Of the small number of known bidri objects that predate the eighteenth century, a majority are huqqa (water pipe) bases. Tobacco arrived in India sometime in the late sixteenth century, brought by the Portuguese from the New World to the port of Goa. The plant acclimatized well, and its popularity soon spread from the western Deccan northward into Mughal territories. By 1620 tobacco was used all over, and while coconut shells were first employed as the hot-water chamber for the pipe, sometime around the mid-seventeenth century Bidar craftsmen were creating huqqa bases that rank among the most attractive decorative objects of the period. These early examples are nearly always spherical, though one or two ovoid examples are known. To remain stable, the base would rest on a bidri ring; with very rare exceptions, the rings seem to have all been lost. Four of the five examples in this volume are inlaid with both silver and brass, which is a characteristic of early bidri. They would have been highly prized possessions of the Deccani rulers and their courtiers, or of the Mughal and Rajput aristocracy who arrived with the Mughal armies that gradually conquered the Deccan from 1636 to the end of the century.
Two of the huqqas are perhaps from the same workshop and are remarkable for their quality and the poetic imagery of their decor. The first is decorated with lotuses emerging from a pond, which are shown in all stages of flowering, from tightly budded to fully open. In Buddhism, Hinduism, and sufi mystical tradition, the lotus is a symbol of purity and enlightenment. Similar flowers adorn a famous Bijapur painting depicting a holy woman, Yogini with a Mynah Bird, which displays an overblown exuberance typical of the flora in Deccani art. Both huqqas are conceived as miniature universes of sky, earth, and water, a concept that was conducive to the restful meditation and can be interpreted as a setting under a dark night sky with the shiny silver and brass surfaces reflecting the shimmering light of the moon. Their nocturnal mood reminds one that the night is a time for the imagination to wander freely.
The second huqqa depicts a riverbank lined with palm trees and garden pavilions with niches revealing wine cups and flasks. Loving pairs of cranes, a symbol of faithfulness and fidelity, stand amid the dramatic rocky hillocks that give the Deccani landscape an almost lunar appearance. The river, below, is fed by water cascading down from the rocks and exemplifies the Qur’anic ideal of the pleasure garden.
The increasing influence of Mughal preferences on Deccani craftsmen becomes apparent in the three remaining huqqas, and as a result, it could be postulated that they are slightly later in date. The first of this group is unusual in that it was acquired with a bidri ring from the same period, which fits perfectly but does not seem to belong to it. The decorative scheme of cusped arches containing large standing flowers immediately recalls similar ones found in Mughal palaces and tombs. Here, however, the flowers do not stay upright and demure but twist and turn with an intense energy typical of the flora in Deccani art. Did a Rajput Maharaja or Mughal grandee carry this home as a souvenir from his campaign in the Deccan?
The fourth huqqa is adorned with graceful poppies against a pointillist background sky of silver stars. Again the flowers are similar to Mughal decoration, but their contorted movement, heavy blossoms, and drooping heads dramatically juxtaposed to the sky reveal a uniquely Deccani aesthetic. The poppies call to mind that opium was widely used by the Mughal and Deccani elite, and that tobacco was not the only substance that could be smoked in a huqqa.
John Robert Alderman in (Haidar and Sardar 2015)
The style of decoration, use of a single metal for inlay, and short neck with everted rim all point to a date later in the seventeenth century for the fifth huqqa base. The graceful play of upright stem and leaves with drooping blossoms recalls the depiction of the iris plant on the kalamkari tent panel, and the delicate sprinkling of flowers against the background is a more restrained version of the decoration found in the huqqa described just above.
Marika Sardar in (Haidar and Sardar 2015)
1- Bidri Huqqa (Water Pipe) Base with Tall Flowers in Arches, and Associated Ring, Zebrowski, Mark, "Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India". London: Alexandria Press, in association with Laurence King, 1997, p. 224, pl. 360, p. 302, pl. 504.
2- Huqqa 1: Bidri Huqqa (Water Pipe) Base with Lotuses Emerging from a Pond, Zebrowski, Mark, "Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India". London: Alexandria Press, in association with Laurence King, 1997, p. 231, pl. 375, p. 304, pl. 507. Huqqa 2: Bidri Huqqa (Water Pipe) Base with a Meandering Riverside Landscape Zebrowski 1997, p. 229, pl. 371, p. 306, pl. 509; Michell, George, and Mark Zebrowski, "Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates. The New Cambridge History of India 1, no. 7. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1999, p. 240, fig. 179; Parodi 2014a, p. 273, fig. 11.3.
3- Yogini with a Mynah Bird; Arnold, T. W., and J. V. S. Wilkinson "The Library of A. Chester Beatty: A Catalogue of the Indian Miniatures, Oxford". Revised and edited by J. V. S. Wilkinson. London: privately printed by J. Johnson at Oxford University Press and published by E. Walker, vol. 1, 1936, pp. 49–50, vol. 3, no. XXXI, pl. 93; Kramrisch, Stella "A Survey of Painting in the Deccan". London: India Society, with the Department of Archaeology, Hyderabad, 1937, p. 143; Gray, Basil, "Painting." In The Art of India and Pakistan: A Commemorative Catalogue of the Exhibition Held at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1947-8, edited by Leigh Ashton, New York: Coward McCann, 1949, p. 174, no. 808; Skelton, Robert, "The Mughal Artist Farrokh Beg." Ars Orientalis 2, 1957, p. 399, pl. 8, fig. 16; Barrett Douglas E., "Painting of the Deccan, XVI–XVII Century." The Faber Gallery of Oriental Art. London: Faber and Faber, 1958, pp. 18–19, pl. 7; "Ahmadnagar" Mārg (March) 16, no. 2, 1963, p. 28; Krishna Chaitanya, A History of Indian Painting. [Vol. 2], "Manuscript, Moghul and Deccani Traditions." New Delhi: Abhinav Publications. 1979, pp. 76, 80, pl. 65; Zebrowski, Mark, "Deccani Painting". London: Sotheby’s; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983a, p. 105, ill. no. 82, p. 108, pl. XII; S. C. Welch, Stuart Cary, "India: Art and Culture, 1300–1900." Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985, pp. 292, 294–96, no. 196; James, David, "The ‘Millennial’ Album of Muhammad-Quli Qutb Shah." Islamic Art 2, 1987, p. 254, fig. 6; Leach, Linda York, "Mughal and Other Indian Paintings from the Chester Beatty Library." 2 vols. London: Scorpion Cavendish, 1995, vol. 2, pp. 912–15, no. 9.641, colorpl. 126; Michell, George, and Mark Zebrowski, "Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates. The New Cambridge History of India 1, no. 7. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 175, fig. 129; Glynn, Catherine, "Bijapur Themes in Bikaner Painting." In Court Painting in Rajasthan, edited by Andrew Topsfield. Bombay: Marg Publications, 2000, p. 66, fig. 1; Hutton, Deborah S., "Art of the Court of Bijapur." Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006, pl. 16; Diamond, Debra, "Occult Science and Bijapur’s Yoginis." In Themes, Histories, Interpretations: Indian Painting; Essays in Honour of B. N. Goswamy, edited by Mahesh Sharma and Padma A. Kaimal, pp. 148–59, Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing, in association with Osianama.com, 2013a, p. 149, fig. 11.1; Diamond, Debra, "Yoga: The Art of Transformation." With contributions by Molly Emma Aitken et al. Exh. cat. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; and Cleveland Museum of Art; 2013–14, Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 2013b, pp. 126, 127, 294, no. 3f; Goswamy, B.N., "The Spirit of Indian Painting: Close Encounters with 101 Great Works, 1100–1900". Gurgaon: Penguin Books India, 2014, pp. 111, 514–17.
4- Michell, George, and Mark Zebrowski, "Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates. The New Cambridge History of India 1, no. 7. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1999, p. 241.
5- Bidri Huqqa (Water Pipe) Base with Tall Flowers in Arches, and Associated Ring, Zebrowski, Mark, "Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India". London: Alexandria Press, in association with Laurence King, 1997, p. 224, pl. 360, p. 302, pl. 504.
6- Bidri Huqqa (Water Pipe) Base with Poppies against a Pointillist Ground; Sotheby’s, "Islamic Works of Art, Carpets and Textiles." Sale cat. Sotheby’s, London, October 19, 1983, p. 96, lot 228; Zebrowski, Mark, "Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India". London: Alexandria Press, in association with Laurence King, 1997, p. 233, pl. 382, p. 309, pl. 513.
7- Bidri Huqqa (Water Pipe) Base with Irises. Stuart Cary Welch and Carolyn Kane in Metropolitan Museum of Art 1985, p. 9; S. C. Welch, "India: Art and Culture, 1300–1900." Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1985, pp. 322, 323, no. 218; Metropolitan Museum of Art 1987, p. 152, pl. 117; Walker 1997, p. 118, fig. 117; Zebrowski, Mark, "Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India". London: Alexandria Press, in association with Laurence King, 1997, p. 234, pl. 389; Haidar, Navina Najat, "Art of South Asia (14th to 19th Centuries)." In Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011a, p. 341; Marika Sardar in Metropolitan Museum of Art 2011, p. 386, no. 274.
8- Panel from a Tent Lining with a Fantastical Flower. Wheeler, Monroe, "Textiles and Ornaments of India: A Selection of Designs." Exh. cat. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1956, p. 47; Smart, Ellen S., "A Preliminary Report on a Group of Important Mughal Textiles." Textile Museum Journal 25, 1986, p. 14, fig. 18, p. 21, no. 19.
This object is the base of a water pipe, or huqqa. Originally, a pipe for inhalation and a long stem supporting a brazier would have been connected to its neck, and the base would have nestled into a ring that kept it steady on the floor. Few if any complete huqqas survive from this period, and the bases (a few with matching rings) are what are preserved in museums today; the appearance of the full apparatus can be reconstructed only from paintings. Many of the known huqqa bases from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were made in the Deccan and decorated with the type of metal inlay known as bidri.
With its almost spherical shape, short neck, and everted rim, this object is typical of late-seventeenth-century bidri huqqa bases. However, the refined frieze of flowering plants, set against a background lightly sprinkled with blossoms, sets it apart from other, more heavily decorated examples. One might be tempted to see the influence of Mughal aesthetics in the depiction and disposition of elements here. Flowers and plants were the most popular type of decoration for huqqa bases, although several examples depicting architectural fantasies and, later in the eighteenth century, Neoclassical motifs are also known.
Marika Sardar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. See the discussion in Zebrowski 1997, pp. 225–45.