Tracing the journey of black metal craft

An ewer with copper and silver inlay;

Bidri art, the magnificent metal craft from Bidar, made exclusively in the city’s Bidri colony, has travelled far and wide catching the imagination of art enthusiasts. As a Bidri art researcher, I got an opportunity to meet the craftspeople, understand its history and see the iconic craft items displayed in various museums. 

At the Bidri colony, craftspeople aged up to 80 years can be seen working for about twelve hours every day. Male and female artisans engage in their own right at various stages of making this metal craft. Though the number of artisans has decreased over the years, Bidri art is still a means of livelihood for many.  From earrings to bangles, water vessels and plates, various items are moulded here.

After items are moulded, artisans give them final finishing by colouring, buffing, designing, engraving, silver inlaying and blackening. Considered as a symbol of wealth, Bidriware style is said to be influenced by Persian Art. 

Metal inlay

What makes this craft stand out is the striking inlay artwork, thus making it popular not just in the country but also abroad.  

The shops on the Chaubara Road in the old fort area of Bidar offer a glimpse of the diverse Bidriware. Here, one can’t miss the sound of chiselling and embedding of silver wire onto the Bidri form. The shops here are filled with shiny artefacts with pure silver inlay.

I travelled the length and breadth of the country during my research work to find out the antiquities of Bidri artefacts. I was surprised to see a variety of items which were beautifully arranged in the museums, with details of their era, designs and concept.

Most of the museums in the country have Bidriware dating from the 16th to the 19th century. Most pieces were made during the period of Bahmani rulers. At the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Prince of Wales Museum) in Mumbai, Bidri artefacts inlaid with copper and silver are on display. This particular design is called as Ganga-Jamuna technique. The museum has in its collection, a bell-shaped huqqa base, ewer, bowl, betel box, plate and surahi. The silver designs consist of poppy flower plant and geometrical forms which are sharply embedded. An 18th-century bell-shaped huqqa base with a copper inlay is the main attraction of the collection.

The National Museum in Delhi has one of the best collections of Bidriware. Each object on display has the information of time when it was made, technique used, size and the name of the collector or the donor. The collection includes a bell-shaped huqqa base embedded with copper sheet; cot leg, carpet weight, spittoon, ewers of various shape and surahi. Each artefact is unique in its design. Each item looked customised and not made for commercial purpose. In all probability, they would have been collected from royal palaces. These objects that have silver inlay work against dark background reflect the ingenuity and creativity of the artisans. That is the reason the Bidri items made during the period of royal kings have a unique identification. 

Huqqa base and ewers are the major attractions at the Indian Museum in Kolkata. Though the royal dynasties were different in the Deccan and in East India, most of the Bidri artefacts were collected from Bidar and exhibited in this museum. A very rare Bidri artwork I saw in this museum was an animal scene chiselled on a bell-shaped huqqa base. This huqqa base represents the scene of forest and deer, a rare motif on Bidriware.

In the south, Salarjung Museum in Hyderabad has a great collection of Bidri works. Each and every item made in Bidri can be seen in this museum.

These are some important museums in the country that have ancient Bidriware on display, with a brief description of each object.

Some of the Bidri artisans have been recognised by the government for their unique craftsmanship. Ghulam Sattar was the first artisan to be honoured with a state award in 1969. In the same year, artisan Syed Tassaduq Hussain was given a national award. The highest award of Shilp Guru was presented to Shah Rashid Ahmed Quadri in 2015 by the President of India. 

The products are mainly sold at the Cauvery Emporium in Bengaluru while  national and international demonstrations, exhibitions and online marketing are other platforms for sale.

In spite of the craft travelling far and wide, Bidar doesn’t have a permanent art gallery or museum to exhibit Bidri artefacts. Having an exhibition space will help tourists and scholars to study the world famous art pieces in its home town itself. 

I started researching Bidriware in 2003 and the diversity and ingenuity the art offers intrigues me to this day.

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