In this episode of Handmade in India, we head to Bidar, Karnataka, the heart of Bidri art. Bidri art, also known as Bidriware, is a distinctive form of metal handicraft from Bidar. It was developed in the 14th century C.E. during the rule of the Bahamani Sultans.
The Karnataka tableau at the Republic Day parade in 2011 in New Delhi featured Bidriware and Bidri artisans from Bidar.
Bidriware – Products made from a ‘copper & zinc’ alloy & inlaid with silver or gold
Bidriware, it is believed, took root in India under the patronage of the Bahamani sultans who ruled Bidar in the 14th–15th centuries. That said, it originated in ancient Persia and was introduced to India by followers of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti (1141 - 1236), also known as Gharb Nawz (Benefactor of the Poor), an Imam, Islamic scholar, and philosopher, who introduced and established the Chishti Order of Sufism in the Indian subcontinent.
Leaf from a sketchbook: coll. Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Art, Hyderabad
The art form developed in the Bahmani kingdom was a mix of Turkey, Persia and Arabic countries and intermingled with the local styles to give rise to a unique style of its own that was distinctly Indian under the rule of Second Sultan Alauddin Bahmani. It is believed that he invited Abdullah bin Kaiser, a craftsman from Iran who was known for doing beautiful engraving work, for decorating his palaces and courts. Along with local artisans, the art ware spread far and wide and was handed over to generations as time passed and is today practiced mostly among the local Muslim and Lingayat sects.
Literal Definition'Bidriware' gets its name from the township of Bidar, which is still the chief centre for the manufacture of this most unique metalware in India. In fact so unique is Bidriware, due to its striking inlay artwork and the metal used, which is a blackened alloy of zinc and copper inlaid with thin sheets of pure silver, that it is one of India’s most important handicraft exports and is prized as a symbol of wealth in homes across the world.
- Aftaba (Pitcher)
- Animal Statues
- Buttons & Cufflinks
- Mir-e-farsh (Weights)
- Muqabas (Containers with dome-shaped lids)
- Paandaan (Supari Box)
- Paper Knife / Paper Cutter
- Powder Boxes
- Surahi (Pitcher)
- Thukdani / Ugaldaan (Spittoon)
- Umarkhayam (Container)
- Zalabchi (Washbasin)
The Bidri Way
Bidri – Master craftsmen at work
Put simply, it’s all about getting the proportions right. Bidriware is manufactured from an alloy of copper and zinc (in the ratio 1:16) by casting. It’s the zinc that gives the alloy a deep black colour. And it begins with a mould that is formed from soil made malleable by the addition of castor oil and resin.
The molten metal is then poured into it to obtain a cast piece which is later smoothened by filing. The casting is now coated with a strong solution of copper sulphate to obtain a temporary black coating over which designs are etched freehand with the help of a metal stylus.
This is then secured in a vise and the craftsman uses small chisels to engrave the design over the freehand etching. Fine wire or flattened strips of pure silver are then carefully hammered into these grooves. The article is then filed, buffed and smoothed to get rid of the temporary black coating. This results in rendering the silver inlay hardly distinguishable from the gleaming metallic surface which is now all silvery white.
For the final blackening process, a special variety of soil which is available only in the unlit portions of the Bidar fort is used. It is mixed with ammonium chloride and water to produce a paste which is then rubbed onto a heated bidri surface. The paste selectively darkens the body while it has no effect on the silver inlay.
The paste is then rinsed off to reveal a shiny silver design resplendent against the black surface. As a finishing touch, oil is applied to the finished product to deepen the matt coating. The finished product appears black with brilliant silver inlay.
Here's a slideshow that the folks at D'source have put together:
Soil, the Soul of Bidriware
It is said that the soil of Bidar is very special. Some artisans feel that the soil is away from the sunlight and rain for years and therefore it has great oxidizing properties. Others believe that the part of the fort from where soil is brought was a mint and therefore metal extracts in the soil make it unique.
The artisans say that the quality of the Bidri earth is very important and the real art lies in testing the mud which is necessary for making the articles. It is tasted by the artisans by their tongues before deciding on its suitability. This testing skill can only be gained through experience and is passed on from generation to generation.
Elsewhere for Bidriware
While Bidar in Karnataka and Hyderabad in Telangana are the most vibrant centres, this glorious art is also practiced in other parts of the country. Some of these centres are Purnia in Bihar, Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, Murshidabad in West Bengal and Aurangabad in Maharashtra.
In Bellori, a village near Purnia, local craftsmen known as the Kansaris are engaged in molding and turning bidri vessels. The sonars (goldsmith) then do the engraving and polishing. Also found here is the gharki a less sophisticated variant of the Bidri. Another variant of the bidriwork can be seen in Lucknow’s Zar Buland, where the ornamental designs are raised above the surface.
In Aurangabad, the Bidri art was introduced by the Nizam of Hyderabad as it was a part of Nizam’s empire then. As Aurangabad has its own rich legacy of art and craft, the Bidri work mingled into the local arts soon.
Designs on Bidri
Tradition is to inlay various flowers (known as asharfi-ki-booti), leaves (vine creepers), geometric designs, human figures, stylized poppy plants with flowers on Bidriware. Also, demand for the design of Persian roses and passages from the Holy Quran in Arabic script are favoured by Western aficionados of the art form.
In addition, Bidriware is also used in the making hookahs, paan-holders, vases, bowls, earrings, trays, ornament boxes, and jewellery. And artisans in Aurangabad create designs of motifs from the Ajanta Caves, especially Ajanta Padmapani, an iconic representation of Buddhism, which is a favourite among foreign tourists. Laljungle, an intricate pattern of leaves and flowers which is reminiscent of the background of the frescoes in Ajanta and finds a parallel in Himroo work, is also popular in Bidri art.
Ratan Tata, Barack Obama & Vijay Mallya
Mohammad Rouf, a national and state award winning artisan has had the fortune of making Bidriware for big names.
“We had created a huge pot with Bidri art that was presented to American president Barack Obama by Ratan Tata, when the former visited India recently. It cost Rs 8 lakhs,” he says with a proud smile before adding, “only people who are subtle in their taste are connoisseurs of Bidri art”. The artisan also designed a dining table inlaid with 3.5 kg silver for businessman Vijay Mallya which was sold out for lakhs. The table top was inlaid with mother-of-pearl pieces.
Mohammad Rauf working on the dining table.
Videoware on on Bidar and Bidriware
There is plenty to see on the net on Bidrwiware. Here are a few places for you to begin with.
1. A single piece of work takes a day to make and has a tedious long process. This is a video that shows the way the artisans work. It’s shot at Hyderabad, very close to Salarjung Museum.
2. A video on how it’s made that was shot in Bidar District.
3. An evocative video on Bidar, the heart of Bidriware:
Pinteresting stuff on Bidri Art
Pinterest, with its emphasis on visual presentation, is a great place to feast your eyes on the beauty of Bidriware. Here are a few boards that prove what a sight for sore eyes this ancient art is.
Bidri on Name Plates
You can view our complete range of Bidri inspired name plates here.
Note: To browse through all the posts in the 'Handmade in India' series, click here.