Rishikesh Bahadur Desai

Bidar: Karnataka has the highest number of Geographical Indication tags, to protect and preserve the authenticity of handicrafts. The long-pending demand of a GI tag for Bidri art that is unique to the State has also been achieved now. The Karnataka Handicraft Development Corporation had applied for the GI tag.

This was badly needed as the few Bidri artisan families in Bidar were planning to shift to other means of livelihood as it had stopped to be remunerative. The artisans did not get as much money as the middlemen in Bangalore and Hyderabad did. The cost of silver, copper and bronze, that are essential to the art is increasing, pushing the cost of Bidri craft outside the reach of middleclass families. Finally, the hard labour involved weakened the eyesight of artisans early. Bidri artisans have a problem getting the soil from the old buildings inside the Bidar Fort.

It is said that Bidri art originated in Bidar 800 years ago. Bidriware is one of the most important handicrafts that is exported. The handicraft items have patterns made of zinc and copper and inlaid with pure silver wire or thin sheets. The craftsmanship and skilled labour involved in creating Bidriware are considered invaluable.

The most important ingredient of Bidri articles is the soil from the bottom of ancient buildings inside the Bidar Fort. This soil, which has not been exposed to rain or sunlight for centuries, has chemicals that give a lustrous black colour to Bidriware. And since it is hand made after long hours of skilled labour, it cannot be "mass produced" or manufactured in factories.

The making and marketing of Bidriware remained unorganised for many years. Artisans complained middlemen and showrooms made all the profits while they were paid minimum amounts. However, the scenario changed after the National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development started the Bidri cluster development programme and set up a Bidri colony in Bidar in 2002. This led to the formation of self-help groups of Bidri artisans, mostly comprising men. The SHGs are doing well and got a national award now.

The SHG movement also helped three senior artistes get State and national awards. The state government honoured Shah Rashid Ahmed Quadri with the Rajyotsava award on Tuesday. Mr Quadri, Mohammad Moijuddin and Abdul Raouf have also won the national award. Faculty of the National Institute of Design have conducted some training to artisans.

The Bidriware consists of items made of an alloy of copper and zinc. The artistes sketch free-hand designs on this with a sharp metal stylus. Silver wires or plates are hammered into the intricate design. Later, the art piece is treated with chemicals and the special soil to give it a dark black colour. Another chemical treatment is given and the silver inlay stands out against the dark background.