Likely over 400 years old, Bidri is one of the most exquisite metal artworks of India. Although its origin is still a mystery, it is believed to have a Persian origin and found its roots in India in Bidar (now a district and town in Karnataka) in the 14th century under the patronisation of the Bahmani rulers of the Deccan.
However, many art historians date it to later centuries. According to them, since no mention or image of bidriware has been found in literature or paintings upto the 16th century, probably the art is of later antiquity.
The puzzle over its origin does not dent its beauty though, a living proof of the exquisite craftsmanship that has been exhibited by Indian artists over the centuries.
READ: Embroidered Tales of India's Parsi CommunityCalled ‘koftgiri’ by local artisans, bidri art essentially consists of designs engraved on an alloy of metals and inlaid with silver, or even gold or brass. Over the centuries, the art found expression on a variety of products, from utilitarian to decorative, and was a favourite among the nobility. Two prominent products which were preferred by the nobility and also featured on paintings were the huqqa (hookah) and the ugaldan (spittoon). Bowls, cups, plates, boxes for various uses, incense holders, vase, and a lot of other designer products were made by the craftsmen. Patterns included floral and geometric designs, Quranic scripts, etc.
The exquisite craftsmanship caught the attention of the royals of Hyderabad and they too began to patronise the art. The craft is believed to have spread throughout India at a later date – to Delhi, Jaipur, Murshidabad, Lucknow and other places, where it was often modified under the influence of local craftsmanship and styles. According to art historians, there are also distinct differences between Mughal and Deccan styles.
READ: 9 GI Protected Crafts From India That Every Souvenir Hunter Will LoveAccording to researchers, there are four major styles of Bidri art – Teh Nashin, Zar Nashin (Zar Buland), Aftabi and Tarkashi. Basically, in Teh Nashin, the design is flush with the surface, is said to be the earliest and still in practice while in Zar Nashin, the inlay is done in high or low relief.
Aftabi requires extra special care as the silver inlay is used as the background through which the black design comes out.Tarkashi involves inlaying silver wires of required thickness into grooves in the metal.
The eight step production of bidriware, including preparation of the metal (usually alloy of zinc and copper), the engraving and the inlaying process, the polishing, is intricate and time consuming. Today, bidriware is largely made in Bidar and Hyderabad. However, like most traditional Indian arts and crafts, Bidri too is facing many challenges today. The rise in price of silver is one of the major challenges being faced by the craftspeople.
Bidri Colony in Bidar is the hub where the metal craft is still in practice, and the best place to see the craftsmen at work.
It is the craft as practised in Bidar which has won the Geographical Indication (GI) tag.
According to local people, the special clay used during the process of making bidri craft used to be originally sourced from the Bidar Fort, which looms over the city.Built by Sultan Alla-Ud Din Bahman after he shifted his capital from Gulbarga to Bidar in 1427, the fort was extended and rebuilt in the later days. It is one of the most beautiful forts of the Deccan and deserves a visit. The historic town is nearer to Hyderabad (about 150km by road) than to the state capital Bengaluru (about 700km away by road).
Bidri art can also be seen in some of the leading museums, such as the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad, in India.
You can learn more about this little known art here.