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The most distinctive feature about Bidri is the ability to use its inlay technique on a variety of different products. Bidri can be seen on products all the way from showpieces to utensils to textiles. The most common usage of Bidri can be found on products such as lamp shades, wall plates, wine decanter, and hookahs. Various other products such as shehnai are created with Mughal motifs and star motifs, surai-type of vase in different shape and motif, ugaldaan, boxes, zalabchi, muqaba or round containers with dome-shaped lids, flower vases. Images of animals like elephant, horse camels are created alongside birds like peacocks and swans.
Bidri in India is essentially the formation of a brass alloy consisting of- zinc, copper, lead, tin and traces of iron. The usage of lustrous metals gives the created items of Bidri work a shine that is predominantly the distinctiveness of this particular art form. This craft is practised in India hugely and the creations are well appreciated worldwide for the stunning beauty of the items made from Bidri. While the artisans create silver designs on a metal ware, sometimes white silver is used to adorn the designs on black metal that give the items a proper ethnicity of the Bidri culture. This craft not only deals with metals but exclusive designs are made on cloth to accelerate this craft a pace further. The Bidri patterns are so breathtakingly beautiful that various artisans have even started using them on fabrics and ornaments like necklaces and earrings. The embroiderers attempted to create embroidery with the same effect of Bidri by creating silver embroidery on black cloth. The stitches and the elements needed for this embroidery work are the same as Zardozi.
Bidri in India is significant for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the beauty of the aesthetic designs and patterns etched in silver against the deep black colour makes the products appealing to the eye and draws a large number of consumers world-wide. The products with the inlay technique of Bidri are exported all over the world due to which this handicraft and its production is known to bring a significant amount of revenue in. The significance of Bidri can also be found in its wide adaptability, meaning that Bidri can be used on several different products ranging all the way from showpieces to ornaments to textiles- you name it!
The unique aspect of the Bidriware craft is the soil used to ornament the art objects. This soil has not received rain or sunlight for centuries and is collected by artisans from the inner areas of the Bidar Fort. The soil contains ingredients that give a lustrous black colour to Bidriware. Therefore, the usage of this raw material also contributes to the specialty of Bidriware and its significance.
Moreover, the Bidri handicraft has also been given the Geographical Indication (GI) tag which further increases its popularity and appeal all over the world. The Bidri art in India has also gained its recognition as the Government has formulated several new policies to boost up the artistic production of the traditional industries. The market scenario defines that Bidri work has a great market possibility in India as well as in the other sectors of the world as far as the craftsmanship is concerned. The artistic pieces of Bidri work are also extremely popular amongst the tourists. Apart from this, the craftsmen involved in making of the Bidriware also given significant recognition. The first person to win the national award for Bidri craft was Syed Tassaduq Hussain in 1969. Followed by that, other notable artists like Abdul Hakeem and have also won
several awards. Shah Majeed Quadri, a popular Bidri artist also offered a live demonstration of Bidri art on the 2011 Republic day. The Indian Government also has awarded him and MA Rauf with Shilpguru
A prominent export, metalware soil primarily found in the ruins of Bidar fort protected from sunlight and rain contains specific chemicals that give a lustrous black colour to the product. Sahayog, an NGO located in Bidar, Karnataka is economically supporting artisans that have spent a lifetime attempting to passionately perfect.
Since Bidriware has been a significant part of India for such a long period of time, there are several myths and legends attached to its production. One such tale recites the story of a struggling craftsman that used to carve wooden statues of saints. Though this was practised by many artisans his business failed and remained poor. One day as he struggled to carve and earn enough for his family he hurt his hand. The bleeding craftsman began rolling around the ground in despair as he worried about his family as he wasn’t able to provide for them. Suddenly he heard a holy sadhus voice telling him to stop grieving and the voice promised him a secret of a unique art that would help support him and his family that must be kept a secret and passed on only from father to son. The art was also not meant to be commercialised into a business and allow them to only live in abundance but not unnecessary luxury. Bidriwork was meant to only bring joy and happiness to customers and artisans, not satisfy greed.
The soil from the Bidar fort is considered to have special qualities. Some artisans believe that the soil has been kept away from sunlight and rain for years, as a result of which it has great oxidising properties. Others believe that the part of the Bidar fort from where the soil is brought used to be a mine 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. What sounds unusual to people is the fact that the artisans test the soil by tasting it with their tongues and then decide whether to use it or not. This knack comes from experience and is passed on to the next generation.
The origin of Bidri Work is accredited to the Bahmani Sultans that ruled the Bidar district between the 14th and 15th centuries. An amalgamation of Turkish, Arabic and Persuan designs flourished under the Bahmani Sultanate though there is no written factual document on how the art migrated to Karnataka. It is said to be brought to India by the followers of Khwaja Muinuddin Chisty in the 12th century. Artisans came all the way from Persia (present day Iran) and scattered themselves around the country. Sultan Ahmed Shah was impressed by their skill and gathered them to teach local artisans.
The term ‘Bidriware’ or ‘Bidri’ is derived from ‘Bidar,’which is a small town in Karnataka. Initially, Bidar was part of erstwhile Hyderabad State and after 1956 it has become part of Karnataka State bordering Andhra Pradesh (83 miles from Hyderabad). Bidriware dates back to the Kakatiya time.
This craft was initially introduced in Bidar by a Persian artisan Abdulla-bin-Kaiser, who was among a group of skilled workers brought from Iran by Sultan Ahmed Shah Wali Bahmani in the early 5th Century. Therefore, the origin of the craft in India can be attributed to the Bahamani sultans who ruled over Bidar in the 13th–15th centuries. Abdulla’s expertise in this exquisite craft impressed the sultan to such an extent that he arranged for the training of local craftsmen in bidriware handicraft in the Mahmud Gawan madrasa. In its original Persian avatar, Bidri work involved the laying of gold or silver on a steel or copper base. However, in the present, alloys of zinc and copper are used as the base metal. The craftsmen sketch intricate floral and geometric designs on the matt black surface using a sharp metal stylus. This special type of encrusted etalware was used to embellish various objects, including platters, paan boxes, gobles, hookahs and trays.
The designs of the Bidriware are the most charismatic and appealing factor that draws a large number of consumers from around the world. There are various types of Bidri craft that vary significantly from one another. They can mainly be categorised into 4, these are-
• Teh Nashin- This includes a thick gold/silver inlay into deep engravings on a surface of base metal. This happens to be the most common type of early Bidri that is continued to practise till date. It is done against black background and the designs are flushed on the surface irrespective of any relief. There are mostly floral patterns which are engraved on the surface of metal ware and inlaid with silver after that.
• Aftabi- This includes silver inlay on background while all the designs tend to appear in black. It requires high skills and consumes a lot of time. This uses silver sheets instead of wires to cover up large spaces of background compared to the wires.
• Tarkashi- This is solely plain wire work. The grooves needed for designs are made on the surface. Thick silver wires are needed according to the designs. It is then inlaid on black surface. It is commonly recognized as phooljhadi work.
• Zar Nashin/Zar Buland- This refers to inlaying with high or low relief. Silver is inlaid on a lead pad so that patterns stand up from the surface like 3D.
The design sense involved in the making of Bidriware is vastly inspired by the designs etched into the ceilings and walls of the mosque of Bibi ka Maqbara which was commissioned by Aurangzeb in the late 17th century in the memory of his first wife. Geometricals designs, florals inlays, crisscross patterns, roses, are heavily influenced by the architure of the monument. Having originated in Karnataka, the Bidriware seen in Auranagabad, thus displays its own spirits through design elements incorporated in the craft after the construction of the regal structure. The Bidri designs are usually patterns such as the ‘Asharfi-ki-booti,’ stars, vine creepers and stylized poppy plants with flowers. Traditional designs include the Persian Rose and passages from the Quran in Arabic script. Today, Bidriware is primarily produced for the tourist market and
leans heavily towards cigarette boxes, small hinged boxes, hookahs and other larger objects such as lamp stands or tall vases are now collector’s items. Traditional designs are still very popular such as the Lal jungle, the intricate pattern of leaves and flowers which is reminiscent of the background of the frescoes in Ajanta and finds a parallel in Himroo work. Phool Jadi, another design showcases closely clustered stars. The lotus, rose and poppy in stylised forms are also popular. Sometimes calligraphy is seen when a verse from the Koran is used to embellish an article. The Greek or Chinese key design is used in bands and other articles like
trays. Geometric designs using an inverted ‘V’ combined with wavy lines are very effective.
Despite the popularity of Bidriware, just like all other Indian handicrafts, there are a certain set of challenges faced by this industry as well.
The biggest challenge, or so to speak, boosting factor faced by Bidriware is surrounded around the key aspect of innovation and design. Several workshops have been conducted by various design institutes all across India to support these artisans and create a blend of traditional and modern designs. The traditional art which is identified with a limited set of designs is now trying to diversify and find a foothold in the present-day market and appeal to younger patrons. New products such as USB drive covers, office stationeries such as paper clips, key bunches, lockets, envelope openers, pen stands, lampshades and even floor tiles are being sold so as to appeal to the younger generations. The National Institute of Design (NID) has come up with novel and lighter items that use less silver and therefore, cost less to further support these artisans. Various other suggestions such as the usage of wood and bidri metal together or the brass pipes and bidri metal can be a great idea since it not only gives a modern look if used correctly but also reduces the weight and price to certain extent. The efforts and initiatives taken by the government and other institutions have allowed for the improvement and growth of this industry and allowed it to gain this ability to move beyond the expected challenges of creativity and design.
The Bidri article is firmly fixed on a waxed stone and held in a way that allows for engraving designs on the article using small chisels. Pure silver is converted into fine flat wires and hammered or inlaid carefully into these chiselled grooves. Silver metal sheets also inlaid if the design motif dimensions are wide. Generally, geometrical designs are created with a silver wire wherein the floral arabesques and intricate leaf patterns are designed with silver metal sheet. After the inlaid work is complete, the article is filed rigorously to obtain a smoother surface.
The following raw materials are used in the process of making Bidriware items-
• Metals– An alloy of zinc and copper are main important raw materials used in Bidri craft making. These two metals are required in the ratio of 16:1.
• Copper Sulphate- This is applied on the casted object to obtain a temporary black coating on the article. This is done to ensure that it is easy to sketch the design over the dark background.
• Old Soil– This is mixed with ammonium to give a permanent black coating to the article.
• Coconut Oil– This is used once the product is made to deepen the black matt coating.
• Bidri fort Mitti: Bidri fort mitti/clay is boiled and products are dipped in the mitti solution to obtain permanent black color. The soil from this fort is the most unique raw material used in the entire process.
• Other raw materials include- coal, bees wax, silver, gold, sand paper, lead, tin, and charcoal.
There are several tools that are used in the process of making the Bidriware items. These are as follows-
• File and Buffering Machine– Different types of buffing blades are used to smoothen the surface of the article.
• Chisel (Kalam)- This is used to engrave the design on the article.
• Silver Wire– This is used to engrave the design grooves.
• Brass Metal Wire– This is inlayed to enhance the outer appeal of the product.
• Carving Tools- These include tools such as hammer, filers, and rasps that are used for the engraving and inlaying process.
• Other tools used in the process include- files (round and flat of various sizes), drills, scrapers, blowers, teapoy or small stool, vice, grinder, saw, scissors, pliers, wire drawing scale, tongs, balance, scales, crucible, brushes, and polish brushes.
Each and every tool has a integral role to play at the different stages of the Bidriware making process. The large number of tools used are an indication of the detailing and intricacy required to make these products by the artisans.
A collection of Bidri articles form a part of the dowry of daughters in a wealthy Muslim households. These articles are collected for over a period of years- sometimes more so for their finely executed designs than their utility.
The intricate and detailed process of making Bidriware can be divided into 4 stages. These are as follows-
1. Melting the alloy
Each Bidri piece is cast separately from ordinary soil and made malleable with castor oil and resin. This is processed using 95% zinc and 5% copper metal which is melted at a temperature of 800F. The molten metal alloy is then poured into the mould formed. The mould is allowed to cool and the object is removed. Since the surface of a newly cast piece is rough, it is made smooth with filing and buffering.
The article is then rubbed with copper sulphate solution to obtain a temporary black coating onto which the designs are etched. All the designs are drawn by free hand on the matt black surface with the sharp metal tool called the ‘stylus.’
3. Engraving and Inlaying
The Bidri article is then firmly fixed on a waxed stone and held in a way that allows for engraving designs on the article using small chisels. Pure silver is converted into fine flat wires and hammered or inlaid carefully into these chiselled grooves. Silver metal sheets also inlaid if the design motif dimensions are wide. Generally, geometrical designs are created with a silver wire wherein the floral arabesques and intricate leaf patterns are designed with silver metal sheet. After the inlaid work is complete, the article is filed rigorously to obtain a smoother surface.
This is the last stage of the Bidriware process wherein the surface is permanently made black so that the silver inlay design stands out in bright contrast against the dark background. A particular type of soil found in the inner depths of ruins in Bidri fort- which is 300-400 years old and has had neither any exposure to sun or rain- is used in this process. This soil when mixed with ammonium chloride and water produces a very special solution. This solution is boiled at an accurate temperature and the bidri article is dipped in this solution. The solution has a special oxidizing property which when reacted with the alloy, darkens the body of product but has no effect on the inlayed silver wires. The article is then rinsed off in normal water leaving the silver shinning against the black surface. Finally oil is rubbed on the piece to deepen the black matt coating.
List of craftsmen.