Any form of art or art requires a great deal of patience and a passion for art making. The Bidriware Artisans are one such category of craftsmen who, for the love of craft making, have gone to great extents and have spent an enormous amount of time in learning the craft, mastering it and producing such exquisite handicrafts.
Bidriware is one of the most remarkable and intricate metal handicraft that is manufactured in the Bidar district of Karnataka. It is also one of the prominent articles to be exported from India. The main component that is required for the manufacture of this metalware is soil which is protected from sunlight and rain and such soil is primarily acquired from the ruins of Bidar fort. The chemicals in this soil give a lustrous black color to the product. These handcrafted products have designs made of zinc and cooper and inlaid with pure silver or thin sheets.
Talking a group of Bidriware artisans working for Sahayog ( a NGO located in Bidar district of Karnataka) which has been economically supporting the artisans, it was nothing but mesmerising to observe their talent of not only making Bidriware products but also in striking an interesting conversation. Speaking to a senior artisan of the group was one of a kind experience.
How did the Bidriware form of art originate?
As heard from my grandfather, the origin of the form of art is accredited to the Bahmani Sultans who ruled Bidar district in the 14th-15th century. This form of art is an amalgamation of Turkish, Persian and Arabic designs. Though there is no factual documentation of how the craft came to Karnataka and flourished under the Bahmani Sultanate, it is believed that it was first brought to India in 12th century by the followers of Khwaja Muinuddin Chisty. These artisans who came all the way from Iran (ancient Persia) scattered to different parts of the country, out of which, a few of these craftsmen who impressed Sultan Ahmed Shah, the then ruler of Bahmani dynasty, were called upon to teach this art form to the local artists.
What is the process involved in making Bidriware products? What are the different kinds of products generally made?
The elementary material of the craft is an alloy of zinc and copper in the ratio 16:1. It is on this alloy that artistic patterns are etched. The mechanism of making Bidriware products is an eight step process. The first step is moulding followed by smoothing using a file. Then follows the design process of chiselling and engraving. The most beautiful step is inlaying of silver followed by smoothing, buffing and finally, oxidizing the product by soil and ammonium chloride.
There are a variety of products that can be made using this method but goblets, vases, wine decanters, hookahs, candle holders, jewellery boxes are common ones.
Karnataka has the highest number of Geographical Indication (GI) tags, to protect and preserve the authenticity of handicrafts. How important was this GI tag for BIDRIWARE products?
The GI tag, which has been issued by the government to Bidriware recently was utmost necessary as many of the artisans were planning on finding other means of making money to financially support themselves. As in any handicraft business, the income of the actual artists is very poor. Also, many of the artists had developed eyesight problems due to long working hours. The cost of the required raw materials are rising day by day making it hard for us to invest in these products. But after the GI tag, the government has been taking measures to improve the condition of the artists by recognizing the best of the artisans and rewarding them for their talent. Experts like Shah Rashid Ahmed Quadri have been rewarded with the Rajyotsava Award as a recognition for their contribution to this art.
Recently, a few online shopping forums are selling Bidriware products. How has this benefited the artists?
The websites have done what the government agencies and other self-help groups are unable to do and that is provide lucrative prices for the century old handicraft. This has increased the income of the artisans, further reducing the interference of the middlemen. As and when required, the executives contact us and we supply them with the products. (He adds that Bidriware products can be found on popular websites like Amazon, Craftsvilla, ebay, bidrihandicraft.com apart from the government websites).
What is the future of the Bidriware handicraft?
After acquiring the GI tag for our products, the livelihood of the most of the artists has improved. Due to the online forums, the products are receiving the kind of recognition it deserves. Though the government has set up a Bidri colony in 2002, it was not of much help but now things are slowly changing and we hope to generate a better revenue and hope that this tradition of art making is carried forward by our next generation.