The art of crafting flexible brass fish is unique to Belaguntha in Ganjam. While these flexible fishes are famous in India, the artisans have demanded GI tag for their products in a bid to expand their craft globally, directly increasing their sales.
These hand-crafted brass fishes have a highly polished yet antique look. The entire artifact is made out of brass and other metals to an extent where even the sticking of the two pieces of the metal is done using a metal of a lower melting point. Brass sheets are used to make the majority of the artifact and brass wire is used to make parts like whiskers and legs. The eyes are the only parts for which very shiny red stones are used to give it a beautiful contrast. These artifacts become more flexible with time and use.
These are sold at a price range between Rs 200 and Rs 20,000 depending on the size.
When this craft was first started fishes were the only products that were being created, in today’s market you can find other artifacts like prawns, snakes, tortoises and even idols of deities.
Sadly though, the art of crafting brass fishes is gradually depleting as there are very few takers of these handicraft items owing to an almost no marketing strategy. More and more artisans are now exploring other opportunities to feed their families.
“We have been doing this for three generations. My great grandfather had started this craft and we have since then doing this for livelihood,” said a brass artisan from Belaguntha, Prakash Maharana.
“The government is also helping us by training people in this business, but that is not enough,” Maharana said.
Although in today’s world they are only used as decorative pieces, in the past, it was considered the symbol of Lord Vishnu’s matsya avatar and was also considered to be a symbol of peace. During marriages, traditionally the girl would be sent with a wooden box, which would include sindoor, kohl (kajal), money and this flexible brass fish, as a symbol of peace.
In the past, the Bhanja king was surprised to see this brass fish craft and gave it a special status. The king was so happy to see the handicraft he donated 60 acres of land to Bhikari Maharana, the ancestor of Prakash Maharana.
“I was a carpenter before, but came to learn the brass fish-making craft from Prakash Maharana. However, after training, I felt the job is too difficult. The amount of effort and time needed to make one brass fish does not justify the price it attracts from the domestic market,” said Saroj Maharana, an artisan.
The artisans hope that the art will reach the international level if it is recognised.