Kashmir’s 700-year-old papier mâché craft dying

Srinagar, Aug 05: The 700-year-old art brought by Hazrat Shah-e-Hamdan (RA) to Kashmir is on the verge of disappearing as very few people are associated with it.

Paper moulding is an art or craft that involves moulding raw paper pulp into aesthetically pleasing objects and this Kashmiri art form, while similar to the well-known papier mâché techniques that involve the unique style of beating the object into a shape that is a smooth-surfaced and colourful artifact.

There were hundreds of people associated with this basic form of papier mâché, however, the number has reduced to just a few dozen people who are carrying this dying art.

Mohammad Younis Shah, 42, a known paper mâché artist from the Nowpora area of Srinagar said this art in Kashmir is known as ‘Chaetikaem’ which is followed by Naqashi or Kalamkari. He said hundreds of people were associated with this art for centuries.

“Most people left this art after duplicate things were used which led to the decline in the demand,” Shah said.

We are originally doing papier mâché craft but due to unknown reasons, the local government has given it the name of ‘Sakhtasazi’ while the Central government has been treating it as papier mâché, he said. Papier mâché is indeed called ‘Chewed Paper’ or ‘Mashed Paper’ throughout the world, he added.

As per the experts, there are two important aspects of Kashmiri papier mâché – Paper mâché and Naqashi. The first step, papier mâché, involves making the foundation of the paper figurine or object with paper pulp, while Naqashi is the final step of painting and decoration. Naqashi is always subjective to the demand of the product. Some customers don’t like Naqashi and they prefer raw paper mâché and simple colours.

They said that in the papier mâché stage, the paper pulp is soaked in water for three or four days. “It is then put in a stone mortar and ground so that all of the paper is uniform in its consistency. The pulp gets left in the sun to dry before being mixed with atji, a kind of rice glue,” they said, adding, “A mold made of clay or wood allows the artist to shape the paper and glue mixture around it. The paper is taken off the mold before it is completely dry, and then shaped and lacquered to make the outside smooth.”

After the item has gone through the smoothing process, a thin layer of butter paper protects the outside and will eventually keep the outer layer of paint from cracking off the finished product, they said

“During the Naqashi stage, a base coat of paint is applied. Then the artist makes their design by hand on the outside of the papier mâché object, which means no Kashmiri papier mâché item is the same,” they added.

Younis, who has 13 more persons with him in the papier mâché work, claimed that he is facing problems outside Jammu & Kashmir when people see his card. They often question Sakht’ and the government must directly write it on paper mâché.

He said some educated youths have started a private company “Say Crafts Pvt Ltd” where he along with his 13 other artisans are working to eliminate the intermediate issues who give peanuts to artists. “But the market as of now is very down; however, as the number of foreign tourists has increased in the last few months, we are expecting the market to be better in the coming time,” he said.

This craft is very easy to start as the craftsmen don’t require anything to start it. Being eco-friendly, the foreigners love it very much, he added.

Shah said they have been trying to adopt new technologies to make useful items so that the craft will have domestic and international customers.

“The number of people associated with this craft is decreasing but we are planning to train some orphans so as keep this art alive, Younis said, adding. “As of now, I have been training some people here and will continue to train more and more to continue this art.”.kno

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