A large variety of products are cast in Tamil Nadu using either the solid or hollow method of casting. The Shilp Shastra, the treatise on sculpture, describes the techniques of metal casting. Metal ware items are cast by the hereditary community of sthapathis/icon makers to display the craftsperson’s skills. The metals used in Tamil Nadu include brass, copper, bronze, bell metal, silver and gold. Items made are lamps, chembus/containers for ritual water, bowls and bells, special utensils and items such as paperweights, menu stands and ashtrays. The incense burners are cast in two basic bowl shapes, with a long handle or with a lid, and are usually made of brass or copper, with lotus or other floral designs. The metal utensils made are either ritual vessels or cooking ware and are decorated with geometric designs near the rim. Temple utensils are metal bowls used to distribute religious water or to store water in large quantities in big vessels called andaa and gangaalam. Ritual utensils like panchapaathra/cup and uddharani/spoon are used in the households.
Cooking utensils are mainly made in brass and water-pots are usually in copper, because of its medicinal properties. The vessels are in natural shapes of gourds or flowers and very few have handles. Large vessels to carry water are shaped to allow them to be balanced on the hips. Vessels which need to retain heat have large bodies and narrow necks and other storage vessels have wide brims. The vessels are kudam (to fetch water), gangaalam/andaa (to store water), thavalai (to cook rice), chutti paanai (to cook porridge), urulis (to cook sweets) and karandi (ladles).
Containers for pan (pan chewing is a popular pastime in Tamil Nadu) are usually made of bronze or sheet brass and decorated creatively. The boxes are divided into compartments with space to accommodate the metal nutcrackers. The nutcrackers themselves are in ingenious shapes with animals, birds, flowers and human figures as handles.
Metal combs are made of brass with the top of the combs in the shapes of female or animal figures. Perfume containers are decorated with yaali and hamsa designs. Brass trays used in Tamil Nadu are circular, hexagonal, octagonal or oval in shape and their surfaces are decorated with figures in Shaivite and Vaishnavite themes, geometrical patterns or flowers. Household and temple metal items are mainly used for worship. Metal toys are made mainly of brass which are neatly polished and attractively finished. These include figures of horses, cows, and elephants sometimes mounted with an ambaari/howdah. Madurai is famous for its charming miniature brass and insect models.
Brass vessel casting is done over a solid clay model on a hand-lathe with a layer of prepared wax. The model is covered with a thick layer of clay in which a hole is made through which the molten wax is removed to be replaced by molten metal.
Nachiarkoil in Thanjavur is well known as a metal-casting centre, because sand found on the banks of the Kavery River is excellent for moulding. The artisans here are called Pathers. Brass is popular for articles such as vases, tumblers, water containers, ornamented spittoons, food cases, bells, candle stands, kerosene lamps, picnic carriers and a large variety of lamps.
Bell metal is also used especially to make a special container with a cashew-nut design.