Brassware and Metalware


Brassware and Metalware

Sri Lanka’s rich mineral deposits, harking back, according to archaeological authorities, to the proto-historical period has been instrumental in the country having an established tradition of metal-work. Seruvilla, near Trincomalee on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, was known for an abundance of iron and copper deposits. Blacksmiths or acari and the foundry workers or lokuru traditionally comprise the metal-work artisans who made products of everyday use, including utensils, images, and tools.

The practices of iron-smelting and steel-tempering have been recorded as being practised in ancient times in certain villages near Balangoda, along with the districts in the south, and at Kandy which is in the central region of the country. The quantity of the material processed was not very large; rather it was the quality of the product that was considered exceptional. The production of steel in Sri Lanka had reached such a high standard that it is believed to have been exported to Damascus for making swords.

Archaeological findings in Polonnaruwa, in the east-central region, have documented the use of metal products in the twelfth century. Steel and copper surgical instruments – including scissors, scalpels, pincers, and needles – are some of the artefacts found at the site. References to the occupational structure of society in the Kandyan period in the historical chronicle Mahavamsa, allude to metal-work in the period and also provide information about the degree to which the making of metal tools and artefacts, especially bronze-casting techniques, had developed. Allusions to the remarkable degree of development have been substantiated by the discovery of several Buddhist and Hindu bronze images belonging to various historical periods in Sri Lanka. In a later period, Sri Lankan metal-workers are believed to have been influenced by Indian practices and techniques and to have assimilated these in their methods of brass-casting and mixed-metal work.

In the Anuradhapura area, available evidence points to the existence of old furnaces and crucibles used for metal-casting. It is surmised that these were used in the making of the utensils, nails, hinges, and locks apparently used for the construction work of the Abhayagiriya Vihara there. Along with being skilled at creating tools and equipment of good quality, the craftspersons also supplied kings with weapons; the famous Kotmale ironsmiths are supposed to have fulfilled the requirements of Dutugemunu and his warriors. The Satmahal Lohapasadaya or seven-storied bronze palace is further proof of the advancement of metal technology in construction work.

Brass-carving developed further after the Second World War, spurred by the demand for brass souvenirs and gifts from tourists visiting Sri Lanka. Brass trays, wall-plaques, and ornamental animals and bowls were common souvenirs.


Metal-work in brass (the prolifically used alloy of copper and zinc) falls into two groups – the wrought and the cast. Casting is done usually by the lokuru or foundry worker, who belongs to a lower strata of craftspersons, while the work of hammering and chasing is done by metal artisans.

A wide range of items involve brass-work: from locks, hinges, and key-plates, to trays, lanterns, areca nut slicers, lime-boxes in various shapes and patterns, intricately carved in copper and silver, snuff-boxes, tobacco-boxes (heppu) with engraved traditional designs, small artistically crafted betel-pounders, and mountings of all kinds including those used in jewellery products. Brass was used for damascene or inlay work on iron. Brass lamps made by metal-workers through various historical periods highlight the continuing technical expertise of a brass craftsperson.

Two brass lamps discovered at Dadigama have hydrostatically-controlled oil reservoirs! Most common, however, were brass-ware (and copper-ware) vessels, widely used for cooking and serving.

The products have traditionally been linked with the needs of Buddhist and Hindu temples as well as those of Christian churches. Spires for shrines as well as bells, some massive in proportion, were made for places of worship. Some experts assert that metal-work artisans were initially focused in the southern part of the country, from where they spread to other locations, thus diffusing metal-work traditions and skills. The metal-casting and metal-designing requirements of many places of Buddhist worship were instrumental in the choice of location.

Kandyan brassware made at the Kandyan Art Association is known to be better in quality than Indian brass items made for tourists. Kandy, therefore, is very well known for cast or wrought brassware ornamented with fine carving, silver or copper inlays and damascene, including boxes, trays, bowls, spittoons, plaques, lamp-shades, lamp-stands, candle-stands, ash-trays, hinges, mountings, vases, statuettes, figurines and oil-lamps.

Bronze is less commonly used than brass for casting. Some objects like elephant bells, cymbals, moulds for beating up brass, and tools for working gold or silver using the repousse technique are made of bronze.

Copper is more sparingly used than brass. Lime boxes or killota are the few items more often made in copper than in any other metal. The forms are unusual as are the designs. Examples are products done in copper filigree set with cabochon glass over foil. Inlay of silver wire on copper has a clear and good effect.

This is an alloy of five metals, also known as pas-lo; the metals are gold, silver, copper, lead, and iron. Bronze or bell-metal is sometimes used instead of lead.


Implements comprised a significant part of the product range. The ordinary iron-work artisans made agricultural implements – mud-picks or mamoties or udalu, bill-hooks or keti, and sickles or de-keti. Ornate sickles with serrated edges, with designs punched on them, and/or with damascening on the surface, further embellished with ivory handle(s) have been found. Tools for carpenters and ivory workers were also made.


  • Knives: Knives or pihiya are extremely common, especially in the Kandy region. The simplest ones are of plain steel, with wooden or horn handles, and are carried by villagers while making their way through jungle areas. Some elaborately made ornamental knives, with gold or silver inlay and overlay work, were supposedly worn by the chiefs as part of their costume. This crafting was done by the specialised artisans who were given the knives by the blacksmiths; the exquisite workmanship was complemented by superbly crafted mounting and sheaths. Folding knives were rarely seen.

  • Areca-nut slicers: Areca-nut slicers or gira among the most common items made of brass (with the exception of the cutting blade), were often elaborately ornamented, sometimes with inlay work done with a silver wire.
  • Betel pounders: Equally elaborate were betel pounders or bulat-vangedi, small iron mortars with a brass-mounted pestle that had elephant gods (figures of Lord Ganesha) on them: these were made of plain iron and the shape was based on the claw of the et-kanda-lihiniya, the great elephant devouring rock.

Palanquin fittings, extremely elaborate, were made of damascened iron. Examples of this work can be seen at the Kandy Maha Devale or Main Temple at Kandy and the Vishnu Devale or Vishnu Temple at Hanguranketa. The palanquin-rests were made of plain iron, known as konteru; these were mounted or lacquered.

Writing styluses were usually made of steel, and had a steel point and a cutting edge. The stylus was required to be heavy, long, and well-balanced to form rounded letters.


  • Locks & Bolts: Kandy is extremely well-known for its iron or steel locks, handles, and door-bolts. The workmanship of the locks can best be seen on the doors of old viharas or palaces. The bar locks had large and beautiful keys, mounted in silver or brass; the key-plates were of iron, steel, or brass, with rich traditional designs on them. The ambarana yatura or ratchet lock – where the bar is moved by a toothed turnkey according to which the key-hole is shaped – were also made. Ingenious varieties of bolts were found inside the brass tobacco boxes or heppu; the metals used were brass or iron or a combination of the two.
  • Hinges: Hinges, made mainly of iron, were found mainly in houses in the Kandyan region; the detailing of the designs on the hinges are distinctly Kandyan but the concept itself is of European origin. European influence is visible in the Jaffna region, in the northern part of Sri Lanka, where semi-European iron and brass fittings are found in chests and presses made in an Indo-Portuguese style. The influence is also visible in fittings – hinges, locks, key-plates, handles, and bossed rivets – in temples and palaces. The detailing on brass hinges fitted to cane baskets or vevel-petti and the wooden abharana petiya or ornament-box also shows a decided European influence. Brass key-plates, the muna-tahadu, exhibit a combination of European and Sinhalese infuences in the designs. The work on them is both pierced and chased and the pierced key-plates are mounted over red cloth to show the patterns better.

The killotaya or lime boxes were mainly made of copper or brass, rarely of iron or steel. The designs on several varieties of brass boxes display European influence. Kandy is well known for the flat oval Dutch tobacco boxes or heppu made of brass; betel-boxes have the same form, but are engraved with pure designs. The handles of small boxes like heppu were generally made of brass, and occasionally of silver.


  • Ritualistic: Along with being crafted as earthenware, vessels are also cast in brass and bronze. Among ritualistic vessels, the most evocative and recognisable is perhaps the kotalaya or water vessel found in every vihara or place of worship. These open spouted vessels are usually used for sprinkling water on flowers placed on the altar; sometimes they are also used to store drinking water. The tel kulava is a vessel with a narrow grooved spout that is used to hold coconut oil to pour for the lighted lamps, while the kendiya is a spouted vessel with a lid made of copper, brass or silver.
  • Ceremonial Items: Water vessels for places of worship like the Ridi Vihara have the neck and lid set with cabochon garnets while the base and spout are beautifully chased with traditional designs. Clepsydras or water-clocks or pe-teti were of copper and these were used only by the kings and astrologers.
  • Water Vessels: Water vessels, commonly used for domestic purposes, include the gurulettu or goglet, which has a hinged lid; these have a large base with a tall narrow neck. Sembu or lotasare found in the north of the country and are considered to be imports from India. In the Tamil dominated northern parts of Sri Lanka enormous brass water vessels are used by the women to transport water; however in the Sinhalese-dominated central and southern districts, earthen vessels are used for the same purpose. Indian metal artisans settled in the central and southern parts of Sri Lanka make large brass lamps and riveted copper cauldrons.
  • Serak-Kale: Cast brass is used to make the serak-kale or a low stand to hold a plate or leaf of rice which is used at meal-times or to hold the ingredients of the betel-chew. The ornamentation of the serak-kale has spirals and double-spirals on it, obtained by applying worm-shapes of wax to the surface of the original mould. The effect of a twisted wire is produced.
  • Bulat-tattuva: Bulat-tattuvaor the classic betel tray has a basin shape, different from regular ones with a flat surface.

To this day large elaborately-made brass trays are crafted at the kacceri or workshop of mastercraftsmen at the Kandy Art Association, an organisation begun to help the Kandyan artisans in the nineteenth century. In the earlier times these trays were used for royal offerings of flowers or food at the temples, as gifts or presentation to the kings or chieftains and also for handing around betel leaves at functions such as weddings. The trays made to this day are an ode to the richness of the traditional Sinhalese designs; however, occasionally, Japanese motifs like a large peacock with tail outspread are also sometimes used. Sri Lanka gained Independence from British rule in 1948 and after that many Japanese craft consultants and instructors came to Sri Lanka to give training in a wide variety of crafts. It was found there were a lot of similarities in the handicraft industries in the two countries; the association with Japan has continued ever since with respect to handicraft development with a lot of Japanese contributions and influences in Sri Lankan craft and artisans from Sri Lanka also went over to Japan for training in various craft-skills.

Lamps are made of brass and are rarely of bronze. The lamps are either the standing variety or the hanging type. The hanging lamps are commonly in the shapes of birds, barrel, and elephants. The mouth of the lamp is the head or serependiya of the bird or animal. The lamps that are made in cast brass are tall lamps, lamps with branches (branching lamps) and specially designed lamps made for institutions. The installation of a big brass lamp is considered auspicious as well as decorative.

Cressets or at-pandam are made of bronze and they are in the form of hafted cups attached to a lacquered wooden handle. The Dalada Maligava or the Temple of the Tooth Relic of Buddha at Kandy has a cresset of silver with an ivory handle. Bronze cressets have motifs like the lotus; the cressets are used at night to burn oily tow and resin and the bowl is held low to light the ground-level lamps. The other kind of cressets are double or triple shaped with long handles used to carry erect in processions.

Sannas or charters are generally engraved on copper and less often on silver or gold. Copper sannas are found with temple representatives and lay grantees of lands or villages.



  • Et-Kanda-Lihiniya: This motif – representing a mythical bird of prey with the head of a tusker and the body of a bird – is found in brassware. It is known in popular legends as a monstrous bird preying on elephants. Here again the tail is adorned with the liyapath or leaf motif.
  • Hansa: This divine bird from Hindu mythology is found in the brassware – especially wall plaques and trays – of the Gampola and the Kandyan periods. The single hansa is used in the brass lamps and also in a regular symmetrical design.
  • Kukul Pahana: This is a bird design adorning the top of the brass lamp; a bird in this position in a standing brass lamp is very typical of the Kandyan period. The bird is not only a decorative element but also acts as a receptacle that contains the oil in the lamp.
  • Bherunda-Pakshaya: An eagle with two heads, this is mythical bird motif found in the metal craft of the medieval period.
  • Sinha / Simha: The lion motif is a popular traditional design used by the metal artisans; the lion is said to be the mythical ancestor of the Sinhalese and is portrayed in different poses and forms. Mythical forms of the lion include the kesara-sinha (proper figure-representation of the lion), gaja-sinha (lion represented with an elephant’s head), and nara-sinha (lion represented with a man’s head); these are used as the central designs on metal wall-plaques and small trays.
  • Kimbihi Muna: This is a mythical lion face from ancient sculptures which the metal artisans of today have adopted as a motif.
  • Vrishaba Kunjaraya: This combination of elephant and bull motif – seen in ancient cave paintings – is very popular with brass metal artisans.
  • Naga: The anthropomorphic form of the cobra – well known in its natural form in the sculptures of the ancient period – is found as embellishment in brassware.
  • Fox: This is found in the brass cast work by which door handles and paper weights are made.


  • Nari Lata Vela: An exquisitely beautiful mythical creeper, this form is widely referred in the Buddhist Sinhalese literature. The motif consists of a climbing vine, and the flower has the form of a female figure. It is widely used in metalware.

  • Liyavela: This decorative motif derives its name from the grace of the female form; it comprises a composition of leaves, branches, flowers, buds, and tendrils which trail from a sinuous creeper forming a symmetrical pattern; sometimes two such creepers are drawn intertwined uniformly to form a graceful design. Two intertwined creepers are known as dangara vel; when linked together by some external device the design is called vel puttuwa. Liyawela – in several variants – is a common decorative motif in brassware.
  • Liya Path / Liya Pota / Liya Pata / Liya Potha: This is a leaf-like formation composed of the double-curve known as vaka deka; the basic form is built up through configurations, elaborations, modulations, modifications, and extensions of the many decorative motifs in this branch of Sinhala art. The liya path motif, when repeated symmetrically, is called as the liya path vela; in the Kandyan era this motif has been found to adorn the edges of swords, handles of knives and round objects of metal. This motif is also combined with others to form designs such as tiringa tale and the tail of the fish or makara in the motif makara torana. (According to Ananda Coomaraswamy, the tiringa tale design is the supreme test for a craftsperson’s skill; a pupil who is able to draw this design without the aid of a copy is considered to be fully proficient in the art. The composition of this motif includes the liya pata, and the vaka deka, with paturu and suli adornments.)
  • Annasi Mala: This is a motif of the pineapple flower in its decorative form that is used in brassware.
  • Katuru Mala / Katiri Mala: A design of crossed petals, resembling a pair of scissors, that is also widely found in brassware.
  • Nelum Mala: The lotus flower motif is by far the most frequently used single motif in Kandyan brasswork.
  • Sina Mala: The conventionalised form of a flower found as a motif in brassware and sometimes added to the vaka deka as an embellishment, this is also found as a flower-spray proceeding from the mouth of a beast or attached to the stem of the liya vela.
  • Pala Peti: This is a design derived from the lotus frequently used in Sinhala art since ancient times; its variations – resembling a flame as well as the traditional liya patha – are mainly used as border designs, especially in brass trays.
  • Bo Pata: The Bo leaf is also widely used as a motif in all forms of Sinhala art as the Bo or Pipal tree is sacred to the Sinhalese. Variations of this design are seen in brassware. When the Bo leaf is alternated with a dart the design is known as bo-pat kangul and is used as a border design in brasswork.
  • Alakolaya: The large leaf motif widely found in brass trays.
  • Betel Leaf Motif: This is found in brassware.
  • Sera Adiya / Vel Pota: The linked honeysuckle bush motif is widely seen in the sculptures of the Anuradhapura period and is widely used in brasswork as a border design.


  • Panch-Nari-Ghataya: This is a motif representing five youthful female forms in the shape of a pot; it is widely prevalent in brassware.
  • Kindura / Kinnara: This design – half-bird and half human, the lower half having the human form – is found in brassware. The sanda kindura is male and the liya kindura is female. The popularity of this motif is because it is derived form the Jataka tales, in which the central figures are a kindura and its mate. Ananda K Coomaraswamy quotes from the Sri Lankan treatise, Rupavaliya: ‘The Lata Kinnara hath a tuft of hair on the head, a garland round the neck, but the nether part like that of a bird, with wings; a face fair and radiant, a neck graceful as Brahma’s.’ The tail has intricate variations of the liyapath or leaf motif.


  • Lanuwa: This is a geometrical design, sometimes found in brassware. Variations include the thanipota lanuwa (plait design), the depota lanuwa (chequer-work or grass-mat design), and the eka-pota lanuwa (one-ply plait design).
  • Gal Binduwa: This consists of a rectangle and a circle placed alternatively between a set of parallel lines, forming a border design. It is frequently found in brassware.
  • Pathura / Chevron/ Isosceles Triangle Design: This is found as a border design in brassware.


  • Buddhist symbols: The dhammachakka symbol is quite frequently seen in brass lamps; the casket with the dagabo within it is a sacred symbol as the dagabo is the receptacle in which the sacred relics of the Buddha are enshrined. The Perahera festival of the sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy is a very popular motif and is found depicted on the brass trays made by the Kandyan artisans.
  • The Cross & the Cherub: These Christian symbols are sometimes found in brass lamps.
  • The Crescent & Star: These Islamic religious symbols are sometimes found in brass plate work.


  • Sun/Moon: The sun and the moon as symbolic designs are very common in brassware; the sun is represented by a disc with a human face in the centre with the rays emanating from the perimeter and the moon is represented as a disc with similar rays around the perimeter with a figure of a hare in the centre.
  • Scroll Designs/ Suliya: The scroll design has many variations like the thani suliya or single scroll, the suli deka or double scroll, and the suli vela or continuous scroll. The scroll designs are interspersed with dots and straight lines at regular intervals and used as a border design in metalwork. In brassware this design is usually impressed with a stamp or pointed instrument.
  • Havadiya / Weldangaraya / Havadidangaraya: This is a chain motif with different variations found in brassware.
  • Thakara Piyum: The star shaped motif is sometimes found in brassware.
  • Figures from the Cave Paintings
  • Moonstone Motifs: These are found in brass plate products mainly trays and wall hangings. The circular brass tray with the moonstone motif is known as the moonstone tray.
  • Vama: The dwarf motif also appears in brass lamp designs.

Raw materials for all the metal-based crafts are purchased in the open market. Brass sheets are generally imported from India. Brass scrap for the cast work is obtained from Panchikawatta in Colombo and from the railway yard. Apex bodies like the National Crafts Council of Sri Lanka supply the brass to the artisans at cost prices. A lot of the metal is bought from the local markets in whichever part of the country the craft is found.

As far as the blacksmith is concerned he mainly works with iron; his workplace has a wattle and a daub wall between the hearth and the bellows. This is of different types, one of which is the English type, which has two bullock hide-bags with a bamboo nozzle, and, at the other end, there is a wide slit with wooden lips. Air is admitted through these lips, which are then closed, and the bellows are compressed. The blower sits between the two bellows and works each in turn so that a continuous blast is kept up.

The tools of the blacksmith consists of hammers, tongs and pincers, files, punches, and also the gal-torapanaya, which is an instrument for boring holes. Blacksmiths from Kandy almost always colour their ironware (wrought type); the effect is to darken the surface and make it look like European ‘blued’ work. This process is adapted to show up the damascened work well against the dark surface and also to check rusting. The mixture with which the iron is coloured is made of alum and copper, along with two parts of the leaves of embul-embiliya (Oxalis Corniculata, L.) which are ground together and allowed to stand for three days. This is then mixed with the juice of one lime. The iron is coloured and is then carefully placed in the fire till the right colour is obtained. This process is known as yakada pata ganava or yakada kalu karanava (to colour or blacken iron).


  • Lost Wax Process: The most widely practised method for brass casting is the ancient cire perdue or the lost wax process. A replica of the article to be cast is made with clay. This is then covered with a layer of wax, which is then covered with a layer of fire-proof clay from ant-hills of white ants. This covering has two layers; the inner layer covering the wax – called heen matta – is very soft; the second layer is rougher and is known as maha matta. Openings are made at the top and the bottom of this mould. Molten brass heated in a crucible is poured from the top – as the wax melts and escapes from the opening at the bottom, it is replaced within the mould by molten brass. When the mould is cooled, it is broken up and the object is taken out. Gaps in the object are filled in through welding. After smoothening the rough points with a file, the object is polished. This process is used for turning out hollow objects. This method was used in ancient times to make kotalas (sprinklers), kendi (spouted vessels), gurulettus (goblets for storing water), sembus (pitchers for carrying water), betel trays, and serak-kale (plate stand) for use in temples and homes.
  • Clay Mould Method: This casting method is used to make objects that are solid. Fine clay is mixed with powdered brick, watered, and then made into a thick paste. This paste is poured into an open box filling it to the top. A replica of the object is made out of wood or hard clay and pressed half way into this paste and the other half is pressed into a similar box containing the same paste. The replica is then removed and the two halves are put together. Through an opening in the top half, molten brass is poured into the hollow within. Once the brass has cooled, the object is removed, smoothened out, and polished. This method is suitable for solid objects like lamps, statues, figures of animals, pinnacles of temples, paperweights and similar objects. It was also used in Galle in the ancient times for producing brass key-plates, locks, and hinges. Furnaces, bellows, and crucibles are the equipment used in making cast brassware.
  • Carved Brassware: Carved brass is made from brass plates. Powdered brick is mixed with wax; it is then boiled and made into a paste which is laid on a table to form a tablet about an inch thick. While this paste is still warm, the sheet of brass which is to be worked on is placed on it so that it gets firmly fixed when the paste hardens. The design is then traced on the brass sheet, a procedure dispensed with by the skilled craftsmen who are able to work from memory. With a chisel the design is cut using a small hammer for the purpose. The plate is then taken out and inverted on to a hollowed board – the embossed parts are then beaten out. After the chasing, it is either mounted on a wooden base for a wall plaque or turned into a tray or vase as the case may be. The article is then polished. The tools required for carved brassware include chisels and hammers, wax and brick powder, plaster bases, gravers for cutting metal in damascene work, knives, and bodkin.

Damascening is the art of decorating by laying one metal on another, using deep encrusting or superficial inlaying.

  • For deep encrusting, the brass sheet is cut deep with a graver, filled in with a thick wire of silver or copper, and hammered down so that it adheres easily. The surface is then smoothened and filed so that the design shows up brightly in a clear outline.
  • In the inlay method, the brass sheet is heated to a blue colour and then hatched with a knife; the design is drawn on the hatched surface with a fine bodkin. A silver wire is conducted according to the pattern that has been drawn and sunk carefully into the metal with a copper tool. Sometimes a less expensive technique is used where the silver or copper leaf is applied with an adhesive substance.

In Kandy district, brass casting has been practised over the ages and has grown into a flourishing craft. Many of the traditional craftsmen have descended from the families of the ancient royal mastercraftsmen and they practise their craft in mini-workshops. Some believe that skilled artisans from the southern regions of the country settled in this region, which they found to be suitable for their vocation. The presence of many places of Buddhist worship in this region also helped in the growth of the craft to fulfil the various needs of these religious centres. Nattarampota in the Kandy region has the Housing Estate for Craftsmen which is popularly known as Kkala Puraya or Craft City; here the descendants of traditional craftsmen of the past have set up their homes in the colony and make use of the facilities provided for the development of a multitude of skills.

Angulmaduwa – a region located between Hambantota and Matara in the southernmost tip of the island – is believed to be the original home of these metal artisans; till this day practising craftsmen of repute have preserved the skills of casting among the few surviving families. The government has recognised the value of this and has established a training centre for the young in brass craft at this place through the Department of Small Industries.

The whole process of casting must have started for making the figures of Buddha and the other gods; the traditional methods continue to this day and the artisans use the same skills passed down over generations to serve the contemporary needs. The craft of bell-making is limited to a group of traditional craftsmen from Kandy and Moratuwa and they provided bells of any size or proportion to the temples and churches. They are mainly cast in bronze and the real test of their quality is the special tone which each can be made to produce. Temple railings in brass lathed and polished are made for the temples by the craftsmen.

  • Batticaloa district (on the eastern coast): The craft is found in Onthachchmadam, Kallar, Munaithivu, and Chengaladi.
  • Colombo district: Brass metal craft is practised at Katibedda, Hokandara, Malabe, and Piliyandala.
  • Galle district (southern coast of the country): Brassware is found at Acharigoda and Hikkaduwa.
  • Gampaha district (adjoining Colombo district): Brassware is at Kirindiwela, Negombo, Kadawata, Katana, Gampaha, Kotadeniya, and Jaela.
  • Hambantota district (southern-most tip of the country): The craft is practised in the villages of Angulmaduwa, Wadiya, Puwakdandawa, and Korametiya.
  • Jaffna district (northern-most tip of Sri Lanka): Brassware is found in Jaffna, Kopay North, Neerveli, Atchuveli, and Vannarponnai East.
  • Kandy district (central province of Sri Lanka; about 225 kilometres from Colombo): Brassware is mainly found in this district, in the villages of Kirivavula, Wannipola, Delwala, Mugatiyapola, Pilawala, Arattana, Poholiyadda, Bomure, Neelawela, Embekke, Gadaladeniya, Pamunuwa, Nattaranpota, Madawalagama, Ululandupitiya, Haddapitiya, Danture, and Pitiyegedara.
  • Kilinochchi district (in the north): Brassware is found in Paranthan.
  • Kurunegala district (to the north of Colombo): Brassware is found at Wariyapola.
  • Mannar (northwestern coast of the country): The craft is found at Mannar.
  • Matale district (adjoining Kandy district): This has a wide prevalence of brassware in Dehideniya, Gonnawa, and Dulawa.
  • Matara district (adjoining Hambantota district): Brass metal craft is found in the villages of Aparekke, Polathugoda, Pahala Atureliya, Thumbe, and Yatiyana villages.
  • Mulaitivu (on the north-eastern coast): The craft is found at Mulaithivu town.
  • Polonnaruwa district (adjoins Matale district): In Danagama, Ambulugala, and Utuwankanda.
  • Puttalam (western coast): Brass metal craft is practised at Peramakuttuwa, Puttalam, Chilaw, and Nattandiya.
  • Vavuniya district (next to Kilinochchi): the craft is found in Vavuniya town itself.

Sri Lankan craftsmen have shown a special ability for carving using all kinds of materials and their skills are evident in the making of jewellery; these skills have been successfully applied in brass carving, mixed metal (brass, copper and silver or BCS) carving in inlay, outlay, damascening, and engraving.

In contemporary metalware, interesting combinations, like bottle openers in the form of the figure of dance masks, paper weights in the form of a tortoise or shoes, ash-trays in the form of hooded cobras, letter openers in the form of traditional swords, and book-marks in the form of the human hand are being made, most often in brass and sometimes in silver.

Metalware of questionable quality has started proliferating in the Sri Lankan urban markets to cater to all the classes; however for the discerning there are government-run and private outlets where the genuine artisans are able to market their ware. Artisans also sell their products directly to the customers wherein the customer is able to get all the details about the product being purchased. Reputed and experienced brass craftsmen sell their products through the government-run outlets and others sell wholesale to agents who sell them at festivals and fairs all over the country. These agents are highly experienced and they are involved in the long-standing tradition of collection and distribution of handicraft products. This has led to the movement of craft practices from one area to another and has also helped in the growth of solidarity and feelings of brotherhood among the craftsmen community.

Artisans are also trying out new styles in metalware based on old techniques to bring out the product’s intrinsic value. New techniques like repousse work on copper sheets are being experimented with. Repousse or raised in relief by hammering from behind is an ancient art form practised in several Asian countries. The innovation is the use of this technique on previously untested metals like copper to produce reproductions of modern paintings; the details of the paintings are brought out by denting the copper sheets. As brassware tends to tarnish, the methods of oxidising or lacquering the products seems to have improved the quality and finish. Oxidised brassware is highly priced.

Whether made by using traditional motifs or the use of modern western designs, the degree of precision and skill involved in brass work in Sri Lanka is comparable to the best in the world. The technique of inlaying silver and copper on brass is a special feature; oxidised brass gives a rosy or smoky sheen which never fades. Articles made of copper and brass which are plated with silver or gold or anodised to prevent tarnishing, eliminate the need for regular polishing.


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