By Mohammad Hanief
Kashmir, paradise on earth, is a place famous for its picturesque beauty. Apart from its abundant and mesmerizing nature, handicrafts add another feather on Kashmir’s cap. The rich culture of handicrafts ubiquitous in Kashmir has been an asset not just for the region but for the entire nation.
Kashmiri handicrafts provide a comprehensive option for visitors to choose from. The traditional artisans painstakingly make handlooms, wood carving, home decors, everything of Kashmir. Tourists always have a satisfactory experience with their souvenir collection, thanks to Kashmiri handicrafts.
The long tradition of handicrafts has been a vital part of the communities in Kashmir. Kashmiri handicrafts’ locus is in the districts of Srinagar, Ganderbal, and Budgam. The rich culture of these places, along with some other neighbourhoods, brings to life the distinctive heritage of the Kashmiri handicrafts.
The unique artistic experiments with shawls, bedsheets, inkstands, boxes, palkis, spoons, and trunks were famous across India and abroad. The art of shawl making was native to Kashmir. The notable hand-crafted works of the traditional artists of Kashmir have come a long way and have become eminent due to their efficiency as high-quality art globally.
Papier Mache is an art form that was cultivated in China. The Chinese paper-modelling art form from the Hans Dynasty travelled far and wide in the wake of craft trade across the globe. The art form came to India in the 14th Century with Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, a Persian mystic.
The Kashmiri style of representing Papier Mache is unique. The intrinsic designs, the colourful dyes, and different objects made with Papier Mache are of the highest quality. There are two steps in making Paper Mache. The first step is called Sakhtsazi, and the second step is called Naqashi.
The fashion of carpet weaving also came to India with Persian travellers. Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin is thought to be the one to bring carpet weavers from Persia and Central Asia to Kashmir, India. The term ‘Kal Baffi’ is used for hand-knotted carpets. The locals of Kashmir took an interest in the art and business and learned the tradition to pass it from generation to generation.
Three main features decide the quality of the carpets: the design, the yarn, and the weaving style. The more complex the delicate works are, the more price it will fetch. The hand-woven carpets and rugs of Kashmir have caught people’s attention from different parts of the world. The Persian style of weaving carpets has become a very intricate part of Kashmiri culture.
Pashmina weaving is probably one of the most famous handicrafts in Kashmir. The name Pashmina inevitably calls to mind the place Kashmir. Pashmina has come a long way from being a piece of clothing protecting people from the extreme cold of Kashmir to becoming a fine luxury item.
Completing a Pashmina product requires a lot of skill and hard work. Retention of the softness of the fabric, deciding colours, selecting a pattern, and finally weaving unique designs all require expert knowledge and skill. The tradition of Pashmina making is quintessential to Kashmir, and the fine quality of the items and its more delicate construction of patterns make Pashmina an asset to Kashmiri handicrafts.
The art of wood carving is essentially a special kind of handicraft. Kashmir houses many artisans who specialize in the art of wood carving. The wood from the walnut trees primitive in Kashmir serves as the base on which artists show their calibre of wood carving. The wood from the walnut tree is very sturdy and is the right choice for producing hard work. Wood carvings result in a lot of products. Willow Wicker Craft, also known as Keani Keam in Kashmir, is a handmade craft involving the weaving of willow reeds.
Willow weaving is a local economic tradition in the valley. While other crafts’ products are mostly used for decoration, the uniqueness of this craft is that a willow product may be used as both a decoration and a domestic utility item to store and transport culinary items on special occasions such as Eid or a wedding ceremony.
Copperware making has long been a part of Kashmiri culture. Historians think that artists and dealers from Iran and Iraq introduced this beautiful craftsmanship about 700 years ago. Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani, an Islamic teacher from Persia, was essential in popularising copperware among the locals, and he brought craftsmen from Central Asia to train locals.
During the reign of King Budshah Zain-ul-Abideen, however, the copperware craft prospered. During the Mughal Empire, Kashmiri metallurgy specialised in the production of cannon barrels and swords. The handles of swords were decorated using techniques such as casting and forging iron, as well as enamelling, or Meenakari as it is generally called. With the demise of the Mughal era at the end of the nineteenth century, Kashmiri metalworkers refocused their expertise on manufacturing vessels, now embellished with Meenakari.
Beautiful household utility and décor abound in Srinagar’s downtown bazaar. Shehr-e-Khaas has been a centre for copperware since the 19th century, with the old markets of Zaina Kadal still maintaining this beautiful craftsmanship. Artistic utensils still adorn the downtown shops today.
Namda refers to a type of matting. Bed covers and mattresses are also made of it. Namdas are most commonly used as traditional matting to decorate homes. Namda creation is a rare and unusual skill that involves felting wool rather than weaving it to create magnificent floor pieces. There is a culture of sitting on the floor in every Kashmiri household, whether it be a royal castle or a humble hut. During the winter months, when the weather is typical, with heavy snowfall, icy cold winds, and sub-zero temperatures, the floor becomes agonisingly cold, and Namda comes to the rescue to create a comfortable sitting arrangement on the floor.
The Namda market is mostly found in Kashmir’s downtown neighbourhoods of Shehr-e-khaas, Anantnag, Rainawari, and Baramulla. For many artisans in the Valley, Namda craft remains their sole source of income.
Kashmiri handicraft holds in different stores kinds of embroidery that catches the eye of tourists and locals both. Following are some of the variant types of embroidery authentic as Kashmiri handicrafts.
Kashmir’s serene nature and rich culture are a source of many traditions of the different communities. Kashmiri handicrafts and their continuous practice for generations show how important handicrafts are. Buying an authentic Kashmiri handicraft will be a long-term investment for the beauty, durability, and uniqueness of the products, which remain for a long time. Kashmiri handicrafts are, therefore, an industry that thrives and grows with each passing day.
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