The traditional occupational groups in Kashmir have been practicing various traditions for generations. Most of their work is done manually, while residing in rural areas. These traditional crafts are a part of their culture, and act as secondary income. Paper Mache is a well-known handicraft, still famous in the European countries.
The introduction of paper mache in the valley is generally attributed to two events – the introduction of the craft by the Sufi Mystic Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani in the 14th century and the development of the craft by the eighth sultan of Kashmir, Sultan Zain-ul- Abadin in the 15th century. It is said that the sultan brought along with him about 700 craftsmen from Samarkand, Central Asia.
The craft form was originally known as Kar-i-Qalamdani, as initially the craft was restricted to pen cases, or Qalamdani. The craft was in popular demand in France and it came to be known as Papier-mâché. It eventually became famous as its anglicized version – Paper Mache.
According to the historical records, the craft was restricted to Srinagar and within the Shia community, a majority of which were Persian immigrants. However, no paper mache survives from this period.
The two aspects of Kashmiri paper mache are Sakhtsazi and Naqashi. The process of making the foundations with paper pulp is called Sakhtsazi. Naqashi is the final stage of the paper mache process and involves the painting and decoration. The motifs and designs involved follow a pattern, and reflect the local geography of the region. The typical motifs are floral settings of rose, iris gul-i-wilayat, or foreign flowers such as carnations, tsunth posh or apple blossom, gul-i-lala, gul-andar-gul, or a flower within a flower, gul-i-hazara or a thousand flowers, gulal or poppy, pamposh or lotus, yambirzal or narcissus, nargis or daffodils, grapes and chinar. Of these various flora depicted, rose is the most prominent. It reflects the local tradition of rose as the king of flowers. While chinar is a favorite with the artisans who prefer raised embossed work or vathlavun.
Image Source: Artist Riyaz
Other motifs are inspired from the other craft traditions of Kashmir such as kaleen or carpet, kashan - a carpet design, jamavar - a type of shawl. Some themes are also inspired from the court life and famous personalities. The stories from the Mughal court, particularly the stories of Nur Jahan are a part of the Mughal designs.
The various motifs intermingle with each other and form completely new motifs in themselves. The motifs are either free flowing, or made as hashiyas. The motifs of Kashmiri paper mache are a symbol of the continuing history of the region. Mostly primary colours are used with many shades gradients. The traditional colours used are reflective of the artist’s preference for pastel shades. These are locally called sufiyana rang. Partaz, or a semi-curved line is a unique feature of this craft. It is the delicate shading done by a fine brush. This technique is also used to fill in the gaps in the background.
The French influence on the traditional craft of Kashmir had its benefits, it increased the demand for Kashmiri paper mache objects in India and abroad. However, it also had its impact on the craft. It changed its colour scheme into a more vibrant and bright palette as well as the designs, which now catered to the demands of different themes.
What began as a craft form from Central Asia eventually absorbed the local traditions, and developed into an indigenous art form similar, yet different from its parent form. The Kashmiri paper mache is an intricate free-hand drawing displaying the flora and fauna of the valley. It is a stylized combination of art and craft, each incomplete without the other. It symbolizes the continuity and change of traditions over the generations.
~ Misha Jaswal
- Context – A special volume on crafts of India Part II
- Indian painting under the Mughals by Percy Brown
- Kashmir paper mache industry by Pt. Anand Kaul