6 February 2012

Bidri Craft


Origin of the craft
Bidri craft gets its name from the Bidar district of Karnataka. The craft originated in Persia and came to India in the 14th century, flourishing in Bidar under the Bahamani Dynasty. While in Persia, gold and silver was inlayed on steel or copper, in Bidri work, zinc is the primary metal used.

State(s) it is practiced in


About the craft
Bidri craft has obtained the ‘Geographical Indication’ tag to certify that it can be made only in Bidar. The significance of the craft lies not only in its beauty, history and production technique, but also in a special ingredient- the soil from the Bidar Fort. This black soil is an important input for Bidri work as it has special chemical properties; the soil has been away from sunlight and rain for hundreds of years and is used as an oxidizing agent.

No one really knows what makes this soil unique. Our Bidri craftsmen have varied theories– one suggested that back in the Sultans’ days, copper coins were made in a section of the Fort. Powdered metal seeped down to the soil, giving it its oxidizing property over the years. Another artisan claims it is because weapons were stored underground in the fort.

An interesting article in the Deccan Herald covers the Bidri craft: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/178987/no-shine-artisans.html

Input materials

Zinc, Copper, Silver, Soil from Bidar Fort, Ammonium chloride


Casting the alloy: A mix of soil, castor oil and resin is used to prepare a mould. In this, molten metal alloy of zinc and copper (in the ratio of 16:1) is poured. Depending on the product design, different metal casting may need to be welded together to form one single product.

: The rough surface is filed to smoothen it.
Drawing the design: Copper sulphate is applied on the shiny surface, which causes it to become temporarily black in colour. This makes it easy for the craftsman to draw the designs clearly on the black surface. The design is etched using a metal stylus.

Engraving the design: Craftsmen then use a chisel to carve out this design.
Inlaying: Inlay work is of two types - sheet work or wire work, depending on the design. Sheets or wires of pure silver are meticulously hammered into the grooves of the engraved design.
The silver is hammered in and the surface is buffed and smoothened to remove the extra silver jutting out.
After complete filing of the product, the temporary black coating is lost and the entire surface turns white again. The silver inlay work is hardly visible at this point.

The oxidizing process is very unique to Bidri craft. The soil from the Bidar Fort is mixed with ammonium chloride and boiling water to form a solution.
When this solution is applied to the product surface, the zinc-copper alloy turns jet black, while the silver is unaffected. This black colour is permanent and does not fade.
The end product is striking silver against a black background. 

Caring for the Product

The silver should not come into prolonged contact with water. In case the silver dulls, use silver polish (such as Silvo) to restore the shine. Also, gently smear coconut oil to give a shine to your Bidri product.

Problems plaguing artisans

Rising cost of raw materials: Price of silver has almost tripled in the past 2 years. Increasing the selling price accordingly has seen reducing demand from customers. The Karnataka State Handicrafts Development Corporation provides assistance to Bidri craftsmen through subsidy on a limited quantity of raw materials.
Also, rising labour cost has increased the cost of welding product castings.

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