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Bidri Ware and Damascena Work

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Bidri Ware and Damascena Work
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Bidri Ware and Damascena Work

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Item Code: NAW339
Author: Jagdish Mittal
Language: English
Edition: 2011
ISBN: 9788190487214
Pages: 154 (Throughout Colored Illustrations)
Other Details: 11.00 X 9.00 inch
weight of the book: 1.06 kg
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About the Book

Among the vast variety of metalware produced for centuries in India, bidri ware was the first to draw attention of European scholars about 200 years ago. They were drawn to study chiefly their mysterious metal alloy and the technique for producing black velvety sheen on their silver inlaid surface. However, during the last fifty years the charm of bidri ware has been recognized, some articles and books have been published about them, and bidri objects have been exhibited in museums and prestigious exhibitions. Thus bidris have attained a respectable position among Indian metalware.

This beautifully illustrated catalogue of bidri ware in the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, Hyderabad, is based on Shri Jagdish Mittal’s first-hand experience in collecting them, and study of about one thousand bidris since 1951, when he acquired for the first time two bidris at Hyderabad. Based on his indepth research since then, this book provides an updated history of this craft, its origin at Bidar, its metal alloy, various techniques used for its production, types of inlay, constituents of the blackening paste, chronology of shapes and designs, suggestions for their precise dating, as well as their late regional variants at Lucknow, Murshidabad and Purnea. Most importantly, this book has published for the first time fifteen bidris produced during the 17th century. Notably, so many objects of this early period are unknown in any other museum or private collection. Apart from them, the best works of the 18th-19th centuries included in this book will showcase their wide range of shapes and design types through this period. Crucial for the future study of bidri ware are three dated examples in this book, one of them being the earliest known work dated October 1634, the others are dated 1818 and 1859, Additionally, three rare examples of damascene work, a similar technique of silver, brass or gold inlay-work on iron, are published.

This book provides a detailed survey of all aspects of this craft, useful notes and references, and a select bibliography. Based on latest researches about this craft, they will add to precise knowledge about bidris. Significantly, all the fifty objects in the Museum are published in colour along with detailed notes on them. A map and a number of text figures will further help their study. This book will inspire future scholars of Indian metalware and encourage deeper study of this unique art form of the Deccan.

About the Author

Jagdish Mittal, born 1925, is an artist turned art collector and art historian. He is an erudite scholar and a leading authority on Indian art. He is the Principal Trustee of the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, Hyderabad, a Public Trust, to which he and his artist wife, Kamla gifted their unique collection in 1976. In 1990, he was awarded the Padma Shri by the President of India. His book Andbra Paintings of the Ramayana was published by Andhra Pradesh Lalit Kala Akademi, in 1969. He has delivered lectures on art at various places in India and abroad presented papers at International seminars, and his articles have been published in prestigious books and journals on Indian art.


I handled a bidri object for the first time in 1951, when I came to Hyderabad for an exhibition of paintings by Kamla, my wife, and I. One day, while strolling in a lane, we noticed a wayside stall selling discarded household articles. Amongst these were two bidri hookah bases, which I bought for ten rupees. I was instantly enamoured by the intricate silver inlay on their black body. Sometime back, I had read about bidri in the well-known book Indian Art at Delhi, 1903, by Sir George Watt, catalogue of an exhibition. I was thrilled to own these original objects, and I was inquisitive to know their mode of manufacture, history, and their centre of production. Although Watt's book provided some basic information about this metalware, I needed more details. In the same month I saw several bidris in the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, which was being set up. My search for bidri objects led me to the late Harish Chandra Agrwala, a leading local antique dealer in art, especially Indian metal objects. Each time I met him he showed me dozens of bidris he had acquired, and told me about their technique, and their centre of production, Bidar. I regularly acquired from him bidris whenever he found a good lot.

In fact, during the 1950s and 1960s old bidri objects were flooding the local antique market. For, after India became independent in 1947, the Indian Princely States were merged with the Indian Union and zamindaris were abolished. This had caused a sudden financial crunch for the princely families. Consequently, they started disposing off their family's art objects. Since bidris had gone out of fashion by then they were freely available in Hyderabad. From 1957, I often visited the recently established workshops of bidri craftsmen, who had migrated from Bidar to Hyderabad. They provided me with minute technical details about production of bidris.

Another source for my bidri collection was Shri Narendra Gupta of Delhi, who had developed a refined taste for art works and always offered me the best examples he found. Several important bidris were sold to me by Kishan Chander Agrawal, son of the late Harish Chander Agrawal, a resourceful and knowledgeable dealer of Indian art.

Nowadays, good examples of old bidris have become very scarce and their prices have shot up several times. This scarcity and rise in their price happened after they were exhibited in the ‘Festival of India‘ exhibitions held at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, curated by Robert Skelton (1982); and, INDIA: Art & Culture 1300-1900, curated by Stuart Cary Welch, held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1985). These two exhibitions, and books by Susan Stronge (1985) and Mark Zebrowski (1997), conferred recognition and status to bidris, hence more collectors were drawn to them.

Realising significance of the Museum's holdings of bidri ware, Naozar Chenoy, its Trustee-Secretary, himself a keen lover of bidris, advised me to publish this book.

I am indebted to several people in my home for maintaining these objects in good shape. First among them is my wife, Kamla, who spent hours in cleaning them whenever J acquired a piece. The others who helped are: B. Gopal Rao, his son, Naveen, Radha Rani and K. Laxman Varma; all of them periodically cleaned them and kept them in fine condition. I appreciate Shri A. Narayana Rao for ungrudgingly and lovingly typing the text several times, as if it is his own work. Thanks also to Ms. Radhika Rajamani for carefully checking the drafts of the text; Dr. John Seyller, who did fine editing, gave useful suggestions, read the inscriptions on three hookah bases, and provided their translation in English; Dr. Rahmat Ali Khan, Keeper of Manuscripts (retired), Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, and Mr. M. A. Qatyyum, Deputy Director, Department of Archaeology, Hyderabad(retired), for reading and interpreting all Arabic inscriptions; Dr. Ismat Mehdi, Retired Professor Arabic, Central Institute for English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad, for providing translations of the Arabic inscriptions on three bowls; and Mr. Shahnawaz Shah, of Adeel Computer Graphics, Chatta Bazar, Hyderabad, for making beautiful digital copies of the Arabic inscriptions. I am immensely grateful to Shri P. Parameshwar Raju, the eminent graphic artist and Museum's trustee, for guidance in photographing the objects and for the elegant book-design. I appreciate Shri Ramesh Babu and Shri Dhruvy Mistry, the well-known sculptor, for exquisite photographs of the objects, and Shri Kumara Guru for meticulous editing of these images. Lastly, special thanks to the Printers, Kala Jyothi Process Private Limited, Hyderabad, especially Shri K. Vijaya Kumar, for painstakingly supervising production of this book, and to Shri M. Laxmi Narayana of M. Narsimlu & Sons, Hyderabad, for binding the book with his characteristic care and expertise.

I, as well as the trustees of the Museum, will be delighted if this book inspires the future scholars of Indian metalware to do further research and contribute in placing bidris on a higher pedestal.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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