Modakpatra is a traditional cooking vessel mostly used in the coastal Maharashtra to make steamed cuisines like modak, aaluwadi, patode etc. It is consist of three parts the base vessel for boiling water, a steaming plate for placing the cuisines which has to be cooked and a dome shaped lid to make circular motion to steam. The art of making modakpatra is as fascinating as any other craft. The craft exploration journey taken place in a beautiful place called Roha in Raigad district of Maharashtra. Ethnographically Roha is a small beautiful city which welcomes the visitors with the musical rhythm of the beating sound on copper vessels. There are many small workshops where the coppersmiths work either in a group or in single handed. Ashtami is the workshop locality of the artisan Mr.Yashwant Salvi who was extremely humble and sweet. He was very patient and cooperative during the documentation. In olden days artisans used to make handmade handles and other accessories where as in now the flow of time had stolen the authenticity of craft. Nowadays machine made handles and other accessories are readily available in the market. Machines had made the life of artisans even more miserable by making half of the craft machine made. The current working scenario of copper craft in Roha is, small industries produces basic copper vessels and the coppersmiths would make the final product by polishing and beating it. Where as in I was very much stick to the point of documenting the authentic craft which was impossible but with the extensive help of the artisan; I was successful in making an authentic modakpatra.
The artisan had taken me to a wholesale vendor who supplies raw materials to artisans and collected two big copper bases, one for the base vessel and the other one for making lid as well as a small copper plate for making steaming plate. Next destination was the retailer of accessories to collect handles, screws, nuts, nails etc. After collecting all essentials we head to towards his very rustic yet beautiful workshop and started working.
Making process started with softening the copper bases in the fire and then by using a traditional geometric compass artisan had marked the measurements. Afterward the metal was again fired and hammered. The alternate hammering and heating being repeated three or four times, till it is beaten into a desired shape. ‘Adi’ a circular shaped traditional tool used to make dome shape by hammering the copper lid with ‘mogri’(wooden hammer) and continued the hammering on ‘sandhan’ (smooth surfaced iron rod) to obtain a soft and fine texture. Once the lid had obtained the desired shape the artisan began working on base vessel. First the base vessel is hammered on a kharvai (bar anvil) until it attain a preferred shape. Subsequently he matched the base vessel and lid to ensure the measurements and proportions. Later on started working on phool (the lid handle) which is made up of a small copper sheet. Initially the artisan started marking the measurements by using a geometric compass and the excess part was trimmed off by using a ‘Katri’(scissors). Then it was kept on ‘mandli’( smaller sized version of adi) and hammered to obtain a dome shape, after finishing the phool the artisan started working on steaming plate. The steaming plate has the same making process of base vessel and once the hammering was over the edges were trimmed off to obtain a desired size and later on it was punched with a ‘togar’(a big iron nail) and reverse side was hammered to blunt the punched holes. Later on the four parts are fired and hammered once again to make the surface even and smooth.
The Finished parts are dipped in hydrochloric acid for cleaning and after sometime it is rinsed meticulously. Later on those parts were taken for buffing which is done on a small electronic buffing machine. After buffing, the crafted parts were kept under direct sun for some time meanwhile the artisan had polished three different hammers ‘chavarshi’ ‘nakhi’ ‘chavras dabak’ which are used for beating and making shining texture on copper vessels. The beauty of the art of beating is that, it can vary from piece to piece and artisan to archive the required density of indentations as well as the size and orientation. The beating of dome shaped lid was done on ‘Sandhan’ which has a very fine and shine finishing. As per my demand he had given very dense and accurate beating which is the distinctiveness of authentic copper craft. The process of beating is done on freehand; a master craftsman can follow the pattern without any guide line traced on the metal. This shows the coordination skill of the artisan. Once the beating of lid was over he continued the beating process of base vessel, steamer plate and the phool(lid handle) which was taken place on a smooth ‘kharvai’ and the beating were done by two metal hammers called ‘nakhi and ‘chavras dabak’. The edges were filed to give smoothness and once again it was beaten by using ‘chavarshi’(thin edged hammer) to give fitting and finishing. Once the beating process was over, the artisan had started fixing the handles to each piece. It was done after measuring the vessels properly to find out the accurate place where the accessories should be attached.
After fixing the handles the steaming plate was taken for doing Kalai. Kalai (tinning) is the process of giving a silvery shine polish to copper and brass wares which is vanishing from Indian kitchens with the rapid intrusion of the sophisticated utensil alternatives which is utterly unhealthy. Tinning is done to copper and brass ware to avoid chemical reactions and fading. Tinning and retinning is done at the place of coppersmiths and the artisan who is specialized in this process is known as ‘kalaiwala’. Kalaiwala first make fire by burning charcoal ,then heated the utensil, blasting it off and on; sprinkled a little nausadar (sal amoniac or ammonium chloride) which gives out deep white smoke and a peculiar ammoniac smell. The powder is then rubbed all over the utensil’s interior to rid the utensil of any grit and make it more abrasive.
Then a piece of virgin grade tin is touched to the blasting hot interior of the utensil; the tin melts and is quickly rubbed into whole of the utensil forming a lining of tin in the interior. The utensil is then dipped into a bucket full of water. The sudden contact of the hot utensil with the water creates a shrill and sharp sound that dims with the utensil recovering its normal temperature.