. They are made from second hand metals that include broken utensils and gongs, which are converted to pellets, heated and moulded to the desired shape. In some cases, they are also moulded by casting. Despite the fact that many brass and bell metal utensils and fancy items were imported from Cachar and other states, the Manipuris in general and particularly the Lois also had the tradition of manufacturing brass and bell metal items. The utensils manufactured by them were of typical designs exclusive of Manipur. Subsequently, they developed newer designs and therefore, those may be recognised as the typical exclusive craft of Manipur. Bell metal craft of Manipur may have greater recognition given the fact that the two large-sized bells presented by the two Maharajas, Bhagyachandra and Chandra Kirti Singh to Sri Mandir of Sylhet (Srihatta), were made by the hands of Manipuri artisans. The gold and silver craft of Manipur is also quite credible, though the overall metal craft of the state is currently in a languishing scenario, but can again be elevated to prime glory with appropriate inputs.
More recently, a change has been noticed which reflects that growth in this domain can be achieved in the state. The white metal Aluminium has been newly accepted well as a raw material in Manipur and a number of small units making utensils from the cheap metal have sprung up. Fancy Manipuri design items such as coiled snake representing their ancestor Pakhangba in various shapes and designs are being crafted from annealed aluminium. If this trend continues, the metal craft shall continue to survive in Manipur.
Crafts of Manipur
Tribes of Manipur
Indian Metal Craft
Metal Art, India
Aluminium, Indian Mineral Resources
Ornaments of Manipur
Casting Technique of Ancient Indian Coins