Jammu and Kashmir is not only home to the vast cultural and ethnic diversity but also the myriad arts and crafts that have been carefully nurtured for the centuries. A variety of motifs, techniques and crafts flourished in the land as the people from different regions flocked through this beautiful place and many of the skilled craftsmen decided to settle amidst its charming abundance of natural beauty. With time, these arts have gained even more distinctiveness and today Kashmir is known for woolen textiles, Pashmina shawls, embroidered suits, Kashmir silk saris, papier mache, woodcarving, hand knotted carpets and lots of other traditional crafts.
Kashmiri carpets are world renowned for two things - they are hand made
and they are always knotted, never tufted. The yarn used normally is
silk, wool or silk and wool. Woolen carpets always have a cotton base
while silk usually have cotton base. Sometimes however, if the base is
also in silk then the cost increases proportionately. Occasionally,
carpets are made on a cotton base, mainly of woolen pile with silk yarn
used as highlights on certain motifs. The soothing blend of colors makes
the Kashmiri carpet a prized possession.
Carpet weaving in Kashmir was not originally indigenous but is thought
to have come in by way of Persia. Till today most designs are distinctly
Persian with local variations. One example, however, of a typical
Kashmiri design is the tree of life. The colors of Kashmiri carpets are
more subtle and muted than elsewhere in the country. The knotting of the
carpet is the most important aspect, determining its durability and
value, in addition to its design. Basically, the more knots per square
inch, the greater its value and durability. Also there are single and
double-knotted carpets. A single knotted carpet is fluffier and more
resistant to touch.
Far less expensive are these colorful floor coverings made from woolen
and cotton fiber, which has been manually pressed into shape. Prices
vary with the percentage of wool - a Namda containing 80% wool being
more expensive than one containing 20% wool. Chain stitch embroidery in
woolen and cotton thread is worked on these rugs.
Besides at least three different grades of Papier Mache, there are some
cheaper versions in cardboard or wood available too. To make Papier
Mache, first paper is soaked in water till it disintegrates. It is then
pounded, mixed with an adhesive solution, shaped over moulds, and
allowed to dry and set before being painted and varnished. Paper that
has been pounded to pulp has the smoothest finish in the final product.
The designs painted on objects of Papier Mache are brightly colored.
They vary in artistry and the choices of colors. Gold is used on most
objects, either as the only color, or as the highlight for certain
motifs, and besides the finish of the product, it is the quality of the
gold used which determines the price.
Pure Gold leaf, which has the unmistakable luster, is far more
expensive than bronze dust or gold poster paint but also has much longer
life and will never fade or tarnish. Varnish, which is applied to the
finished product, imparts a high gloss and smoothness, which increases
with every coat. Cardboard, usually indistinguishable from Papier Mache,
gives slightly when pressed firmly.
There are three fibers from which the Kashmiri shawls are made - Wool,
Pashmina and Shahtoosh. Woolen shawls being are the cheapest while the
Shahtoosh are the most expensive ones. Woolen shawls are popular because
of the embroidery, worked on them, which is a specialty to Kashmir. Both
embroidery and the type of wool used causes differences in price.
Many kinds of embroidery are worked on shawls - 'sozni' or needlework
is generally done in a panel along the sides of the shawl. Motifs,
usually abstract designs or stylized paisleys and flowers are worked in
one or two, occasionally three colors, all subdued. Another type of
needle embroidery is popularly known as Papier Mache work because of the
design and the style in which it is executed. This is done either in
broad panels or either side of the breadth of a shawl, or covering the
entire surface of a shawl. Ari or hook embroidery; motifs are well-known
flower design finely worked in concentric rings of chain stitch.
Pashmina shawls are unmistakably soft and its yarn is spun from the
hair of the ibex found at 14,000 ft above the sea level. Although pure
Pashmina is expensive, sometimes blending it with rabbit fur or with
wool brings down the cost. Shahtoosh is the legendary 'ring shawl',
renowned for its lightness, softness and warmth. The astronomical price
it commands in the market is due to the scarcity of raw material. High
in the plateaux of Tibet and the eastern part of Ladakh, at an altitude
of above 5,000 meters, roam Pantholops Hodgosoni or Tibetan antelope.
During grazing, a few strands of the downy hair from the throat are shed
and it is these, which are painstakingly collected until there are
enough for a shawl.
Yarn is spun either from Shahtoosh alone, or with Pashmina to bring
down the cost. In the case of pure Shahtoosh too, there are many
qualities - the yarn can be spun so skillfully as to resemble a strand
of silk. Not only are shawls made from such fine yarn extremely
expensive, they can only be loosely woven and are too flimsy for
embroidery to be done on them. Unlike woolen or Pashmina shawls,
Shahtoosh is seldom dyed. Its natural color is mousy brown, and it is,
at the most, sparsely embroidered.
Chain Stitch and Crewel Furnishings
Chain stitch, be it in wool, silk or cotton, is done by hook rather
than any needle. Because of the high quality of embroidery done on wall
hangings and rugs, Kashmiri crewelwork is in great demand all over the
world. All the embroidery is executed on white cotton fabric, pre-shrunk
by the manufacturers. The intrinsic worth of each piece lies in the size
of the stitches and the yarn used.
Saffron, Walnuts, Almonds, Honey
Pampore, outside Srinagar, is the only place in the world besides Spain
where saffron is grown. It is the most expensive spice in the world.
Sealed jars of this Spice, with the Government laboratory's stamp
approval, are available all over Srinagar. The climate of Kashmir is
ideal for walnut and almond trees, which grow here in abundance. Natural
honey too, is a produce of the apiaries, which abound in the state.
Tweed is woven in Kashmir with pure, never blended, wool. The resultant
fabric competes favorably with the best fabric in the world. Sericulture
is another important industry of the state. The cocoon reared in Kashmir
is of the superior quality, yielding an extremely fine fiber, and any
silk woven from this thread becomes known. The fineness of the yarn
lends itself particularly well to the weaves known as 'chinon' and
'crepe de chine', in addition to the universally recognized silk weave.
Interestingly, just as little or no raw material for tweed comes from
Kashmir, almost no weaving and printing of silk is done in the state.
This garment seems to be fusion of a coat and a cloak and is loose
enough to admit the inevitable brazier of live coals, which is carried
around in much the same way as a hot water bottle. Men's pherans are
always made of tweed or coarse wool while women's pherans, somewhat more
stylized, are most commonly made of raffel with splashes of ari or hook
embroidery at the throat, cuffs and edges. The quality of embroidery and
thickness of the raffel determines the price.
Willow rushes that grow profusely in marshes and lakes of Kashmir are
used to make charmingly attractive objects such as shopping baskets,
lampshades, tables and chairs and are generally inexpensive. To increase
their life span, unvarnished products should be chiseled and frequently
sprayed with water, particularly in hot, dry climates, to prevent them
from being brittle.
Kashmir is the only part of India where the walnut tree grows. Its
color, grains and inherent sheen are unique and unmistakable, and the
carving and fret work that is done on this wood is of a very superior
quality. There are two types of walnut trees - the fruit bearing species
whose wood is so well known, and one that bears no fruit and is locally
known as 'zangul'. Zangul has none of the beauty of walnut wood, being
much less strong and possessing no grain while the walnut wood is almost
black and its grains are much more pronounced than the wood of the
trunk, which is lighter in color. The branches have the lightest color,
being almost blonde and have no noticeable grain. The intrinsic worth of
the wood from each part of the tree differs - that from the root being
the most expensive and the branches having the lowest price.
A cheaper product is liable to warp, or in case it is taken to warmer
climes, will crack or shrink. Knots are usually concealed skillfully in
the sawing, as it is difficult, though not impossible, to mask them
while carving. Carving is the demonstration of the carver's skill, and
walnut is eminently suitable for this, being one of the strongest
varieties of wood.
There are several varieties of carving-deep carving usually with dragon
or lotus flower motifs, two inches deep or more; shallow carving, half
an inch deep done all over the flat surface; open or lattice work,
usually depicting the Chinar motif; and most popularly, semi carving,
which is a thin panel along the rim of a surface, with perhaps a Centre
motif. The advantage of the semi-carving is that it allows the grain of
wood to be displayed, together with the carver's skill. Naturally deep
carving with all the skill and labor required is the most expensive.
Copper and Silverware
Shops in local market of the old city abound with objects of copper
lining the walls, the floor and even the ceiling. One can see craftsmen
engraving objects of household utility like samovars, bowls, plates and
trays. There are floral, stylized, geometric, leaf and even calligraphic
motifs that are engraved or embossed on copper, and occasionally silver,
to cover the entire surface with intricate designs which are then
oxidized, the better to stand out from the background. The work known as
'naqash' determines the price of the object, as does the weight.
kashmir has a great tradition of arts and handicrafts. Find more....