Bidri/Inlay on Metal

Bidri/Inlay on Metal


Bidri is a unique metalware technique found only in India. It is a form of encrusted metalware, where one metal is inlaid on to another. The beauty of bidriware lies in the striking contrast of colours, with the glossy silver inlay being set off by the matt black metal. The craft of bidriwork is believed to have originated in Bidar (Karnataka). It has since spread to other places like Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh). Bidri products include a diverse range of products including huqqa bases, bowls, boxes, candle stands, trays, ashtrays, vases, jewellery, and buttons. The motifs vary from floral arabesques and intricately patterned leaves and flowers to geometric designs. The technical processes involved in the making of bidriware are complex and include casting, designing engraving, inlaying, blackening, and polishing. All these processes can be performed either by a single artisan or else different processes can be undertaken by different artisans, including a moulder, a designer, an engraver, and an inlayer. The item is first cast with the help of a mould of red clay into which a molten solution --- predominantly copper and zinc with smaller amounts of lead and tin --- is poured. The engraving tool, a kalam or metal chisel of varied shapes and points is used to engrave the designs, which are drawn in free hand. For the inlay, metal wires --- usually silver, but occasionally gold or brass --- are laid in the engraved area. Besides being visually striking, bidriwork is also enduring; it does not rust and looks the same for years to come.
Anees Ahmed S/o late Mr.Ghanil Ahmed learned the craft of bidri from his father. According to the artisan the craft has been in practice for over 400 years created at the time of the Bahmani Dynasty.

Even though Anees is a graduate his interest in the craft tradition led him to make bidriware his career. This has not been an easy decision to make and keep in the face of diminishing markets. Earlier in his area more than 10 families participated in the craft but today only 2 families remain while others have moved to more gainful employment.
Bidri is a manually intensive craft. It is a time consuming, and requires concentration and patience. And yet Anees claims that the joy he gets from his work makes him pursue it passionately despite the hardships and limitations.
Hyderabad boasts of one of the finest forms of creativity- the Bidri craft. Of all the beautiful gold and silver inlay work in the Deccan there is nothing known to be so individually appealing as Bidri work with its vivid contrast of dull black and lustrous silver. Bidri once practiced in many parts of India, today exists only in Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh and Bidar in Karnataka. But it is no exaggeration that the finest quality Bidriware is now produced in Hyderabad, while Bidar can lay claim to being the original home of this craft- Bidri is the adjectival form of Bidar.
It is a 400 years-old craft. The origins of Bidriware are uncertain. The technique is believed to have originated from Persia where steel and copper objects were decorated with gold and silver inlay. The credit for developing this craft is the country is given to the Mughal rulers during whose reign the Persian crafts and craftsmen were introduced into India. The use of Zinc as a primary metal however, is peculiar to India. Over the last 180 years or so, a tradition has developed linking it with the Bahamani dynasty of the Deccan.
According to the story, the technique was introduced to the Bahmani kingdom from Iran (Via Iraq, Ajmer and Bijapur) and Alauddin Bahmani II took craftsmen from Bijapur where they were producing work of this sort and established them at Bidar, later the capital of the Bahmani kingdom. But even according to this account, when the Deccan was conquered by the Mughal emperor, north Indian officials set up permanent establishments and with political stability came patronage of the arts. The presence of Mughal and Rajput patrons and painters in the Deccan produced a revolution in Bijapuri taste, and with the fall of Bidar, Bijapur and Golconda, Mughal influence was all-pervasive. Thus the contribution of the Mughals to the present from of Bidriware is significant.
There are three main forms of bidriware according to the depth of embedding and the quality of the metal affixed to the surface. These are known as the nashan (deeply cut work) zar nashan (raised work) and tarkashi (wire inlay work).
RAW MATERIAL
The basic metal of this craft is an alloy of Zinc and Copper mixed in the proportion of 16:1. The melting temperature of this metal alloy is 800F. Such an alloy is known as the 'white alloy' because the ratio of copper used is very little. Copper is mixed with zinc in the above stated proportion of 1:16 to provide the required base for being turned jet black when subjected to the ultimate oxidization process.
PROCESS
The technical processes involved in the making of bidriware are complex and have different stages. The first stage is the sand casting stage. From ordinary soil matted with castor oil and resin, a mould is formed. After the mould is prepared, the molten metal alloy is poured into it. It is said that in olden days wax casting was used which has since been given up because of its arduous nature.
The second stage is filing. Since the surface of a newly cast piece is rough, it is made smooth with files and scrapers and sandpaper. Then a superficial layer of black is applied on the surface of the article by rubbing it with a solution of copper sulphate. This makes it easier for the artist to draw the design on it, which becomes visible on a black surface.
The third stage is that of designing. All the designs are drawn free hand. There are two types of inlay work-a) Wire work and b) sheet work. Floral designs mainly need silver sheet. In the sheet work again there are two sub-divisions - the Mehtabi design where the entire background is white and the design is black and the Aftabi where it is vice-versa (These names are Persian origin Mehtabi means Moon and the Aftabi means the Sun). The phooljali (flowering vine) design is the most popular and difficult to execute. The design is drawn with the help of a sharp metal stylus.
The next stage is engraving. After the design is drawn it is entirely engraved by steel chisels designed by the artisans themselves and which are not available anywhere in the market. With the Bidri piece firmly fixed on a waxed stone or held in a vase, the craftsman engraves the design.
The fifth stage is the extremely intricate one of inlaying. Silver in the shape of wire or sheet is hammered into the grooves of the design. Then smooth filing is done with sandpaper or files or with the help of a buffing machine. After filing, the whole surface becomes white once again since the black colour is temporary and the silver work is hardly distinguishable.
In the final stage, the article is subjected to a process of oxidation peculiar to the Bidri craft. For this, a particular kind of sand taken from the walls and ceilings of 200 to 300 year old mud buildings is mixed with sal ammoniac in the proportion 10:1 and the prepared paste is gently applied to the surface of articles to give a magical effect. The zinc and copper background turns black while the silver portion remains unaffected. Before the oxidization process, the articles are gently heated on an oven. Finally coconut oil or peanut oil or any vegetable oil is applied to the article to render the black portions bright and deep.
Only pure silver (99 per cent) should be used so that it is not tarnished in oxidization. When gold is inlaid it is known as Persian work for which there is not much demand - not only because of the high prices but also because gold inlaid Bidriware is not as elegant as its silver counterpart.

PRODUCTION AND POTENTIAL
The production of Bidriware in Hyderabad city is estimated to be around 75 to 80 lakhs, per annum, with a scope to increase the production by another 25%.
Bidri products include a diverse range of objects including huqqa bases, bowls, boxes, candle stands, trays, ashtrays, vases, jewelry and buttons. The motifs vary from floral arabesques and intricately patterned leaves and flowers to geometric designs.
Necessary marketing intelligence and scientific analysis of market trends and demand forecast could help stream line the production in such away that the shelf life of the product can minimized. Anees too highlighted the need for a market strategy to augment craft production.
Further reading:
Development Commissioner (Handicrafts). Bidriware of Hyderabad. A Special Report. Warangal.


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