‘Kashmiri Paper Mache Art Form’- An Immense Pride of its People And Their History.

India is always known for its ‘Art’ in the form of paintings, sculpture, pottery, textile art, etc. It is said that Indian art is the resemblance of its culture. ‘Kashmir region’ which is currently divided amongst three countries (India, Pakistan, China) in a territorial dispute is said to be “paradise on the earth”, is not only famous for its beauty but is also known for its inherited art and designs. ‘Kashmiri Art’ is exhibited in form of shawls, carpets, rugs, and probably woodwork and embroidery. The lesser-known Kashmiri- art that the world needs to understand is its ‘Paper Mache Crafts’. The article will provide detail information about it.

Revived By Surabhi showcases jewelry boxes, photo frames, ornamental interior décor items, Christmas decorations made of paper mache art.

What is the meaning of the term ‘Paper Mache’ and where did it originate from?

‘Paper mache’ is a French term which when translated means ‘chewed paper’. This art is said to have originated in China hundreds of years ago. The art was originally known by its Iranian name ‘Kar-i-Qalamdani’ in Kashmir. The word ‘Qalamdani’ means ‘pen case’ and thus initially, this art was only restricted to making pen cases.

What is the History of ‘Paper Mache Crafts’? Who introduced this art form in Kashmir?

The art is originated in Kashmir back to as early as the 15th century (Mughal Era) and the prestige for introducing this art form in Kashmir is believed to go to the eighth ruler of Kashmir, Zain-ul-Abidin. He came across this art during his time as a Kashmiri prince in Samarkand, Central Asia.

Some suggest that the art was introduced in Kashmir by a poet and Sufi saint called Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani during his visit to Kashmir from Iran in the mid 14th century. He brought along with him 700 artisans from Iran who were aware of local Kashmiris various art forms; and paper mache craft was one of them.

What items or products are the outcome of ‘Kashmiri Paper Mache Art form’?

This art form can be observed in various beautiful items such as

jewellery boxes, storage boxes, coasters, bowls, trays, pencil stand. The art is also found in decor items such as vases, miniature hookah pots, photo frames, eggs, small elephants, etc. Further paper-mache is also used for making furniture pieces like stools, small chests and cabinets, and lamps.

Not just for making products, this art has also been adopted to decorate walls in historic places like the Shah-E-Hamden mosque and the Naqshband shrine in Kashmir.

What is the process of making ‘Kashmiri Paper Mache Crafts’?

The process involves two main steps- Sakthsazi (making of the actual item) and Naqashi (the painting and decoration part).

Step 1- Sakthsazi: Firstly, the wastepaper is soaked in water for several days. Further, a mixture of the soaked wastepaper, cloth and the straw of a rice plant is smashed in a stone mortar until the mixture becomes fine pulp. Then, a rice-based glue called ‘Atij’ is combined with this pulp mixture. This mixture is applied to the desired mould and left to dry for few days. After it has dried out, the artwork is separated from the mould and is cut in two halves to separate it from the mould. Later the halves are carefully joined with the help of glue. The consequent object that is obtained is known as ‘Kalib’. This kalib is handed over to women which is known as the process of ‘Pishlawun’. Then, women smoothen out the surface of the artwork with either a stone, baked clay or a wooden file and coat it with a light layer of paint, water, chalk powder and kept dried for few days.

Step 2- Naqashi: Now the object is first covered with thin sheets of butter paper. After covering with butter paper, a thin coat of paint is applied all over the artwork. Here, the object is transformed into the beautiful piece of paper mache handicraft. This process is very intricate and takes 3 days to week. The designs are first drawn free hand on the object and then they are painted with metallic paints to give an effect. The final step involves covering the artwork with a layer of varnish for an added shine.

The process is tedious and time-consuming, but the outcome is worth it. Kashmir takes immense pride in its beautiful paper mache crafts. But it is observed that in past few years its sale is decreasing constantly. Hence, we need to support those local artisans to preserve or conserve such art form. Isn’t this what going “vocal for local” is all about.

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