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. Let us find out more about the Kashmiri handicrafts with a brief introduction about their origin.
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. 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.
Now let us see the various types of Kashmiri handicrafts.
Art of Papier Mache
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.
Sakhtsazi is the foundational step that requires moulding the paper pulp into the desired shape or object. Naqashi is the step of decorating the Papier Mache. The common themes of Naqashi are Kashmiri symbols like almonds, chinar leaf, and other designs like jungle motifs, flowers, and box patterns. A distinctive story is painted on the objects. The viewers are drawn to the precision of the details. Tourists can choose their favourite design and bring back an authentic souvenir to decorate their homes.
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.
Kashmiri carpets are an essential form of Kashmiri handicrafts. The weavers put in a lot of hours to complete one carpet. Each carpet has an average of 200 to 900 knots per square inch with beautiful patterns. The speciality of these carpets is their choice of fabric, embroidery, and colour combination. The materials of the carpets are either wool or silk. The lengths of the thread or yarn decide the distinction between a carpet and woven rugs.
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.
Pashmina is indigenous to Kashmir. The Himalayan Mountain goat produces the fleece for Pashmina. The people of Kashmir were the first to present such products. Srinagar is the hub for producing Pashmina products. Many varieties of Pashmina are available for both locals and tourists. Sarees, shawls, scarves, and even wraps are famous Pashmina items. The entire work on the cloth is handmade. Artists put a lot of effort to come up with authentic and vibrant designs on the pieces. The makers need to pay particular attention to ensure that the softness of the fabric remains intact through the different stages of developing the raw wool.
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.
Wood Carvings of Kashmir
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. Wood carvings produce large objects like study tables, dining tables, nightstands, cabinets, and beds. Smaller items like jewellery cases, pen stands, trays, bowls, spoons, and other decorative items are a good choice for tourists to take back home. The effort the artisans put into these wood carvings is visible from the delicacy of their works. The colour and layering of the pieces serve crucial roles to bring to life such a diligent handicraft.
Wood carvings have been in the art industry of Kashmir for a long time, and the use of the indigenous walnut wood makes the wood carvings even more authentic to the place. It is indeed a pleasure for the eye to view so many patterns on a piece of wood carved by the hand.
Willow Wicker Craft, also known as Keani Keam in Kashmir, is a handmade craft involving the weaving of willow reeds.
Basket weaving is one of the world’s oldest crafts, and it’s still popular in this country. The most common wood used is willow, and one of the most characteristic products of this artform is kangri, a wicker basket used to transport clay pots filled with blazing coal that locals keep warm under their flowing pherans throughout the frigid winter. Most Kashmiri basketry is made up of circular, spherical, or cylindrical artefacts of caskets and containers that come in a variety of forms and sizes. The most colourful and frequent baskets are those used by snake-charmers. They’re also used for storing Chapaatis, storing veggies, or carrying loads of trinkets, unspun cotton clothing, and so on.
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.
Basholi painting is a renowned miniature school of painting recognised for its vibrant colours, powerful lines, and deep-set facial patterns. In the 17th and 18th centuries, this painting style was at its peak. Basholi (Basoli) is a town in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state, located in the Kathua district. Raja Bhupat Pal founded it in the 16th century. Basholi paintings are the first school of Pahari paintings, with many of them evolving into the considerably more elaborate and widespread Kangra painting school. Although Raja Bhupat Pal is often acknowledged as the inventor of the Basholi paintings, their origins are uncertain.
The Basholi Paintings are notable for their flawless geometrical designs, vibrant colours, and shiny enamel. The hues are always bright, with ochre yellow, brown, and green being the most common. The characters in the paintings are dressed lavishly, with stylized faces and wide protruding eyes, giving them a distinct personality. Portraits of local kings, Hindu gods, characters from Hindu mythology, Radha-Krishna, Madhava-Malati love themes, and motifs from the Bhagavata Purana are all common themes in Basohli paintings.
Basholi paintings require difficult-to-find Veale paper or an ivory sheet for canvas, as well as special squirrel hair brushes, Kalmunha bird feathers, and colours produced from dried leaves, flowers, beetle wings, and khadiya dirt. Artists utilise 24-carat gold and pure silver for ornamental purposes. It is stated that the dexterity and precision necessary to create a tiny portrait is so high that a magnifying lens can detect strands of hair on a subject’s head!
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. Silver jewellery, brass, and copperware such as service pots, jugs, and trays were all given this treatment. The finely crafted copper utensils are used not just for cooking and serving food in households, but also at weddings and other gatherings with huge crowds. Taesh Naer, Tream and Samovar are some of the most regularly utilised items.
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.
Rather than weaving, Namda is created by felting wool. The procedure is quite fascinating. On a grass mat or jute mat, wool is spread uniformly in a thick layer and soap water is abundantly sprinkled. The wool used here could be white or coloured. The mat is then tightly coiled, fastened with a rope, and crushed by rolling it back and forth on the floor with hands and feet. This procedure takes roughly one hour to complete. This permits the fibres to fuse together, a process known as ‘fibre to fibre’ fusion. After then, the rope is undone and the mat is unrolled to reveal the well-shaped Namda. The gorgeous Kashmiri Aari Embroidery is then applied to this plain Namda. To make a patterned namda, artisans need to felt in the namda fiber in the design themselves.. This necessitates a two-step felting procedure. A pattern is first laid out on the grass or jute mat, which is then covered in wool and dispersed uniformly with the use of a broom known as ‘’manzyen’ in the area. The mat is then rolled out and the same process of sprinkling soap water and rolling it out is repeated. Untying it shows a lovely Namda with colourful patterns all over it.
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.
Samba, a little town around 40 kilometres from Jammu on the Jammu Pathankot route, is famed for its Calico printing, also known as Block Printing. Vegetable colour printing on handwoven cotton cloth with the use of wooden blocks is used as cool, comfy floor/bed covers and is in high demand. Designed blocks with vegetable colours are used to create prints on bedsheets, quilt covers, table linen, and cushion coverings, among other things.
Calico printing is extremely popular. Masnads and Jamas, handblocked and printed by local artists, have always been in high demand. With their appealing floral and geometric colourful motifs and quick hues, the prints have a ready market both within and outside of the state. The craft, which had been in decline in the years following partition, has now been revitalised, and demand has begun to pick up again. The Department of Handicrafts’ training centres in district Samba are assisting in the provision of extra skilled hands and the broadening of the craft’s base by introducing new designs alongside traditional ones.
Majith (Indian Red), Navtati (red), Haldi (yellow), and Neel (Blue) were among the indigenous dyes used in Calico printing. Expert hands stepped in long ago, using actual silver and gold leaves, to make special Sonahri (golden) and Rupehri (silver) printing at Samba.
Embroidery of Kashmir
Most of the Kashmiri handicrafts have one thing in common, which is embroidery. Special attention to the patterns on the wood and embroidery on fabrics have been of importance to artisans of Kashmir.
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.
Crewel embroidery requires a special kind of hook for making draperies and upholstery. The speciality of this type of embroidery lies in its needlework variety. The hook makes rows of chains of stitches which is the pattern. The usual designs of flower motifs are popular for such works.
Silk and cotton were the exclusive materials for Earlier crewel embroidery. Artisans now have become more adaptive to applying their skill to fabrics like jute, velvet, and linen. Materials that are comfortable for home décor products like curtains, pillow covers, cushions, and bedsheets are the rage for crewel embroidery.
Kashmiri Sozni crafts are another famous style of embroidery. Persia is thought to be the roots of this embroidery work. The artists are called ‘sozankars’ who practice this form of embroidery. Sozni embroidery has a very aesthetic appeal in its works. The rich combination of reinforced and straightforward stitches results in a fascinating piece of art.
‘Buti’ is the dominant motif of Sozni embroidery. It is a representation of a bent tip of a flower or an almond. Other common motifs are geometric patterns and inspirations from the abundant nature of Kashmir. The quality of the Sozzani embroidery varies. The highest quality works are where a darker thread outlines the motif, and different shades fill up the insides without leaving any gap. The fabric may be silk or Pashmina for the highest quality of Sozzani embroidery. It usually takes an artist a month to finish a stunning product of Sozzani embroidery.
Chain stitch carpets, also known as “Jalakdozi” are a Kashmir specialty. These rugs are manufactured with a hook type instrument natively called “hessain cloth” on “Aurah” or hand made cotton cloth, in continuous stitch with superior woollen or silken yarn.
The craftsman embroiders in two-ply or three-ply woollen/silken yarn, and the motifs span from floral patterns to animal and human forms traced by a designer. The texture replaces the pile in the rug, giving it the appearance of a carpet. Chainstitch rugs can be utilised on the floor or as a wall hanging.
All of the embroideries is done on white cotton fabric that has already been pre-shrunk by the manufacturer. The size of the stitches and the yarn is chosen to determine the inherent value of each piece. The entire area is covered in tiny stitches; the figures or motifs are stitched in vibrant colours; the background is a single colour, made up of a series of coin-sized concentric circles that give the pattern vitality and movement. Stitches should be small, even, and tidy. The stitches should not show through the backdrop cloth.
They are usually is available in 2×3, 3×5, 6×4, 6×9, and 9×12 foot sizes.
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.