Silver-Inlaid Bidri Medicine or Magic Bowl (Abkhwura)
diameter: 14cm, height: 6.5cm, weight: 609g
Bidri silver-inlaid magic or medicine bowls are rare. Several examples are in the National Museum, Delhi and illustrated in Lal (1990). Another example was offered as lot 175 in Sotheby’s ‘Arts of the Islamic World’ sale, April 14, 2010.
This example was acquired by the previous owner at the mortgagee sale of the goods and chattels of the current Nizam of Hyderabad held in December 1995 in Perth, Australia.
It has a ringed foot. The outer side is embellished with twelve cartouches each containing a stylised flowering poppy plant. The lower and upper borders contain a repeated foliage motif.
The inner surface is inscribed all over with verses from the Koran in Arabic Nastaliq script. The script begins in the base of the bowl and spirals out to the rim in one long line.
A very similar example attributed to the 18th century and in Delhi’s National Museum is illustrated in Lal (1990. p. 129)
Bidriware originated in the city of Bidar in the Deccan. It is cast from an alloy of mostly zinc with copper, tin and lead. The vessels are overlaid or inlaid with silver (as is the case here), brass and sometimes gold. A paste that contains sal ammoniac is applied which turns the ally dark black but leaving the silver, brass and gold unaffected.
Bidriware caused great interest at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. It found new European markets and helped to keep alive the craft as demand fell in India with the decline of many of the smaller courts and landed families.
The Nizams of Hyderabad once were believed to be the richest men in the world. In the years leading to the second world war, the Nizam was seen as the leading Muslim ruler in the world. In 1921, a son married the daughter of the last Caliph and Ottoman sultan. The sultan nominated the Nizam’s son as heir to the caliphate as part of the marriage arrangements. The state of Hyderabad refused to join the new Indian union at Independence. The then Nizam Sir Osman Ali Khan could see no benefit in joining with the other Indian states to form the Union of India. India invaded Hyderabad in 1948 and the Nizam’s autocratic rule was replaced. The current Nizam Mukarram Jah, the grandson of Osman Ali Khan succeeded Osman on his death in 1967. By then, the family’s fortune was in disarray. The new Nizam inherited almost 15,000 staff and dependents, including 42 of his father’s concubines and more than a hundred of their offspring. The estate was also beset with legal claims on the new Nizam’s inheritance initiated by the several thousand descendants of the various former nizams. The etstae was split up into 54 trusts, the control of which was disputed. The new Nizam was forced to sell heirlooms to raise cash just to live.
Tired of endless legal wrangles and family infighting, Mukarram Jah left India in 1973 for a sheep farm in Western Australia. Financial mismanagement followed him. His finances were not helped by successive marriages which lead to five wives and ex-wives. In 1995, the Nizam was declared bankrupt in Western Australia and items in his Perth residence were sold to benefit his creditors. This Bidri magic bowl was among the items seized and sold. Today, the Nizam lives in Turkey.
Private collection, London
Acquired in 1995 from the mortgagee sale of the Nizam of Hyderabad, Perth, Australia (Gregson’s Auctioneers Pty Ltd, ‘The Nizam of Hyderabad: The Chattels from the Havelock Street, West Perth Ex-Residence’, December 1, 1995) – Lot 253
Dalrymple, W., ‘The lost world’, The Guardian, December 8, 2007.
Lal, K., Bidri Ware: National Museum Collection, National Museum New Delhi, 1990.
Stronge, S., Bidri Ware: Inlaid Metalwork from India, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1985.
Zebrowski, M., Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India, Alexandria Press, 1997.
Inventory no.: 1593
The seventh Nizam of Hyderabad Osman Ali Khan.