Bidar, Karnataka: A Jewel of a City

With priceless stories to tell

By Aparna Prasad

I first heard of Bidar during a college exhibition, where an artisan displayed visually stunning jewellery and called it “Bidriware.” His creations were a beautiful blend of black and silver, and he made a lot of sales that day.

And now, our batch of 38 students from NIFT, Bangalore, were on our way to Bidar. After a memorable train journey, we were heading there to learn Bidriwork, and I was super excited.

Bidar Bidriware

It is a small, rather lonely-looking city in the northeast of Karnataka. The weather swings constantly between rainy and heavily rainy days. Yet, the morning sun welcomed us on the day we arrived, warming up our tired bodies.

Auto-rickshaws were lined up outside the railway station, greeting us confused 20-year-olds who are accustomed to our Olas and Ubers. I took an auto with two of my friends to the hotel as there didn’t seem to be any other mode of transport. I guess there is no use for taxis in this non-touristy place.

It took us only a few minutes to reach Hotel Shiva, where we would stay for the next few days. The rooms were large, cosy and comfortable, and the hotel was situated on the main road, surrounded by various restaurants.

Bidar chaat
Aloo Tikki Chaat

Getting To Know The City

I dragged my friends to Balaji Bakery, only a two-minute walk from the hotel. We ordered masala dosas, idlis and tea. Though quite similar to Bangalore eateries, the dosas here were a bit more oily. Tasty and affordable nevertheless, so no complaints. Over the next few days, I came back to Balaji and tried their Aloo Tikki chaat, which is by far my favourite food experience in Bidar. They fried and dipped the potatoes in a range of sauces. Delicious!

After breakfast, I took off with my friends to the Tarkaari Market in an auto, which was never difficult to find. The autos in Bidar were on the lookout for us and not the other way around. One interesting difference that I noticed between the auto drivers in Bangalore and Bidar is that here, there is no limit to the number of people who can squeeze in. As long as you pay Rs 20 each, the drivers are fine with stuffing 6 to 8 people into their vehicles.

Tarkaari Market is quite charming. Little shops line the streets, and colourful buildings face the giant Chowbara clock tower. In one of those little shops was a man in worn-out navy blue pants and a blue shirt sitting on the floor and working on a metal piece with his chisel. He was aware of my presence as I walked toward him but was too focused on his work at hand. Only when I got closer did I notice what he was making — Bidriware.

Bidar artisan
Artisan M A Rauf

An Engrossing Tale Through Time

He engraved intricate patterns on the metal surface with such ease and flow that I knew it could only come from years of experience. I had seen the man in the pictures. He was M A Rauf, recognised by several high dignitaries of the government of India for his Bidri work. He has also earned international acclaim, yet looking at him in his simple attire, I almost didn’t recognise him. We spent the entire afternoon conversing. He shared his journey with the craft. In the end, I took away more than just his experiences. I realised he was a passionate and genuine man who wished for us to see the beauty he sees in Bidriware.

Before we had the opportunity to be part of the making process, we got to visit the Bidar Fort, built in the 14th century by Ahman Shah Wali Bahman. It is said that only the soil from the Bidar fort can bring that distinct black colour to Bidriware. Because it’s a small city, we only had to travel about 1.2 km to reach the Fort.

Bidar Fort

The opening timings of the Fort are from 9 am to 5 pm, and it was already 4 pm by the time we reached. An hour was not enough to cover the large area of the fort and many rooms inside were locked. We got special permission to enter the Queen’s chambers and a few other parts that are not accessible to all. The inside walls of the Fort has traces of the colourful tiles that once existed. There are detailed stone carvings and mosaics on the walls. These old ruins hold so many stories that you’ll discover something new every time you visit this place.

Blackening Process of Bidri Products

The City In Its Element

The next day, we watched the entire process of how Bidriware was made before us. Some of the most memorable moments were the ones that we didn’t enjoy at the time. We were inside the workplace, exposed to smoke and dust. I will never forget the blackening process where the craftsmen dip the products in a boiling hot mixture containing the Bidar Fort soil and ammonium chloride. I was surprised, not only because of the stunning black colour of the products that came out of the mixture but also because these products were taken out with bare hands like it was the most normal thing to do.

In our spare time, I purchased a few Bidriware accessories such as earrings, rings and bangles ranging from Rs 200 to Rs 400. There were showpieces, vases and other home decor items available as well.

On the final day in Bidar, we requested Rauf to teach us a little bit of engraving, and we created a small locket with a butterfly on the metal surface. Stories come from shared experiences, and we wanted this exchange to reflect on our design. The tale of Bidar is carved through its wings. The forewings resemble the tombs of the Bidar Fort with Mughal design inlay on them. The hind wings look like leaves because Bidriware is traditionally inspired by its beautiful surroundings.

The overall design takes the form of a butterfly because it stands for “change.” We have experienced a change in our perspective after interacting with the artisans and exploring the wondrous world of Bidri. This is as much of their story as it’s ours.

Image credits: A P Athul Nataraj and Amal Pinheiro

The best way to get to know a place is by the stories you’re told about it. Here’s what we learned about Munnar through Rashmeet Kaur’s eyes (or lens!)

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