The Wonder of Bidri

For 450 years, Bidri ware flourished in Bidar, which was earlier under the Bahmini and Baridi rulers. Bidri ware continues to be crafted in Hyderabad, as Bidar became a part of the Golconda Kingdom and then of Hyderabad Deccan. It is similar to the ancient damascene work of Persia and Syria, but is different as the base material used is not copper or steel, as in Syria and Persia. In Bidri, the base component is an alloy of zinc with small portions of other non-ferrous metals of a leaden colour. This alloy does not corrode, but it is very brittle and likely to break if dropped.

Late Begum Bilkees I. Latif

The process by which it is created is by first making a mould in red clay, which is then cast in the alloy. This is followed by the article being polished with a file and sandpaper. The design which is to be engraved is then painstakingly incised on the item, and silver wire or sheets are then hammered with great care into the incised designs. The entire process requires a great deal of skill and patience.

The item is then heated gently, after a mixture of saltpetre (potassium nitrate) and a special earth from Bidar is mixed into a paste with water, and applied all over. Amazingly, the alloy base of the item turns black, while the silver inlay shines brightly. It is then polished with a mixture of very finely-powdered charcoal and coconut oil, which enhances both the brilliance of the silver and its now-darkened base.

Strangely, this result is achieved only if a particular earth from Bidar is used. In years gone by, whenever the silver became dull, we would re-polish the Bidri ware with charcoal powder mixed with coconut oil. The charcoal powder was very fine, as it was strained through a fine mesh before using it. Now, however, commercial silver polish is more widely used. Though the commercial polish cleans and brightens the silver, it makes the base alloy dull and grey, so that the contrast of black beneath the gleaming silver is no longer there. An occasional cleaning with charcoal powder and coconut oil restores the contrast.

This fine Bidri workmanship is a technique handed down from father to son, and is done with great care; even a slight error could mean that the design is ruined. Traditional designs were very intricate, and are still used along with more modern ones. Through the years, the government of India has often presented large and very beautiful Bidri ware as gifts to foreign dignitaries, which have been greatly appreciated.