A unique metal handicraft style from the land of Bidar, Bidriware dates back to the 14th and 15th century, during the Bahamani Sultan rule. The word ‘Bidriware’ originates from the township of Bidar, a land that still continues to be the main centre for the manufacture of unique metalware. Persia Art influences the special techniques and unique style of Bidriware. First brought to India in the form of utensils by Sufi Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chisti, Bidriware is famous for its striking, intricate inlay artwork. This art form is highly influenced by Persia, Turkey, and Arabian countries, which intermingled with the other local styles. The amalgamation of all this lead to the birth of a new, unique style of metal handicraft, Bidriware.
During the Bahmani rule, Sultan Ahmed Shah Bahmani invited Abdullah bin Kaiser, a craftsman from Iran to work on the decoration of the royal courts and the palace. Kaiser, along with the local craftsmen invented Bidriware. Soon enough, this art form spread far and wide and gained a lot of praise. It still continues to be a very unique form of art. It is considered as an important export handicraft product of India and is also prized as the symbol of wealth.
To begin with, acquiring the right material to make Bidriware is very essential. The main material that goes into the making of this unique art form is the soil that is protected from sunlight and rain. Such soil is mainly acquired from the ruins of the famous Bidar fort. What makes this soil unique is the chemicals present in it, which give it a lustrous black colour. Many believe that the soil in Bidar, in general, is very special. This can be because the soil is kept away from sunlight and rain for years, hence making it high in oxidising properties. Bidriware artisans believe that the real art of this unique style lies in testing the soil – some even taste the soil with the tip of their tongue to decided whether to use it or not. All this requires a lot of experience. The other important materials are alloys of zinc and copper in the ratio 16:1, inlaid with thin sheets of pure silver.
The process of making Bidriware
Any form of art demands a lot of passion and patience, and Bidriware is one such form of art. The process is long, demands a lot of attention, and requires an eye of perfection to get the right finish. This process is also very time consuming because from start to finish, it is made by hand.
A Bidriware product goes through an eight-stage process – moulding, smoothening (using a file), designing (using a chisel), engraving (using a hammer and chisel), inlaying (using pure silver), smoothening again, buffing, and finally oxidising (by soil and ammonium chloride).
First, a mould is made from the soil, which is made malleable with the addition of resin and castor oil. The molten metal is then poured into it to get a cast. This is later smoothened by filing. It is then coated with a strong solution of copper sulphate in order to obtain a temporary black coating. Over this, the desired designs are etched (by free-hand) with the help of a metal stylus. Secured with a vice, the craftsmen then use small chisels to engrave the design over the freehand etching. A fine wire or flattened strips of pure silver are hammered into these grooves. Once this is done, the piece is filed, buffed, and smoothened to remove the temporary black coating. The piece is now ready for the final process – blackening. The special Bidar soil is mixed with ammonium chloride and water. This paste is rubbed onto a heated Bidri surface. This helps darken the piece while it leaves no effect on the silver inlay. Once this process is complete and the paste is completely rinsed off, a shiny silver design stands out against the black surface. To give the product a deep matt finish, a coat of oil is applied. The end result is stunning – matt black with shiny silver inlay designs!
While the demand for verses from the Holy Quran in Arabic script and patterns of Persian roses are high in demand in the west, Ashrafi-ki-booti, human figures, leaves, vine creepers, geometric designs and flowers are commonly found on Bidriware.