The sheer variety of exquisite arts and crafts in our country is quite flummoxing. Each corner that you look into has so much to offer in terms of culture and its associated craftsmanship. This week let’s focus on one of the most stunning and intricate metal crafts called BIDRIWARE OR BIDRI ART which combines the magic of silver, zinc, and copper to give us some stunning wares and artefacts that tend to become a collector’s prized possession. Just the sheer view of an array of artistic Bidri vases, animal figures, hookahs, wall frames, storage boxes, jewellery, jewellery boxes, key chains, animal or human figurines, and other utility and decorative items is a treat to the senses. Those delicate inlays of silver gleaming against a black background can transfix anyone with its beauty.
Bidriware is the pride of Bidar, near Hyderabad, and is an indigenous handicraft tradition that is globally appreciated and devoured. Though the main centres remain Hyderabad in Telangana and Bidar in Karnataka, the art seeped through other parts of the country too. Aurangabad in Maharashtra, Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, Purnia in Bihar, and Murshidabad in West Bengal are the other places where Bidri Artwork was practiced.
It is believed that this art form originated during the reign of the Bahmani sultans, who ruled Bidar in the 14th and 15th centuries. The art is a combination of designs with influences from Persian, Arabic and Turkish cultures. Many believe that it was brought to India by the followers of Khwaja Muinuddin Chisty, a preacher, in the 12th century. Later, the art found patronage among the Nizams of Hyderabad who took a special interest in inviting artists from Bidar to set up workshops in the City.
Abdullah bin Kaiser was the earliest known craftsman who developed this art form along with his students. Bidri works tend to have a very heavy Islamic influence with designs to inlay various flowers (known as asharfi-ki-booti), leaves (vine creepers), geometric designs, human figures, stylized poppy plants with flowers, Persian roses, and passages from the Holy Quran in Arabic script being the most sought after patterns on Bidriware. The art to date is considered to be the ultimate symbol of aristocracy, wealth and opulence.
Technically speaking Bidriware is also termed as Encrusted Metal Ware because that’s how the artwork is done. There is a meticulous multi-stage process involved that is performed by skilled Bidri artists and each ware can take up to weeks to prepare. The artisans work at a common facility centre equipped with all the necessary tools and machinery required for the process. For each piece, a special mould is freshly prepared and a molten mixture of zinc and copper is cast into it. The cast is blackened and artists freehand etch the required motifs onto it using a chisel and hammer. Then pure silver wire (brass and gold in some cases too is used) is carefully inlaid and hammered into the engravings. The article is then smoothened and buffed out. Then comes the final and most fascinating stage of blackening. For this, a very special black soil which is available only at BIDAR FORT is used. This soil mixed with ammonium chloride and water is used to rinse the metalware and then just by magic, the metal portion gets oxidised while the silver stands out in all its sheen.
Here is an interesting fact about Bidar soil though; The artisans believe that the real art is in testing the mud. And they do so by tasting it! Bidri earth is tasted by the artisans on their tongues before deciding on its suitability. This testing skill can only be gained through experience and is passed on from generation to generation.