This is the first in a series of guest posts at The Handmade Co. where we invite individuals to contribute to our blog. In this post, Harish Panchabhai writes about ‘The Art of Bidriware’.
‘Delicate’ is not the word that comes to mind when someone says metal. However, bidri karigari is the perfect example of an exquisite ancient form of Indian metal craft. Rooted in Persian culture, a bidri craft is a bold black showpiece with stunning silver designs or patterns made by the artisans from Bidar in Karnataka, India
It reflects how the two cultures had an artistic mélange in India in the 15th century, and till date has been winning hearts of people across the world.
When I found out that there was a Bidri handicraft workshop being organized by Heart For Art, a public charitable trust that promotes traditional arts and crafts of India, I knew I must enroll myself to understand at least the basic of this magical art. Conducted by the local artisans of Bidar, we got to peep into the life of these men and their art form, which has been their family business since generations.
The workshop started with the artisans explaining us about Bidar. Bidri as an artwork and its uniqueness. Bidri metalcraft, has around 8 stages of processing. The metal is a blackened alloy that contains 90% zinc and 10% copper. The first stage is of molding liquefied metal into the article you want to create followed by smoothening the metal piece finely. After this comes the part that involves great amount of patience and skillfulness. Once the metal is smoothened, the artisans use a sharp chisel and a hammer to carve out or engrave intricate patterns on the surface of the metal. It is these finely engraved patterns that make bidri art work special! Once the engraving is done, the artisans use silver wire as thin as a strand of hair to inlay it in the engraved portion. Using the same chisel and hammer that was used for engraving, the wire is then gently pressed in the grooves formed by engraving.
The article is then further smoothened out to an extent that the inlay and the base metal appear to be at the same level when felt by hand. Neither are there any visible grooves nor is there a trace of engraving. This piece of work is then buffed (polished) until it is shining perfectly in silver colour. Then comes the magical part when the indigenous soil from Bidar fort plays a big role in the finishing process of the piece. The soil is known to have oxidizing properties and is found only in unlit portions of the Bidar fort. The soil is mixed with tiny amount of aluminum chloride and boiling water. The buffed piece is then dipped in the mixture and polished.
The effect of this solution is as such that the entire article made out of metal turns black whereas the silver inlay stays as is. The piece looks stunning to say the least! The whole metal turns black in front of your eyes and the silver inlay work shines breathtakingly in contrast to its background. Finally the piece is polished with regular coconut oil to make it ready for sale.
Apart from the intricate work, the magical soil of bidar and artisans kaarigari, what made me fall for this art was how these artisans have not given up on their craft legacy. From many generations, this has been their source of living. It somehow runs in their blood. They’ve seen their fathers and forefathers do the same work and take pride that their coming generations would follow this tradition.
This workshop taught me a little more than just Bidriware. It somewhere taught me how our artisans beautifully follow traditions, update it with the modern world and are willing to pass it on to the coming generations. In many ways that one, this Bidriware represents us, the Indians and our unconditional love towards our history, our art and our culture.
A degree hoarder, Harish has a bachelor in business administration, an M.Sc. In Communication Studies and a PGD in International Business and after a short stint in the corporate and media world, is getting back to studies by pursuing an MBA. He’s had a rather nomadic childhood with his father being an army officer. Perhaps, that’s why his love towards various cultures, languages, art and craft grew.
You can follow Harish on Instagram here.