Jaipur has been the hub of crafts and crafts people since ages. Metal vessels have been an essential household product since ancient time. These elements were necessary for storing water, food, drinking water, bathing etc. The thathera craft utensils are of both Utilitarian and ritualistic value made of copper, brass and 'kansa' (an alloy of copper, zinc and tin). The ancient Indian school of medicine, Ayurveda, recommends the metals used.
The Thatheras of Jandiala Guru in Punjab, India are a clearly defined community sharing a common ethnic, historical and geographical identity, which is connected with the 'Jandiala Guru de Thathere', or the traditional craft of making brass and copper utensils among the Thatheras.
The craft of the Thatheras constitutes the traditional techniques of manufacturing brass and copper utensils. The crafting process carried out by a specific group of craftspeople, known as Thatheras, has a unique ethnic and historical identity with an oral tradition that underpin their skill. The very name of the community - 'Thatheras' is identical with the name of the element. They belong to a single caste/social group called the 'Khatris', and follow a common hereditary occupation- that of processing metal and crafting utensils using brass, copper and kansa (an unusual alloy of copper, tin and zinc).
Myths & Legends
According to their traditions, they are Chandravanshi, Suryavanshi, Agnivanshi, Rajputs and Chandravanshi. They trace their origin from Sahastrabhu, who was killed by Parsuram. They also claim descent from the Haihay kings, a medieval Hindu dynasty.
It is believed that the bygone era had artisans who made- water vessels, 'lotas', large serving plates - paraat, paani ka ghada, mandir ka kalash. It is often narrated that huge silver water vessels were created for kings travelling away to foreign lands. One such vessel is housed in Jaipur's city palace today.
It is believed that the food product stored in copper or brass metal is preserved well as compared to aluminium and steel. Copper and brass have certain kind of mineral content which is good for health. Therefore in early time people preferred utensils made out of copper or brass. Metal vessels became a ubiquitous household necessity in the primordial times as elements of storing water and other edible fluids, for kneading the flour dough and other common chores. The belief that is concurred upon even in these days of steel and aluminium is that food and beverages stored in copper and brass utensils were rendered preserved, whilst the mineral content of the utensil lent health benefits to the consumers.
The 'thathera' craft dates back to the Mughal Era, and later pursued by the craftsmen, who settled in Jandiala post-Partition. Thathere Walon Ka Rasta' is located within the walled city of Jaipur. The lane is filled with the constant sound of hammering on metal. The place was an accommodation for around 300 Thathera, which today has reduced to 50-70.
In Jaipur, this craft form flourished under the royal patronage of Sawai Jai Singh II. In 1727, Jaipur was established as a new capital by Sawai Jai Singh II (1700-1743) and artisans, craftsmen & merchants were invited to institute centres of trade in Jaipur. As a result, the 'Thathere' who had all along lived with the Maharajas in Amer Fort, came down to settle in Jaipur. But unlike other artisans who were beckoned for their knowledge of craft, the 'Thathere' artisans were summoned because they were absolutely necessary for their supply of utilitarian objects in the newly springing city.
During the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Punjab, Amritsar was a flourishing trade and market centre along the Grand Trunk Road. Communities of craftsmen, carpet weavers, pashmina and woollen shawl craftsmen and metal workers from Kashmir and Rajasthan had settled down there making Amritsar their home. In 1947, before India was partitioned, a community of Muslim Thatheras used to live in Jandiala Guru. After partition, the Muslim Thatheras from India migrated to Pakistan, and a 400 strong community of Hindu Thatheras migrated to India from Kujranwala in Pakistan. This migration had brought about an exchange in culture between India and Pakistan. The establishment of the thatheras were known as 'Bazaar Thatherian, Gali Kashmirian'.
Over a period of time the craftsmen have designed variously shaped hammers that give different impression on the metal vessel. The artisans also believe that these dents give strength to the vessel and prevent it from further damage. These hammer strokes also highlight the form and texture of the product. The most commonly used texture is called Matthaar. Apart from these artisans also do metal engraving, Chitaai etc. to enhance the product.
The desired utensil is always designed as a combination of parts, which are welded into a unanimous whole. Square or circular pieces are cut out of the flat metal sheets - Brass (70% Cu + 30% Zn) and Copper. The vessel they are intended for determines the gauge of these sheets.
Thathera work was once the biggest market of handmade brass utensils, even bigger than Moradabad and supplied to Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. The craft is still flourishing with the demands of new market. The number of thathera artisans have been depleting over the years with only about 80 remaining of the 300 families who were brought to Jaipur by Sawai Man Singh II. Though the craft is flourishing in a lot of ways, the women of the households have to fetch water at least twenty times a day since the hand-pump does not satisfy the need of 70 people in the family. The various water tests performed show a much higher quantity of fluoride than essential. Their garbage is not collected and keeps getting pushed into side-lanes for a year until the 'annual cleaning day'. Their living conditions have been deteriorating, causing the newer generations to move out and find other jobs that would provide them better living conditions. Beating and crafting the metal for centuries now, the Thathera community today is reeling under the pressure of competitive market and abandonment by the establishment.
The making of Thathera is a tedious process and does not pay well, so has been languishing over the past few decades. Most of the craftsmen sell their goods to shopkeepers in Tripolia bazaar of Jaipur and do not have direct contact with the client/ buyers. This craft has substantial potential for development. Some concerted efforts are being made within Jaipur to adapt this craft form to suit contemporary needs and respond to an evolving market.
Earlier the craftsmen were mostly approached for creation of Singhasans (royal seats) for idols, Chatris (umbrellas) and bells for temples. While light weight and low cost steel and aluminium utensils have largely replaced brass from the modern day kitchen, there still exists a group of dedicated admirers who appreciate them for their aesthetic quality and health benefits.