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Late 17th Century
Place of origin: Hyderabad
Materials: Bidri, metal alloy silver inlay
Dimensions: Ht: 19.5 cm
One of the outstanding examples of silver-inlay using Bidri technique this medieval pot once comprised the base of a hookah, a tobacco smoking pipe consisting broadly of five parts, a globular base-pot, neck or hollow stem rising over the base pot, a hollow cone or chillum on the stem's top, a long tube and a mouthpiece. In its broader upper part the conical chillum contained tobacco which when fire added released smoke. Its upwards rise obstructed the smoke descended downwards to the base pot through the hollow neck, and first mix with the water that the base pot contained for filtering its excessive narcotic contents and then passing through the tube and the mouthpiece reached the smoker's throat. The chillum was usually made of baked clay, and in contrast, the base pot, in any rich medium, or even the humble but with some kind of artistic distinction. Hookah smoking was not merely a passion in 18th-19th century feudatory and other classes of elite but also a person's status symbol.
Hookah's massive popularity inspired artisans to create rich and artistic hookahs, its globular base pot affording greater scope for ingenuity. Artisans working with different materials: glass, ceramics, clay, brass, copper, silver&hellip, or in techniques like bidri, inlay etc, went for ever fresh experiments with hookah-manufacturing. Artisans of Bidar in Karnataka, a great centre of artistic metal casting, had innovated in the 14th century itself a rare craft of adorning the face of a metal ware illustrating various narratives. Originated at Bidar the technique became known as Bidri. An alloy, a blend of copper and zinc, zinc being just one part, and copper, sixteen, and some proportions of led and tin, was cast into a vessel. After the raw-cast has been properly filed and the surface smoothened, it was coated with copper sulphate changing it into black. Then desired designing patterns were etched and in etched grooves silver wires or leaves, as required, were inserted and beaten to merge with the main vessel's surface.
This hookah base, a brilliant 17th century example of bidri workmanship, has been illustrated with eleven episodes from the Padmavat, an allegorical epic by the early 16th century Avadhi poet Malik Mohammad Jayasi. The Padmavat is a love story of Padmavati, the princess of Singhal Desh, and Prince Ratnasen of Chittor. A parrot's tale, Padmavati heard from a parrot, Hiramana, of valorous Ratnasen, and vice verse, Ratnasen, of the beauty of Padmavati, both fall in love and finally married. Later, when in early 14th century Ratnasen ruled Chittor, Alauddin Khilji heard of the rare beauty of Padmavati and to obtain her attacked Chittor and laid siege. The Bidri artist illustrates the tale through eleven more significant episodes for adorning the globular body of his hookah. Besides the narrative it also portrays other human figures, birds, animals, architectural features... water streams, bridge, fish, aquatic birds...