USEEBA BASHIR | 24 MAY, 2018
Silent Death Of Traditional Artforms In Kashmir
Dying Kashmiri artforms
SRINAGAR, MAY: Muhammad Aslam, a lean man in his mid sixties with sharpness for intricate detailing in his eyes, has spent six decades of his life designing fine lines on Papier Mache, in Kashmir. Aslam broods over the threat of extinction of what has been dearly a source of earning to him. Dwelling in a modest house in downtown Srinagar, the sixty and some years old worries that Papier mache will die a silent death, soon.
Kashmir isn’t a mere abode to breathtaking sceneries and picturesque landscapes, but has also been home to imported and indigenous art forms that has seen its admirers all over the globe.
However, a certain shift in the conditions for these art forms, has reduced the process and has taken life out of what used to be identified as the selfhood of Kashmir and Kashmiris.
Papier Mache is an art form of the Middle East and was brought to Kashmir by Muslims from Persia in the 15th century. Based on paper pulp, it is made into a richly decorated and colorful artifact. Untouched by machines, it is most likely the only art that is purely handmade.
The artists associated with the artform have faced huge discouragement by the government. Unable to make a healthy living with the income that the art generates, artisans associated with this craft cry over the government’s apathy to the socio-economic conditions of the artisan community.
Speaking of the hope of revival of the artform, Aslam said, “I have been in this profession all my life and I loved what I did. It became my identity and because of my honesty towards my work, people started to identify me because of the fine work.”
Such handicrafts are also made in other homes and workshops of downtown area in Srinagar and other parts of the Kashmir Valley.
Another native industry that is facing downturn in number of craftsmen and traders is the Copperware Industry. Once an inseparable part of the culture, use of copper made cauldrons and utensils is seeing a steep dip as well. Nisar Ahmed, president of All Kashmir Copper Dealer’s Association, also says that the craft will die because it finds no further takers in the current generation.
Owner of a copperware house, Abdul Gani says that the tradition of cooking and serving in the utensils of copper is very old and an inseparable part of Kashmiri culture. Gani has been carving out copper wares since the last twenty five years and says that it is not a mere profession for him.
People prefer to buy machine made copper utensil which are relatively cheap, ultimately affecting the popularity of this Kashmiri art.“Although the sales being in decline overall find a rise in marriage seasons, but the number of craftsmen is declining. Youngsters do not want to inherit this craft from their fathers.” says Gani.
Hit by rising costs of essential commodities and lack of market interest, Kashmiri potters say that the demand for mud pots has declined over the years.
In north Kashmir’s Baramulla, Abdul Majeed Kumar’s family has been in the business since decades but fears that his children may have to look for other professions.
Recalling the times, when this artform was considered as a potent profession, Kumar said, “pottery works were a part of daily life and used for several auspicious ceremonies in the past but the introduction of modern type of utensils has overshadowed this great art of pottery. Moreover, our new generation is turning to other professions.”