Kalin ho toh Kashmir Ki: The World of Crafts at Srinagar

Let's dive deep into the intricate world of art and craft of the Valley of Flowers, Kashmir as Srinagar was recently recognized as the World of Craft by the World Craft Council.

Hitanshu Bhatt
New Update
crafts of srinagar

Srinagar, the 'Heaven on Earth" is surrounded by picturesque landscapes, laden with carpets, flourishing with paper-mache craft, ever-unwinding pashmina shawls, lustrous with wooden willow bats and intricate walnut woodwork. These crafts of the place make it a place of artistic reverence along with the beautiful destinations it beholds. And definitely, after it is declared as the "World of Craft" by the World Craft Council (WCC). The place got this recognition as it is known for its rich heritage and exceptional skills worldwide. After it got the tag of UNESCO Creative City for Crafts in 2021, this is another milestone in Srinagar's feather which embraces its craft. This is the fourth Indian city after Jaipur, Malappuram and Mysore that has been selected under this category by the WCC. As of now, at least 10 different forms of craftsmanship survive in Srinagar and its suburbs, including paper mache, walnut wood carving, carpets, Sozni embroidery and Pashmina and Kani shawls. Although these crafts are tagged as Kashmiri, all of them are housed in Srinagar as it is the epicentre. Let's have a look at each and know their history.

Pashmina Shawls 

pashmina shawl
Image Courtesy: Authindia

Whenever one thinks of Kashmir, the Pashmina Shawl or Shahmina is one of the crafts of the place that crosses their mind. Believed to have originated in the Mughal era in the 16th Century, Pashmina is considered one of the finest craftsmanship, not only in India but the world over. Deriving its name from the fleece of the Changthangi goat which is known as 'Pashm' which is an Urdu word and has its origins in Farsi. The thing that makes this shawl a premium product is the availability of the goat only in a few regions of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir, at above 15,000 feet (above sea level). 

The pashmina wool is extracted from the goat's downy undercoat, with the colder conditions yielding the highest quality wool. The fibres are remarkably thin, with a diameter of just 12 microns, making them six times finer than a human hair. It takes the wool of one goat to make a single scarf, and three goats to produce enough wool for a shawl. But what makes it more intricate is the labour-intensive technique and time-consuming process. The local weavers go 15,000 feet above sea level in extreme conditions to spot the goats and comb their hair to collect the hair required to weave the shawl. Once the hair is collected, the fibre is separated from the coarser hair and sent to cottage industries for further spinning and preparing the silk mostly on hand looms. The shawls are then washed with natural soap and entrusted to the dye. The dye master and assistant hold the shawl for hours above the dye pot for the colour to seep in. After drying, the shawls are crafted for their tassels by fringe experts. If patterns are required to be printed on the shawls, the process is carried on further or else it goes under inspection and is ready to be sold. Some shawls are so thin that they can be passed through a wedding ring giving them a special name 'Ring Shawls' 

Kani Shawls

kani shawls
Image Courtesy: Gaatha

Another notable shawl that sprawls over the entire India and the world is the Kani shawl. This shawl originates from the Kanihama area of Kashmir Valley, getting its name from the region. 'Kani' in Kashmiri also means a small wooden oblong spool. Although these shawls are woven from the pashmina yarn, instead of a shuttle used in regular pashmina shawls, these shawls use needles made from cane or wood. The distinguishable, Mughal patterns, usually of flowers and leaves, are woven into the fabric like a carpet, thread by thread, based on the coded pattern called 'Talim'. The talim guides the weaver in the number of warp threads to be covered in a particular coloured weft. The designer who creates the patterns is known as the Naqash

Kal Baffi or the Kashmiri Carpets

kashmiri carpet
Image Courtesy: Kashmir Observer

Kalin ho toh Kashmir Ki” (If it's a carpet, it has to be from Kashmir) totally stands true to its statement as you get carpets like Kashmir in no other parts of India. These hand-knotted carpets locally known as "Kal Baffi" date back to the 15th century. According to legends, Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin brought them from Persia to train the local weavers of Kashmir and today they have become master weavers of this carpet. These carpets are made either in silk or wool and take 200 to 900 knots per square inch to be made. The looms used in making these carpets are composed of two horizontal wooden beams between which the wrapped threads are stretched. These carpets have different designs and patterns inspired by the classic Persian and Central Asia rugs. 

Papier-mache or Paper Mache

papier mache
Image Courtesy: Kashmir Online 

Papier-mache, among the many famous handicrafts of Kashmir, is an age-old craft that was introduced by Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, who arrived from Persia with skilled craftsmen in the 14th century. Papier-mache is a French word that means chewed paper and the process of making it involves two steps: Sakhtsazi and Naqashi. Sakhtasazi, the initial stage of preparation, includes making of the figurine from a mixture of paper pulp with the help of rice straw and copper sulfate. In the final step of Naqashi, several coats of paint are applied and the figurine is decorated. Natural colours are often used to colour these products. Different kinds of products are then made with this mache and feature a wide range of intricate designs and depictions of Kashmir flora and fauna in their decorations. Some of them are Kashmiri symbols like the chinar leaf and almond shapes. 

Walnut Wood Carving 

Kashmir walnut wood carving
Image Courtesy: Dawn 

Walnut Wood Carving of Kashmir is another cherished art form of the place. Kashmir is one of the very few places in the world where walnuts are available at 5500-7500 feet above sea level. Sourced from the Kashmir valley, the wood from the walnut tree (Juglans regia) is prized for its durability, fine grain, and rich colour, making it ideal for intricate carving. If we look at the history, this carving dates back to the 15th century, with influences from Central Asian and Persian art forms, introduced by artisans who came to the region. The process involves skilled artisans using traditional tools to chisel and carve intricate designs into the wood. This is done by hand, with motifs often inspired by nature, such as flowers, leaves, vines, and animals.

Kashmir Willow Cricket Bats 

kashmir willow bat
Image Courtesy: Foresta 

Worldwide, two types of wood are used to make cricket bats: Kashmir Willow and English Willow. The Kashmiri bats are excellent, even if the majority of professional players choose the former and consider it to be the more expensive option. Willows, known as Veer in Kashmiri, grow in clumps beside the picturesque streams and brooks that meander across this hilly terrain. Where there is adequate moisture, the tree can grow with ease. Although these bats are native to England they were purposely grown by the Britishers in the valley of Kashmir, owing to the popularity of cricket in India so that they don't have to import them from England. This production took a pace and now Kashmir is the second largest producer of bats after England and every player starts their cricketing career with these bats. 

These arts and crafts are not only art forms but a symbol of Kashmiri identity and heritage.

Ring Shawls World of Craft Kani Shawls handicrafts of Kashmir Kal Baffi Kashmir Willow Cricket Bats Walnut Wood Carving of Kashmir Kashmiri Carpets pashmina shawls Sakhtsazi and Naqashi