Thaal is a contemporary metal craft item in chamba which has been as an artefact, home-décor, a collectible for the craft connoisseurs and as a popular souvenir for tourists. It is a stylised ornate plate, usually made of brass. This traditional plate is used by Gaddi and other folk communities in households and temples for religious offering, weddings and on other auspicious occasions.
The thaals are entirely and painstakingly handmade. Most commonly embossed images are the nine avatars of Vishnu, Ashtalakshmi the various forms of Maa Durga, Radha-Krishna and Shri Ganesh. The brass-made traditional ritual plate of Chamba in Himachal Pradesh is the Exhibit at Veethi Sankul of Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya of Bhopal.
Thaal is of two types – Ganesh Thaal and Vishnu Thaal. In Ganesh Thaal, Lord Ganesha occupies the central position. Four-handed image of Lord Ganesha is shown decorated with conch, bangles, crown, garland etc. This is smaller in size. Vishnu Thaal is relatively bigger and consists of Lord Vishnu seated on lotus as the central image and surrounded by other incarnations – Matasya, Kurma, Varah, Narsingh, Vamana, Parshuram, Lord Ram, Krishna and Kalki. In recent times, artistes have also started making thaal in rectangular, square, hexagonal and different other shapes.
Thaals contain images of deities and their stories engraved as per the demand and taste of clients.These ritual plates with embossed figures are generally prepared by using the beating technique of casting. Usually, 30, 24, 20, 18 and 16 inches are regular sizes for circular plates and accordingly, the brass sheet is cut with a metal cutter. At first, the plate edge is prepared with a chisel, and hammered on which annular petal motifs are embossed. Paper drawing of Lord Vishnu is pasted in the centre of the plate. Sometimes, the design is superimposed on a plain brass or ‘panchdhatu thaal’ or a plate .
The metalwork is done using mainly three metals namely brass, copper and bronze with specks of silver sometimes. The tradition of bronze casting was introduced by the Kashmiri artisans. Kashmiri influence on these Chamba bronzes is cleanly discernible. After burning the clay-covered mould, the melted metal is poured in the hollow of the mould and hence images are assumed. Some crafts persons still practice the art of metal craft in Chamba.