Tiny particles rise in the air as Mohammad Aslam pours hot molten brass into a sancha (mould container). This will shape the brass into a solid chandan piyali (a small bowl used for prayers) .

A metal craftsman specialising in brass work, Aslam’s hands move firmly and cautiously. He measures the pressure on the container as he pours the brass, ensuring the sand inside – which gives the product its shape – does not spill.

“You should keep your hands firm or the structure inside the sancha will be disturbed. The adat [the moulded product] will be spoiled,” says 55-year-old Aslam. However, the spillage of the sand does not worry him as much as the particles in the air. “Do you see them? This is brass and it’s going to waste. We will have to bear its cost,” he rues. For every 100 kilograms of brass that they mould, around 3 kilos is lost in the air. That’s roughly 50 rupees disappearing into thin air.

Aslam is among the handful of craftsmen working in one of the many bhattis (furnaces) located in Moradabad’s Peerzada area, famous for brass work. The craft is locally known as dhalayi ka kaam , or casting, in which craftsmen melt pieces of brass silli (ingot) and mould them into different shapes.

Their work material – coal, sand, wooden planks, iron rods, pliers and tongs of varying sizes – lie scattered around them in the workspace where Aslam and his assistant Raees Jaan spend 12 hours a day.  Aslam pays Rs. 1,500 as rent every month for the crowded five square feet space.

PHOTO • Mohd Shehwaaz Khan
PHOTO • Mohd Shehwaaz Khan

Left: Mohammad Aslam (right) and Raees Jaan (left) are casting chandan piyali (small bowls used for prayers) in one of the furnaces in the Peerzada area of Moradabad. Right: Aslam makes the sancha (mould container) and places the mould inside the product to be made

PHOTO • Mohd Shehwaaz Khan
PHOTO • Mohd Shehwaaz Khan

Left: Aslam stuffs sand into the mould container to create a hollowed cavity for molten brass . Right: He then pours the brass, ensuring that the sand inside the container does not spill. 'You should keep your hands firm or the structure inside the sancha will be disturbed,' he says

In this city in Uttar Pradesh, popularly known as pital nagari (brass city), the workforce largely comes from the Muslim community. Around 90 per cent, Aslam estimates, and most of them live in or around the Peerzada area. Moradabad’s Muslim population constitutes 47.12 percent of the city's total population (Census 2011).

Aslam and Jaan have been working together for the last five years. They start working early in the morning, arriving at the bhatti by 5:30 a.m.  Going home for lunch in the afternoon. Both of them live close to the bhatti . In the evening, when it is time for tea, a family member brings it to the workshop.

“We work hard but we never skip a meal. This is what we work for, after all,” Aslam says.

Jaan is Aslam’s assistant and is paid a daily wage of Rs. 400. Together, they melt the brass, cool the metal and collect the sand scattered around them for reusing.

Jaan mostly handles the kiln, which requires standing up to load the coal. “One person cannot do this work. You need at least two people. So, if Aslam bhai is on leave, I lose my work too,” says 60-year-old Jaan. “Raees bhai is going to his sasural [in-laws’] tomorrow, and I will lose Rs 500,” Aslam chimes in, smiling.

“It’s the coal that breaks the backbone of a dhalaiya [brass caster],” Aslam tells us, “if we can obtain coal at half the price, it will give us a lot of relief.” Aslam takes theka (contract) of casting brass on a daily basis.

PHOTO • Mohd Shehwaaz Khan
PHOTO • Mohd Shehwaaz Khan

Left: Raees Jaan is Aslam's assistant and mostly handles the furnace. They have been working together for five years. Right: The furnace operates on coal and melting a kilo of brass uses up around 300 grams. Casters like Aslam feel the price of coal (Rs. 55 a kilo) is too high

They obtain brass ingots from local firms at Rs. 500 a kilo and return them after the casting process. A standard brass slab typically weighs between seven to eight kg.

“We cast at least 42 kg of brass in a day, depending on the availability of work. For each kilogram that we cast, we earn Rs. 40, bearing the cost of coal and other expenses,” Aslam says.

A kilo of coal costs Rs. 55 and Aslam notes that approximately 300 grams of coal is consumed to melt one kilogram of brass. “If you remove all the expenses, our labour earns us around six to seven rupees a kilo for casting the metal,” he adds.

Raees Jaan started working at the age of 10 and took a year to learn the craft. “It may look like easy work, but it’s not,” he says, “the hardest part is to understand how brass behaves once it is melted.”

While casting brass, Jaan explains, you have to keep your hands firm and posture composed. “The trick lies in filling the container. A nausikhiya [beginner] wouldn't know how much beating the container needs once it is filled with molten brass. If it’s not done properly, the adat [final moulded piece] will break. Similarly, it will break if we lift the container with a jolt,” Jaan says, “the hands of an expert move naturally in such situations.”

Jaan comes from a long line of brass casters. “It is my ancestral work,” he says, “we have been doing it for almost 200 years.” But Jaan often thinks about his decision to pursue the trade. “My father owned his own casting business, but I am only a daily wage labourer,” he laments.

PHOTO • Mohd Shehwaaz Khan
PHOTO • Mohd Shehwaaz Khan

Left: Some of the equipment used in casting include the sancha , two wooden planks (fanti and patla) to even out the sand, sariya or iron stick for stuffing the sand into the container, sandasi or iron tongs and pliers for breaking the extra brass from the product or holding it and musli or iron pestle for shaping the mold structure. Right: The extra brass on the chandan piyali s will be recycled by the casters

Aslam started casting brass 40 years ago. Initially, the family’s livelihood was sustained by his father’s fruit and vegetable cart. He entered this line of work to help out his family. “Every day is the same here; nothing changes,” the brass caster says. “The 500 rupees that we earn today is the same as the 250 rupees we earned 10 years ago,” he adds, highlighting the rise in prices.

Aslam has two daughters and a son. His daughters are married. “There is not enough space in the house to marry my son and get another member into the family,” he says.


Friday is the weekly off for the craftsmen working in Peerzada. All the bhattis shut shop on jummabar and the area, usually filled with noise of hammer and tongs, falls silent.

On his day off, Mohammad Naeem climbs to the roof of his house to fly kites with his grandchildren. “It helps me release stress,” he explains.

He spends the rest of the week at a workshop in a narrow lane, about a five-minute walk from Aslam and Jaan’s bhatti . He has been practising this craft for 36 years. “I will never understand why people love these brass products. I have never made one for myself,” he says. Unlike Aslam and Jaan, he has to travel 20 kms to get to work, and sets off when it is still dark. He spends around Rs. 80 a day on transport.

PHOTO • Aishwarya Diwakar
PHOTO • Aishwarya Diwakar

Mohammad Naeem tending the fire (left) in the bhatti where he works and takeing a mould out of the furnace (right) with his bare hands

The 55-year-old mostly handles the kiln, while his three colleagues perform the task of moulding and blending.

They are sculpting pooja ka samaan, which includes diya s (lamps), Om-shaped symbols and the base for lamps. Most of them are used in temples, Naeem says.

“It’s safe to say that we have made brass products for every temple in the country,” he quips, counting the names of places on his fingers, “Kerala, Banaras, Gujarat, and more.”

The temperature has almost touched 42 degrees Celsius, but Naeem insists on making some tea for everyone, despite the heat. “I make the best tea,” he says with a twinkle in his eyes. “Have you ever had bhatti wali chai ?” he asks the PARI reporters. What makes his tea special, he says, is that the milk and tea boil better in the heat of the bhatti .

Naeem started working here following in the footsteps of his sibling and cousin, but his family’s traditional occupation was selling clothes. “ Woh nikal gaye, par main yahin reh gaya [they left this work, but I stayed behind],” he says.

Naeem also thinks the pay, Rs. 450–500 a day, is not enough and often considers quitting. “If I had the money, I would go back to selling clothes. I loved that job. All you have to do is sit in a cosy chair all day and sell the clothes,” he says.

PHOTO • Aishwarya Diwakar
PHOTO • Aishwarya Diwakar

Left: Naeem and his fellow workers cast lamps and Om symbols which are then supplied to temples across India  Right: An Om symbol being taken out of the mould

PHOTO • Aishwarya Diwakar
PHOTO • Aishwarya Diwakar

Left: Naeem holding the Om he has cast. Right: Unpolished chandan piyali s freshly cast by Naeem


The famous brass industry is a part of the union and Uttar Pradesh government’s flagship ‘ One District One Product ' scheme and Moradabad’s metal craft received the Geographical Indications (GI) tag in 2014. But the condition of the casters has not improved.

Casting is considered to be the most laborious work in the production of brassware. Workers spend long hours squatting on the floor, constantly moving their hands to lift heavy containers, level sand, and fill coal into the furnace, all the while being careful of the flames.

The hard work with little financial returns has made the younger generation turn away from the craft of casting.

Younger men are largely employed in meena ka kaam or colouring of metal surfaces. They say this is more respectful work, one where you don’t get your clothes dirty. Other avenues of employment include packing, sewing and boxing products.

PHOTO • Mohd Shehwaaz Khan
PHOTO • Mohd Shehwaaz Khan

Left: While many young men in Moradabad are reluctant to take on this work, Mohammad Subhan does not have an option. He lost his savings during the Covid-19 lockdown and the money is tight. He also works as an electrician during the wedding season. Right: Diya s (lamps) fresh out of the furnace, moulded by Subhan .

PHOTO • Mohd Shehwaaz Khan
PHOTO • Mohd Shehwaaz Khan

Left: 'I am the second eldest of eight children and have to look after my family,' Subhan says. Right: He suffered burns on his feet while working in the bhatti but returned to work within a day

Mohammad Subhan, a 24-year-old brass caster, works two jobs to support his family. During the day, he casts brass, earning Rs. 300. When the wedding season begins, he works as an electrician, earning around Rs. 200 for each wedding he helps light up.  “Quitting this work [casting] is not an option when the money is tight,” he says.

The son of a rickshaw driver, he started working at the age of 12. “I am the second eldest of eight children and have to look after my family,” Subhan says. “During the covid-19 lockdown, I lost all my savings and now it seems even more difficult to quit.”

Subhan knows that he is not alone. “There are many young men like me here who are doing two jobs. Agar pareshaani aati hai, to kuch to karna padega [If there are problems, you have to do something],” he says.

This story is supported by a fellowship from Mrinalini Mukherjee Foundation (MMF).

Mohd Shehwaaz Khan

Mohd Shehwaaz Khan is a journalist based in Delhi. He won the Laadli Media Award 2023 for feature writing. He is a PARI-MMF fellow for 2023.

Other stories by Mohd Shehwaaz Khan
Shivangi Pandey

Shivangi Pandey is a journalist and translator based in New Delhi. She is interested in how the loss of language impacts public memory. Shivangi is a PARI-MMF fellow for 2023. She was shortlisted for the Armory Square Ventures Prize For South Asian Literature In Translation 2024.

Other stories by Shivangi Pandey
Photographer : Aishwarya Diwakar

Aishwarya Diwakar is a writer and translator based in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh. She has worked on the oral and cultural history of Rohilkhand and is currently working with IIT Madras on an Urdu-language AI programme.

Other stories by Aishwarya Diwakar
Editor : Sarbajaya Bhattacharya

Sarbajaya Bhattacharya is a Senior Assistant Editor at PARI. She is an experienced Bangla translator. Based in Kolkata, she is interested in the history of the city and travel literature.

Other stories by Sarbajaya Bhattacharya