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.
One fine day, I decided to go to a Bidri Workshop. I had a 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 a 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 metalworkers 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 workshop in Hyderabad.
Raw Material of Bidri Work
There are not too many ingredients that go into making Bidri Ware.
- The key ingredient for Bidri Work is an alloy of Zinc (95%) and Copper (5%) or the two metals in a 16:1 ratio.
- 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.
- The special soil of Bidar is used to create the molds and for the final finish. It is amazing how it binds so well.
- Copper Sulphate for giving the black color to the surface.
- 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
Geometric lines are the 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:
- Aftabi – Metal Overlay – This would be slightly raised
- Koftgiri – Inlay of Sheet Metal
- Zarbuland – High Relief
- Tarakashi – Inlay of Wire
Common Bidri Ware Items
- Metal Boxes – great for keeping jewelry or knick-nash
- Plates & Bowls
- Stationery Items like Pen Holders, Paper Cutters, Paperweights
- Surahis or water containers
- Jewelry – Bangles, Pendants, and Earrings
Check out some Bidri Art Jewelry at Amazon
Recently, I bought a neckpiece and earrings of the Bidri Ware.
In the 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.
The 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
Once you see how much effort and skill it takes to create a single piece of artwork, you will never bargain on the price. Let me confess that before I visited the 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 craft, for educating us, and for your welcoming smiles.
Recommend you read the following posts on Art & Craft.