Kannada, Kannadiga, Kannadigaru, Karnataka,

Kannadigarella ondaagi Kannadavannu ulisona, kalisona and belesona

Black is beautiful [Bidariware art originated from Bidar District]

Black is beautiful
 
R Krishna
The gleaming silver on black of Bidriware has a charm of its own. Few know that the art originated in Bidar, a small town in North Karnataka. R Krishna explores the science and people behind Bidri.
 

Narsappa Nageshwar was a proud man when his elder son, Rajkumar, secured a seat in an engineering college. To his disappointment, Raj dropped out of college in the Second Year and returned to his first love – Bidri. Perhaps Raj’s grandfather, a master craftsman who had won a Sate award, would have been proud. For Bidri work is an ancestral craft passed from father to son. Raj’s family has now been carrying on the trade for close to a hundred years.

Sturdy and almost unbreakable objects in various shapes and sizes, jet black in colour, Bidriware comes alive with dazzling silver inlay work. In fact, bidriware is similar to the Persian art of inlaying gold and silver in copper. According to the literature available, Persian immigrants taught this form of art to locals in Bidar during the reign of the Bahmanis. Though of Persian origin, down the ages, Bidri work has developed its own unique form and style. There are about 200 articles which are perennial bestsellers, including animals, boxes, idols, flower vases, photo frames, bed lights, jug shaped vessels, lamps, ash trays, paper weights and ornaments. Though the form of articles is common to all the houses that are into the making of this art in a commercial way, subtle variation in design makes them unique to the house it originates from. Though these design changes are not patented, every Bidri craftsman follows the code of honour – no copying of the design from another house.

The making of Bidriware is quite interesting, involving a host of craftsmen who are adept at their skills. Bidriware is basically made of zinc and then treated with copper sulphate. The designer takes over at this stage of the process and marks the design of his choice using a grooving chisel before handing it over to the next skilled person. The design is chiselled further to make deeper grooves and silver wire is then inlaid inside these grooves. This unfinished showpiece is then buffed to make its surface smooth.

 

Then starts the process that gives Bidri work its unique character. The soil found in the Bidar fort (which has oxidising properties) and Aluminium Oxide is mixed in water and boiled. The Bidriware is dipped in the boiling solution. The solution affects the zinc alloy, turning it black, while the inlaid silver retains its colour. The black and white bidriware is then cleaned and polished, before it is stacked in the shelves for sale.

But, the life of those involved in the art is not easy. Bidri is a labour-intensive, time-consuming process. Adding to the burden is the spiralling cost of raw materials. A Bidri work, when it is ready, usually finds no takers in the town for its cost is prohibitive. There are no significant sales to tourists either as Bidar isn’t a popular tourist destination. As a result, direct sales form a very small percentage of the revenue. In fact, it is only 10 per cent, according to Raj. Exporters and city-based retailers who place orders as per the requirement are the primary customers for the local artisans. These middlemen, however, tend to give the local practitioners less than their fair share of money. After discounting all the expenses incurred in the making of Bidriware, Raj takes home only about Rs 12,000 – 15,000 a month. He supplements his earnings by selling other less expensive decorative ware popular amongst the locals.

In spite of the low returns, Bidri trade employs close to 400 workers in this small town, earning wages ranging from Rs 1500 to Rs 4500 per month. Not every worker involved in this process is illiterate. Most children go to school until Class VII. It’s when the child fails to show an aptitude towards formal education that he drops out and takes up Bidri work.

It’s ironic that school dropouts end up keeping this tradition alive. That doesn’t mean the hunger to do better is any less. Raj can sense the change in the wind outside his small town. Since most tourists flash credit cards these days, Raj is now trying to find out how safe the transaction through credit cards is. He has also heard about Internet and the advantage of reaching out to consumers, both in India and abroad, directly through the net. High on his priority list right now is, of course, providing for credit card deals. Meanwhile, he has compiled photographs which explain the Bidri process – ideal to woo the choice-spoilt 21st century tourist. And when he visited Dilli Haat last year, the album went with him on a CD. Raj is doing everything he can to pack that extra punch – he is even planning to print the whole Bidri process on the back of his visiting card!

Narsappa is happy and proud, of course, but still feels that Raj should have pursued his course in engineering and taken up a ‘proper’ job. Raj and his band of dropouts, on the other hand, have put their heads down together, learning and adapting to the advances in the outside world in the best possible way.

April 20, 2007 - Posted by | EKAVI BIDAR, RCILTS Kannada

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