B idri is the technique of inlaying zinc vessels with brass, silver or gold. This form of decoration is uniquely Indian and began in the city of Bidar, in the Deccan. The oldest known examples date from the late 17th century, but according to oral legend, production of bidri began during the 16th century.
The base of each piece is made of an alloy predominantly composed of zinc, with the addition of lead, copper and tin. Other alloys were also used but it is unclear what they were or to what extent they were used.
Once the piece was cast and fully formed, the inlay process began. The metal was darkened and the craftsmen engraved the intended design on the surface. The darkening created a contrast between the engraved and plain surfaces, allowing the craftsmen to clearly see the design he was engraving.
When the engraving had been completed, silver or brass was hammered into the engraved space. The background was burnished to give the piece a permanent black background. The burnishing did not affect the inlay. Finally, the inlay was polished.
The lustrous silver against the matte black background created a high contrast, giving the object a dramatic appearance. Generally, the ornamentation was of stylized flowers, organic and geometric patterns, with people and animals rarely depicted. The ornamentation was usually laid out in a radial manner, with a uniform repetition of panels or patterns around the object. This resulted in an object which was striking, whilst at the same time, also harmonious and balanced.
Pieces of bidri include hookah bowls, ewers, salvers and betel paraphernalia. These items were used by the royal courts and are depicted in paintings of the 17th and 18th centuries. During the 19th century, bidri became well known in Europe and was also produced for European customers.
Birdri was created by Hindus of the Lingayat sect and by Muslims. The Lingayats, a sect which has become separate and broken away from mainstream Hinduism, worship Shiva exclusively. They also fashioned lingam necklaces for their own use; an example of which can be seen in our collection.
This Hookah bowl is an early example of Bidri, dating from the late 17th century. The bowl has brass inlay set into a zinc alloy base. It was made in Bidar, south India and is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (1984.221).
This 18th century tray with silver inlay is an item from our own collection. Please click here for further details.
This covered bowl is a 19th century example of Bidri, with silver and brass inlay, held by the New York Metropolitan Museum (19.176.4a, b).
In general, 17th and 18th century bidri ware is of more elegant design and required a higher degree of technical skill than bidri ware produced during the 19th century.
Susan Stronge, 1985. Bidri Ware: Inlaid Metalwork from India. Edition, Victoria & Albert Museum