metal into another in the form of a wire. It is akin to the ancient art of inlaying gold and silver in copper and steel, which was practiced in Persia and Arabia at one time. It is believed that the know-how was brought to India from these countries but took an altogether different form, which became the specialty of Bidar from where it derives its name
Process of Making Bidriware The origin of the technical aspect of bidriware is not definitely known. It appears that like other Persian articles of metal, this particular type of work was probably developed by experimenting with various alloys to guarantee brilliance by contrast. The resultant ingredient was an alloy of zinc and copper combined with other non-ferrous metals.
The new alloy, thus produced, is brittle but does not rust or corrode and has the additional advantage of allowing a better polish. Each bidri utensil has to pass through a long complicated process of casting, polishing, engraving, inlaying and blackening of the alloy before the final product is ready for the market.
The casting is done in moulds of red clay, a mixture of wax and resin covering the mould with a coating of red clay superimposed on it. This whole process is supported by stops, which may not be necessary in case of smaller articles. The product is then roughly polished on a lathe.
Making a design
The design is first drawn freehand and later engraved with a sharp chisel in varying depths. Silver wire or pieces of the sheets are then embedded on the chased patterns by hammering. The highly intricate designs are however introduced at the time of the crafting itself.
A combination of chemicals varying from common salt, saltpeter, copper sulphate and salammonac when applied to the surface of the vessel transforms the color of the metal to jet-black. The final polishing with sandpaper, charcoal and coconut sets the shimmering silver in sharp relief to its satiny black background.
Bidri work boasts of versatility, design originality and fine craftsmanship. Gold inlay work is now rare but was at one time as popular as silver. At present, only silver is used to make the craft more vibrant.
Variations in Bidri Work
Slight variations in Bidri craftsmanship are the Taikashi or the brass metal wire inlay work, the Taihnishan and the Zamisshan in which the design is deeply cut and the Zar Buland which resembles the encrusted ware of Tanjore, where white designs are cut on the red and yellow ground of copper or brass vessels.
Another type of ornamentation is the Aftabi and Mumabatkari in which the patterns are wrought at slightly raised levels over the surface of the vessel, to look overlaid. Often, more than one style is used on the same article though a combination of Taikashi and Taihnishan is more common.
Mainpuri in Uttar Pradesh was once the stronghold of Taikashi decorations, where it was commonly engraved on wooden footwear. Nowadays, Taikashi work is more appreciated as part of furniture ornamentation especially in places like Jaipur and Delhi.
The Craft practiced in other places
The craft of Bidri is practiced in other places also like Purnia in Bihar, Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh and Murshidabad in West Bengal. The designs are mostly conventional ranging from creepers, flowers and sometimes human figures.
In the crowded marketplace of Murshidabad, one can see stalls filled with elegant flower vases, tumblers, plates, trays, cups, saucers in vivid bidri designs typical of the polished ware of Bidar.
In Bellori, a village four miles from the civil station of Purnia, one finds the local craftsmen, the Kansaris, busily engaged in molding and turning bidri vessels. The work of engraving and polishing is undertaken by the skilled sonar (goldsmith). Here, a popular variant of bidri is the gharki, in which the patterns are plain and inferior both in beauty and adroitness.
The local customs are so deeply entrenched in the minds of people that bidri art has never really been allowed to die. To cite an instance, at the time of the marriage of a girl, it is a custom in Hyderabad to present a complete set of bidri utensils to the bridegroom.
A modification of bidriwork can be seen in Lucknow’s Zar Buland, where the ornamental designs are raised above the surface. Sometimes, gilt silver is used to cover the patterns. Large, delicate designs in silver in the form of flowers, leaves and even fish are encrusted all over the base metal.
The fish emblem can be traced back to the kings of Oudh, who delighted in parading their ‘dignity of fish’, Mahi Muratib, in the vanguard of all state processions.
The fish motto later became a noble design in art and architecture and bidri manufacturers adopted it as a natural culmination of bidri craft.
Traditionally, the nobles used hookah of various sizes and diverse shapes and designs varying from that of a ball, bell, cone, coconut or fruits like mangoes. The aftaba or the water jugs, and the sailabchi or the washbasins were at one time very popular both in the ladies’ and the gentlemen’s living room. Womenfolk from noble families particularly favored, dibyas,(cosmetic boxes), pandaans, and elaichi-daans, boxes for offering paan and supari, in quaint rectangular, oval, round, square, fish or leaf shapes. In households, weights known as the mir-e-farsh were used to keep the bed-sheets unruffled. These were often in enchanting aftabi workmanship with exotic lotus designs on them.
The Medival Times
It is believed that the earliest craftsmen turning out bidriware probably migrated from Iran and were patronized by the Deccan rulers from the 15th century onwards. The bidri technique was usually handed down from generation to generation, and in the course of time local Muslims and Hindus of the Lingayat sect took to the trade.
Highly conventionalized patterns such as the Asharfi-ki-booti, stars, vine creepers and stylized poppy plants with flowers, the Persian Rose and bowls with passages from the Quran in Arabic script were in vogue.
The Salarjung Museum in Hyderabad has in its collection a beautiful farshi hookah designed in the Zar Buland technique with numerous lion’s heads. Circular flowers with five petals in between decorative creepers are a mixture of Persian and European influence. Some of the other antique pieces are on display at the National Museum New Delhi, Hyderabad Museum and the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai.
With the passage of time, bidri articles changed their shapes and decorative motifs. Cigar boxes, cigarette cases, ashtrays, cuff links, matchbox covers, fruit bowls and other necessities of daily use began to find favor with the purchaser. A careful combination of old Persian motifs together with designs adopted from the Bidar Fort, Ajanta frescoes and Persian florals, typify modern day bidriware.
Bidri is yet another proof of the sea like character of Indian art and craft to absorb and assimilate the latest in craftsmanship in keeping pace with the developments in this extraordinary field.