Making Of Bidri Art Metalcraft – Behind The Scenes

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Elegant lustrous Silver on Jet Black Zinc – Bidri Art Work is one of the exquisite metal crafts of India. The black color gives it a kind of mystique while the silver shines like the cliché Silver Lining. My first introduction to Bidriware was when I received a lovely box as a gift. After that, I started noticing it in the Andhra Pradesh state emporium Lepakshi. It was when I started exploring Hyderabad that I discovered the art of making Bidri work.

Making of Bidri Art
Making of Bidri Art

One fine day, I decided to go to a Bidri Workshop. I had rough idea that they exist around the Salarjung Museum. So, I started walking, asking around we reached Gulistan-e-Bidri Works – a small nondescript shop that proudly said – National Award Holder for Bidri Works. We entered little apprehensively but we were welcomed with warm smiles that put us at ease immediately.

They kept working as we looked around the workshop that looked like someone’s backyard. All the time kept they talking to us, answering all our curious and amateur questions.

History of Bidri Art

Metal Craft has been well known in India for a long time. Familiarity with alloys is also well known. However, it is said that a craftsman from Persia came here during the time of Bahamani rulers. He worked with the metal workers of Bidar to create this craft that came to bear the name of the city of its birth – Bidri from Bidar. This would put the age of Bidri Art in India at around 500 years or so.

Bidar was a part of Deccan and Hyderabad State before independence. After 1947, it became a part of Karnataka state. The art form continues to be practiced in and around Bidar, including in Hyderabad.

As per this research paper, Bidri Ware is also practiced in places like Lucknow in UP, Murshidabad in Bengal and Purnia in Bihar.

Technically, Bidri work is called Encrusted Metal Ware.

Come with me for an exploration of behind the scenes at a Bidri Work Workshop in Hyderabad.

Raw Material of Bidri Work

Resin used in making of Bidri Work
The resin used in the making of Bidri Work

There are not too many ingredients that go into making Bidri Ware.

  1. The key ingredient for Bidri Work is an alloy of Zinc (95%) and Copper (5%) or the two metals in 16:1 ratio.
  2. Silver Wires or Silver Sheets are used for inlaying them on the design engraved on the metal. Sometimes Bronze wires are also used for the red color they lend.
  3. The special soil of Bidar is used to create the molds and for the final finish. It is amazing how it binds so well.
  4. Copper Sulphate for giving the black color to the surface.
  5. Tools for chiseling, polishing

The process of creating Bidri Art

As you can see in the video, Bidri Work is a multi-step tedious process. Most of which is done manually. For those of you interested in technical details, here are the main processes:

Molding – a Metal mold is used to create a hollow mold in clay mixed with resin and castor oil. They say the clay of Bidar is special. I could not find the reason but from what I saw, it binds well and it binds fast. Hollow mold is then filled with molten metal ( Zinc + Copper). In a few minutes, the metal takes the desired shape. Clay mold is broken to take out the metal piece.

Carving or Design & Etching – Design is etched on the metal in the form of a groove. A silver wire is inserted into this groove and pushed using a chisel. Once the silver wire fits into the grove, it is hammered well, so that it settles down firmly. The metal surface is then smoothened using a Sand Paper or a Lathe Machine. Silver is now inlaid on the base metal.

Blackening or Finishing – a mixture of Soil from Bidar with Ammonium Chloride and water is used to blacken the base surface. Once done the base becomes pitch black and the silver shimmers on it. Coconut Oil is applied to firm up the color.

Typical Designs in Bidri Art Works

Fixing of Silver Wire in the Grooves - Bidri Art
Fixing of Silver Wire in the Grooves – Bidri Art

Geometric lines are most favored patterns of Bidri Artisans. Mass produced artifacts mostly come with patterns made of lines and I assume it would be easy to work with. Floral patterns are the next favorites.

Based on how the silver is inlaid they have different names:

  1. Aftabi – Metal Overlay – This would be slightly raised
  2. Koftgiri – Inlay of Sheet Metal
  3. Zarbuland – High Relief
  4. Tarakashi – Inlay of Wire

Common Bidri Ware Items

  1. Metal Boxes – great for keeping jewelry or knick-nash
  2. Plates & Bowls
  3. Stationery Items like Pen Holders, Paper Cutters, Paperweights
  4. Surahis or water containers
  5. Jewelry – Bangles, Pendants, and Earrings

Check out some Bidri Art Jewelry at Amazon

Recently, I bought a neckpiece and earrings of Bidri Ware.

In good old days they used to make Battle shields, Swords, Paandaans – now you can potentially find them in museums only.

I hope the Bidri Craft Artisans continue to innovate and give us reasons to use them in our day to day lives.

Most Authoritative account of Bidri Craft can be seen in this book by Jagadish Mittal. When I met him in 2012, the book has just come out and it has stunning images of some exquisite Bidri Work. He mentions how Bidri artisans are not traditional hereditary artisans, but anyone can learn this skill and be an artisan. However, it remains a male bastion.

Some thoughts on Bidri Work by Crafts Council of India.

Learning from Visiting the Bidri Workshop

Bidri Ware Jewelry
Bidri Ware Jewelry

Once you see how much effort and skill it takes to create a single piece of Bidri Work, you will never bargain on the price. Let me confess that before I visited the Bidri Workshop, I found the Bidri Art costly, but now, when I see it, the video above plays back.

Let us support the artisans and craftsmen around us in whatever form we can.

Thank you team Gulistan-e-Bidri for letting us see the process of making Bidri Craft, for educating us and for your welcoming smiles.

Recommend you read following posts on Art & Craft.

  1. Indian Handicraft Landscape – A journey through Art & Craft.
  2. Understanding the Chola Bronzes & Art Form.
  3. Ektaal – An Art & Craft’s village of Chhattisgarh.
  4. Art Mart of Bishnupur, Bankura in Bengal.
  5. Mithila’s Madhubani Artist Ganga Devi & her paintings.

28 COMMENTS

  1. I had no idea that you can actually visit a Bidri workshop to see how they work the metal! And it’s almost unbelievable that from the resin stone, zinc and copper you can make such beautiful artwork. I watched the video and it was amazing!

    • World of Artisans is like that – it always amazes you. I happened to discover this workshop, that as you can see is very basic. There is no organized tour that takes you there – at least not that I know of. I wish some entrepreneurs would start this.

  2. It is a fruitful day to visit a metalcraft as such. We learn how they do it and later on, we’re left in awe. It also feels good that when visiting a place, you feel the warm welcome that will make you more excited about the activity. What a great day it was! Beautiful art!

  3. I think it’s easy to not fully realise how much artistry goes into these kind of things. The detail is incredible on the Bidri art – how they are able to work in the inlays in such minute detail is just mind-blowing! Thank you for introducing me to Bidri art – I will look out for it if I ever visit the Bidar / Hyderabad.

  4. I haven’t even heard of Bidri Art and it was really interesting and informative for me to read this post. So nice that you went to the workshop to learn about the making of this artistic metal work from scratch. Watching the skilled workers do this would’ve been quite the experience, I imagine!

    • Medha – I love visiting workshops whenever and wherever possible. I also like to see the journey of the craft as it has evolved over a period of time. Indeed, it is a very educating and satisfying.

  5. So glad that Bidri continues to find ways to use its craftmanship. We don’t need shields and pandaans nowadays, but a good number of nice accessories will always be useful in ones wardrobe. It is surely a tedious process to make one and watching how’s it’s made is a great way to appreciate the art. Great post!

    • Right, Tala. We need to use the art form to create products that are relevant to our times. That is why I like the jewelry or the jewelry boxes they make. I love visiting artisans in their workspaces – it always adds the experience of using the product.

  6. What beautiful works. It is always interesting to read about artisans who are carrying on the ancient traditions of their forebears and still making the works in the same fashion. The handmade aspect of the art make them so much more special. My wife and I love to travel through India but haven’t made it to Hyderabad yet, a chance to see beautiful art made by true masters of the craft has definitely added it to our list!

  7. Wow! I had no idea how these were made. Visiting the Bidri Workshop must of been very interesting. I love seeing how things are made as it gives so much more appreciation for the item.

  8. I had never heard of Bidri metalwork before, it is beautiful! I had a wooden jewelry box that was made in a similar way, with gold wire inlaid into the wood. The silver on black stands out much more though, I’d love to see some myself!

  9. Bidri has always fascinated me. Thank you for the video! It’s sad that we don’t always realize the effort that these craftsmen put into crafting their ware and I am grateful that you are introducing the world and us, Indians, too to the amazing crafts of India and how painstakingly they are made.

  10. What a lovely form of art that truly captures both the cultural and traditional aspects of Native India. I loved getting to see and learn about the process of making the art and the amount of time (and effort) that goes into creating such a masterpiece. It is beneficial to learn about this as I actually found that I have a piece of this art within my home and was not previously aware of its origin. I can now recognize the beauty and appreciation for what it truly represents. Thank you for this educational and interesting post!

    • Natalie, I think art gets more meaningful when we see the process of creation. I was amazed to see how much effort goes in making one piece of Bidri Work. Glad you have a piece of Bidri with you.

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