Bidriware ~ Karnataka

‘Bidriware’ is one such metal art that is not only embedded in the Indian context but has also traversed boundaries to cater to the global tastes. The art originated in ancient Persia and was brought to India during the Bahamani rule in Bidar. It blended with the local styles, giving birth to a unique art form known as ‘Bidriware’.

Bidriware is manufactured from an alloy of copper and zinc by casting. The craftsman uses small chisels to engrave the design over the freehand etching. Fine wire or flattened strips of pure silver are then carefully hammered into these grooves. A special variety of soil which is available only in the unlit portions of the Bidar fort is used for the final blackening process. A paste is made which is then rubbed onto a heated Bidri surface. The paste selectively darkens the body while it has no effect on the silver inlay. The finished product appears black with brilliant silver inlay. Sultans of the 14th to 17th century India were great patrons of the art of Bidri. The National Museum in Delhi and the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad possess excellent and varied collections of the craft.

The basic material of Bidriware is an alloy of zinc and copper in the proportion 16:1, upon this alloy of artistic designs in pure silver, are inlaid. Each Bidri piece is cast separately from ordinary soil made malleable with castor oil and resin, a mould is formed and the molten metal alloy is then poured into it. The surface of a newly cast piece is rough, so it is made smooth with files and scrapers. Then the artist rubs the piece with a bit of copper sulphate to obtain a temporary black coating on which to etch the designs. All designs are drawn free-hand sharp metal stylus. Next, with the Bidri piece firmly fixed on a waxed stone, the craftsman uses small chisels to engrave the designs into these chiselled groves they carefully hammer pure silver in the form of fine wire or flat sheeting. After the inlay work is completed, the article is rigorously filed smooth again, and buffed, obliterating the temporary black coating so that the intricate silver inlay work can hardly be distinguished in the gleaming silver coloured alloy.

Now, the Bidri craft is ready for the final step of making the surface permanently black so that the intricate silver inlay design will stand out in bright contrast to the dark background. There is a particular type of soil found in the inner depths of ruins which are three hundred years old, in buildings where neither sunlight, not rain has fallen for hundreds of years.

This soil, when mixed with ammonium chloride and water produces a very special paste which is rubbed onto the heated Bidri article. The past darkens the body of the piece but has no effect on the silver inlay. As the paste is rinsed off the design springs dramatically into view, the shining silver resplendent against the black surface. Finally, oil is rubbed on the piece to deepen the black matt coating.

With proper maintenance, Bidri items can be kept bright and beautiful indefinitely, Use silver polish to shine the silver inlay. Then rub pure vegetable oil over the entire surface. Water will not harm Bidri piece but soap and salt should be avoided as they can spot the thin black surface.


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