By | Syed Safa Chishti
Papier mâché or paper mache is a popular crafting technique that uses mashed wet bits of paper pulp in large amounts which are later glued together to shape and mound into variety of objects like vase, boxes etc. Adhesives are used to further wet the paper surface to act as a binding agent. The objects are then kept for drying naturally. Once the outer shell dries into a hardened surface, artisans then work on them to decorate and paint then to beautify their outer appearances. Two sets of artisans are involved mainly in the production. The Sakhtasaz and the Naqash. The Sakhtasaz prepares the objects using the paper pulp while the Naqash decorates and paints these ornaments into final products.
Paper mache’s rich history in Kashmir dates back to 15th century and is said to be introduced by Sultan Zain-ul-Abedin who introduced many skilled artisans and craftsmen to teach the locals about these skills. The interior of the Shah Hamdan is a prime example of such skill inherited by the Kashmiris from the emperor’s then brought artist in Kashmir. The craft later propagated to European countries after some European visitors and the French shawl traders began using the heavily decorated and highly prized paper mache boxes as packaging boxes for fine Kashmiri shawls.
Maqbool Jan accredits Christmas for bringing the Kashmiri art and Christian festival together . “What could be more beautiful than to witness a day brought forth from an outcome of an art, which was handed down to our generation by Kashmiri Emperor Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani and the teachings learnt by Christians from their messenger Jesus Christ centuries ago? The result of these two entirely different teachings, shining together is today”
Jan also believes that his customers, more significantly Christians celebrating and the tourists visiting his shop have made his year end on a great note for him. “Holiday for an artisan is a treat mainly because of the tourists who visit us. They bring us opportunities that seldom our government misses to focus upon. Every state is recognized by their culture. Even without any proper industry in this sector, it is an artisan keeping Ali Hamdani’s art alive and our customers visiting us who further propagate this art to their states, giving us more recognition to support our livelihoods on a larger scale” , Jan added.
Jan further point out that for a Kashmiri artist, the role that paper mache plays in their lives is incompressible. “Every artisan is alive is until the brush is in their hands. Art and artist cannot be separated. It holds the highest position in our lives. This is not just work for us, this is our shrine. Our means to survival”, he declares.
Rahman Khan (name changed) owns a showroom that displays his pieces on paper mache ornaments near Maulana Azad road, at Lal Chowk. The beginning of his work selling paper mache dates back to 1952, almost five years after independence. Rahman expresses his gratitude to the people celebrating Christmas that makes his business scalable in by the end of every year. “Our work schedule has gone up amazingly in the last few days. People come here to decorate their homes, buy decors like vase, jewelry boxes etc. Earlier the art was only confined to Kashmir and Kashmiri people, but the visitation during Christmas holiday at this time of the year is proving out to be very beneficial to us”
Khan highlights that the hustle of the festival in his showroom was evident since last month. “People celebrating Christmas buy paper mache balls, decorated eggs, bells gift items early on to ready their Christmas trees. Our sales go higher during summer in May-June and now November-December too makes a big contribution to it. We keep our stockpiled up for the end of the year to host our Christian customers” Khan said.
Sarwar Hussain, own his artifact showroom at Hawal Zadibal. Overwhelmed with contentment by the response of customers, Sarwar feels paper mache has reached the highest peak of its fame and deserves more in the coming years ahead. “The feedback has been well from our customers this year. Our sales have also gone higher everywhere especially in Europe. People from Kashmir, India and foreigners have bought our brought paper machie products this year”
In order to beautify their pine trees for Christmas, customers have bought a vast amount of items from his showroom too like, Christmas balls, hanging items like stars, lighting pieces ,bell, shimmers shaped in stars, moons , coaster set, vase, hanging birds etc.
Sarwar believes that paper machie items usually sold outside Kashmir in Christmas brings the great opportunities for the employees and entrepreneurs linked with this art . “Shipments in paper machie products are high in Christmas season so it benefits the local artists as well”. He further adds, “We usually do our work according to the theme and the required demand from our customers. That forms the basis for our sales. That’s how we prepared early on for Christmas too. Customers feel satisfied and delighted too because they receive their items as per their desires and helps us overall too”
The year ends on a cheerful and hopeful note as Christmas lauds both, Christians celebrating and artisans of this intricately designed ornament hailed as paper mache to a new beginning.
Syed Safa Chishti is Srinagar based journalist working with Inside Kashmir. She is Currently pursuing Masters in Mass Communication and Journalism at IUST
Photos have been captured by Firdous Parray is PG Student of Journalism and Mass Communication at Islamic University of Science and Technology Awantipora