The flexible brass or wooden fish is a rare craft of Ganjam. It is made of separate pieces of either brass or wood linked by a chain. The fish is made and assembled with such dexterity that it flexes like a live one. Traditionally, these fishes were toy items but now they are used as decorations. In the earlier days, they were considered to be Lord Vishnu’s matsya avatar (fish form). It was also considered as a symbol of peace and sent with brides during their wedding, along with other auspicious items.
The fish scales are cut from thin brass sheets. Those are then pierced with holes and linked by a fine chain of brass for movement. The same is carried out with the face and the tail of the fish. The chain is either concealed or visible. Everything is made out of metal, including the whiskers. A metal of a lower melting point is used as a sticking material to join metallic parts together. However, the eyes are made with two red stones which provide an attractive contrast. The brass fish becomes more flexible with time and use.
The tools used in making a brass fish are sabal/platform, sandasi/pincer, hatudi/hammer, chimuta/large forceps, channi/chisel, and earthenware pot.
Wood is used less often than brass as it needs more hard work to craft a wooden flexible fish. They are also more delicate than the brass ones.
The crafting of wooden fish requires an ari/filer, kalapas/measuring tool, and gojuni/needles.
A flexible snake and a non-flexible prawn, tortoise, birds are other artifacts made by the craftsmen. The flexible snake is the most expensive article as the process of making it is more time-consuming. It is also more in demand, after the iconic fish, among temples of Lord Shiva and His devotees.
Despite all the skill and painstaking hard work of the artisan, this unique craft is quickly vanishing due to their low earnings. Hence, lesser and lesser Kansari craftsmen are willing to carry on with the craft. In conclusion, added market exposure is needed to save this remarkable craft from disappearing.