A tourist admiring a Bidri artefact in Chennai.File photo: M. Vedhan
Allauddin Behman Shah, the second King of Behmani Kingdom, is credited for introducing Bidri craft, a Middle Eastern art form, to Bidar in 15th Century. However, it had to wait till 300 years to become world famous.
Recent research has revealed that John Forbes Royle, doctor, botanist and chronicler of India’s folk wisdom, introduced the craft to the world in the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in London.
“East India Company nominated Dr. Royle, the pioneer of economic botany in India, to source exhibits from artisans. He was ideally suited to the job as he had travelled the length and breadth of India looking for unique plant species, and other materials of value,” says Rehaman Patel, artist and Bidri researcher. His book about Bidri art in Kannada is coming out this month. Karnatakada Bidri Kale (Bidri art of Karnataka) includes the history, and stages of evolution of the craft. It also looks at the present state of Bidri artisans.
Dr. Royle was keen that India should benefit from the exhibition. He wanted to help the artisans who produced articles of great beauty and value that were not well known outside their country. India’s artisans will be forever indebted to the Englishman,” Dr. Patel said.
The Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce that organised the exhibition, also featured images of the Bidri artisan hewing silver onto black metal surfaces. The artefacts were noticed by design theorist Owen John, who gave significant space to Bidri art in his ‘Grammar of Ornament’. He described it as an art, remarkable for its ‘elegance and outline’.
Such exposure encouraged the art. Bidri ware items were sold by Liberty and Company in London. The Colonial and Indian exhibition catalogue of 1886 called it an important industry with extensive demand, according to Dr. Patel.