Bells in his Blood

You must have seen various many bells in and around temples, from small tinkling bells tied on strings to jumbo sized ones hanging from strong structures. According to Pragati Ratna Shakya of Nepal Dhalaut Udhyog in Patan Industrial Estate, Lalitpur, most such bells (except the really ancient ones) were probably made by them. This is because they are the leading bell-makers (by far) among only a few bell-makers in Kathmandu. Finding their establishment used to be easy enough till sometime back, it had a really massive bronze bell hanging out front. Now, however, it’s not there anymore.
“It was bought recently to be placed at the Muktinath Temple in Bhaktapur,” discloses the 52-year-old Pragati. “Yes, it was huge, weighing 3000 kilograms.” Just to make this more interesting, their bronze bells cost Rs.2700 per kilo, so it was definitely a big sale! Well, even if a sale of such magnitude may be a rarity, it is true that business as a whole has grown from the days when Pragati’s father, Mr. Ratna Raj Shakya (77 years old today), ran the show. Pragati states this fact with a beaming face, and obviously he is happy to have stepped into his father’s shoes, along with his two younger brothers, Gambhir and Amir.
Dwelling on the ‘bell’ factor, he says, “Well, yes, we are well known as makers of bells, although we make various deity figures and ritual objects.” The presence of a diverse range of metal items—large-sized deity figures, a huge 500 kg lion-head made in the Chinese style (“which will probably be bought by buyers from Tibet”), smaller lions, and so on, including of course, bells in sizes ranging from small to 25 kg, 50 kg, and 100 kg ones—certainly validates his statement. With a wry smile, he adds, “Speaking about bells, specifically, I think we started making them to fulfill a crying need.” He also discloses that he himself makes the bells since they have to be handcrafted, unlike other objects which are made from molds, and none of his 15 workers have the necessary skills for the same. Bells in his blood, that’s what it is!
Elucidating further, he explains, “We make bells in both bronze and brass. The bronze ones cost Rs.2700 per kg while the brass ones cost Rs.1700 per kg.” Seeing that more explanation is called for, he elaborates, “Bronze is an amalgamation of copper and tin, while brass consists of copper and zinc. Tin is expensive, costing Rs.3500 per kg, while zinc costs only Rs. 300, and copper, Rs. 900-950,” To a question about the small size of his workforce, he says, “We commission some of our work to skilled craftspeople in Okubahal.”
Okubahal—which is not so far from Patan Durbar Square—is also the place where Pragati and his family have lived for generations. “Okubahal has always been the mecca for metalwork, with many skilled metal workers,” says Pragati, “but, even so, it’s becoming difficult to find people with the requisite skills nowadays, since their numbers are depleting.” Pragati is fortunate in having his wife, Chinari, as an able associate. “She also comes from a family that has been involved in metal craft for generations; she, too, is a skilled craftswoman.” And what about the coming generation, will they continue the legacy? “Well, my son is in Australia. He has a degree in IT,” he says by way of explanation. An explanation that leaves the way to the future unsaid.

Bells in his Blood

amar b shrestha

Joined December 2007

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Finding their establishment used to be easy enough till sometime back, it had a really massive bronze bell hanging out front. Now, however, it’s not there anymore.

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