There is no dearth of exquisite craft in our country. Each time I look at a particular Indian art, I am completely flummoxed. This time, I was attracted to the 500 year old Bidri Handwork or Bidriware of Karnataka.
Technically, it is called the Encrusted Metal Ware, which sounds so unromantic and matter of fact! I am sure you have seen these pieces in various touristy stores in the bigger and smaller cities. Have you however, wondered how these aesthetic inlay work is actually done?
It is believed that Bidriware, was introduced to Indian in the 14th and 15th century under the Bahamani Sultans who ruled over Bidar in present day Karnataka. It apparently has its origins in ancient Persia and was brought to our country by the followers of Islamic scholar, and philosopher Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti who was instrumental in establishing the Chishti Order of Sufism in the Indian subcontinent.
Interestingly, the Bidriwork as an art that developed was a blend of Persia, Arabia and Turkish art. That mingling with our craft gave birth to the present day inlay work that is a hallmark of wealth, opulence and aristocracy.
The Second Sultan Alauddin Bahmani invited the then very famous and sought after Iranian craftsman Abdullah bin Kaiser, for decorating the palaces and courts of the Bahamani Kingdom. Presently, it is mainly practiced by the Lingayat sects and local Muslim artisans.
Bidris were owned mostly by royalties like the kings and the zamindars, often used as utility objects, as a display of one’s wealth.
Why Is Bidriware So Expensive?
The metal art gets its name from Bidar in Karnataka, India. Bidar is the largest manufacturer of ‘Bidriware’ in India. The stunning inlay metalwork has black alloy of copper and zinc with thin sheets of pure silver inlaid beneath.
India is the largest exported of Bidriware handcraft in the world
Tourists to India on the lookout for handcrafted artisanal products love Bidri work. Great as a memorabilia as also a gifting item, it is always a hit. And when they realize the kind of work and effort that goes into the making of even the smallest of items, they do not haggle!
Some of the enchanting work is displayed in the form of the following products:
Other products range from ashtrays, figurines, bangles, paperweights, hookahs, paandaan (Supari boxes), the quintessential surahi, Umarkhayam or containers and Zalabchi or washbasin.
Interesting Facts About Bidri
- The deep black colour of Bidri comes from the zinc alloy
- It is made of copper, zinc, castor oil and resin
- The final blackening process, is done with the help of a special variety of soil available only in the unlit portions of the Bidar fort
- In demand are stylized poppy plant motif with flowers on Bidriware
- Passages from the Holy Quran in Arabic script are favored by Western aficionados of the art form
- Bidri artwork was not limited to a particular caste like goldsmiths or ironsmiths but could be picked up by any person from whichever caste
- The 'Ganga Jamuna' pattern of gold and silver designs running side by side in Indian metal craft Bidri, disappeared in the 18th century
The now extinct 'Ganga Jamuna' Bidri pattern
Why Is The Soil of Bidar So Unique?
All agree that the Bidar soil is absolutely unique. While some say it is because a part of the fort is made up of soil that was earlier a mint, and metal extracts thereof make it so different. Others opine that since this soil was completely away from rain and sunlight for years it has some amazing oxidizing properties that enhances the soil.
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 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.
Is Bidar Found Only In Karnataka?
No. The art found its way in other parts of India too. Though the main centres remain Hyderabad in Telangana and Bidar in Karnataka, it is also practiced in Aurangabad in Maharashtra , Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, Purnia in Bihar, and Murshidabad in West Bengal.
Clearly, straight or geometric lines are the favourite which is then followed by floral patterns. You have to see these intricate traditional designs to believe it. The different designs are named based on the silver inlay work.
Zarbuland or Zar Nashin Bidriwork with High Relief
The kind of 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.
Many who walk into our Indian Artizans Experience Centre at Hauz Khas Village, do ask why such a small mantle piece is so expensive. And that is when we tell them the story and the making of Bidri. It is only once you see how much effort and skill it takes to create a single piece of Bidri work, would you never question the effort of the Indian artisan nor wish to haggle.
Attaching this lovely video on the making of Bidriware that shall further bring home the point.
Till the next post…
PS: Some photos courtesy sahapedia