Copper artisans in a tiny little alleyway (Tambat Ali) tucked away in Pune’s by lanes, produce works of art that transcend borders andembody how art can be a unifying factor the world over. Copper smiths (tambats in Marathi) were brought to Pune during the reign of the Peshwas in the 18th century to make copper coins. Initially four or five families moved to Pune but their numbers grew and eventually the tambats made this particular patch of Pune their own.
Physically, Tambat Ali is an interconnected maze of streets and buildings with narrow spaces and wider chowks where the coppersmiths have their workshops and living quarters. Pune is the most important place for tambat craft in Maharashtra. They achieved this status initially as a direct result of Peshwa patronage and later because of the introduction of railways during the British occupation and thus the need for copper utensils through trade.
The tambats of Pune specialize in mathar kaam which is the art of beating copper to make it strong. The coppersmiths of Tambat Ali are an intrinsic part ofKasba Peth and a significant feature of Pune’s heritage tapestry.
Copper craft relies on a number of factors. The principal raw materials include copper and an alloy of copper. The traditional craft process uses manual shaping and beating. Each step has to be done by hand and it takes a long time. The beauty of the art of beating is that it can vary from piece to piece and artisan to artisan. Skill comes into play to achieve the required density of indentations as well as the size and orientation. Different tools such as chisels, hammers, clippers and tongs are used to mould and beat the metal and coerce a shape. Watching a coppersmith at work is spellbinding.
The body of work created by the tambats is substantial and today with the help of INTACH, Forbes Marshall and Rashmi Ranade, a designer and heritage conservationist fresh life has been infused in this age old art by giving the tambats modern designs to be made using the old traditions. These patrons of the copper artisans have revamped this industry by extending help and guidance to the traditional craftsmen and created a demand for beaten copperware across the world.