Crafting Creative Cruise

Artisans urge Govt to go beyond tours, safaris to bring back the lost glory of dying crafts
Crafting Creative Cruise
Representational Pic

For Muhammad Yusuf Muran, a deaf and mute, woodcarving artisan, life has been a struggle to finish off the luxury pieces of art.

Muran has been doing walnut wood carving for over 40 years and is said to be one of the last artisans left in Kashmir, who is mastered to do the luxury pieces, costing from 5 lakh to 50 and above.

“Muhammad Yusuf sb has been probably the only artisan left who has been doing the luxury pieces of walnut wood art,” says, Mudasir Muran, nephew of master artisan, Muran.

“He has been doing this art for over 40 years. There was a time when we used to sell several of these luxury pieces a day,” he says. “The situation and status for this art and craft has changed tremendously. We have been making several efforts but a lot is to be changed.”

Jammu and Kashmir Department of Handicrafts and Handloom has been organising a series of craft safari tours in the downtown area of Srinagar in order to boost Kashmir art and promote artisans’ work.

Walnut wood carving is an ornamental and delicate craft process that is unique to Kashmir due to the concentration of walnut trees in this region. Carved walnut wood-work is among the most important crafts of Kashmir. Kashmir is now one of the few places across the world—where walnut is still available at an altitude of 5500–7500 feet above sea level.

“The wood is hard and durable, it’s close grain and even texture facilitating fine and detailed work. It also presents visually interesting effects with mere plain polished surfaces,” Muran says.

Walnut wood carving is believed to have been introduced in Kashmir by Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom (RA) during Zainul Abdideen’s rein in the 15th century. The king promoted the art to improve the valley’s economy.

Mudasir, who also runs his company with the name of Paradise Wood House, says he communicates with his uncle through their dedicated signage. “We have several of our designs and then we keep changing the designs as per the requirement. My Uncle and other artisans start the work and then we keep finetuning it with the passage of time,” he says.

He says that there were several issues confronting the trade as there is still no Seasoning Plant where production could be processed.

“Facilities have been upgraded across Jammu and Kashmir. For bulk production we need to have facilities readily available,” he says, adding “Besides this airport makeover and making of creative selfie points is the need of the hour.”

The artisans at various other workshops in Downtown in Srinagar, urged the government to go beyond tours, safaris and workshops to bring back the lost glory of dying crafts.

“Mahmood sb has taken some really nice initiatives by reaching out to the artisan community of Kashmir. However the government must go beyond tours, safaris, workshops and photoopps to bring back the lost glory of these dying crafts,” Shameema, a Sozni artisan says.

The Kashmir craftsmen rejoice in carving intricate and varied designs. A variety of carved products bear recurrent motifs of the rose, lotus, iris, bunches of grapes, pears and chinar leaves. Dragon motifs and patterns taken from kani and embroidered shawls all find their place in wooden objects with deep relief carving. The unique and amazing hand works of artisans are famous across the globe and have a good international market. But for the last thirty years of insurgency and overall disturbing atmosphere Kashmir art and artisan community faces a lot of hardships.

‘Situation & shrinking productivity’

Few other artisans at the Muran’s workshop also echoed the similar opinion. They say that with the onset of COVID wave and worsening of situation in Kashmir, the artisan community suffered a lot as there were very few high-end customers coming this way to buy the products.

“Kashmir is a major potential area. If we know how to tap of our own community, we have a major market at our doorsteps,” say Ghulam Muhammad, an artisan. “The craft was initially limited to the creation of elaborate palaces and houses, Maharaja Palaces.”

He says that if you`1 travel across the Kashmir region, one would find fine-tuned wood carvings, papier machie and other crafts, and elaborates wood carvings at the shrines, historical Masjids etc.

The raw material used for the fine wood carving of Kashmir is obtained from a walnut tree locally known as ‘Doon-e-Kul’ and is cut only once it matures.

Meanwhile during this craft safari tour, the Director Handicrafts and Handlooms, Kashmir, along with other officials, tour operators, hoteliers, houseboat owners, businessmen and civil society members visited many workshops where the artisan community is doing their daily craftwork. The officials say that tourists also visit the workshops including wood carving, crewel working, chain stitches, Sozni caps made by pashmina and spinning units where women prepare cotton for pashmina shawls.

In a bid to revive the old aged rich crafts, the Jammu and Kashmir government started a unique type of activity titled craft tours or craft safari walk in old Srinagar where such type of artwork is going on and maximum artisan communities are living there. Srinagar city recently made an entry in United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) list through old aged rich cultural, traditional art and craft.

'Handholding Artisans’

Director, Handicraft and Handlooms, Kashmir, Mahmood Ahmad Shah told Greater Kashmir that so much was needed to uplift the traditional artisans Downtown and other areas. He says the government with the support of civil society at large, would be able to achieve the goal of promoting and preserving the traditional crafts of Kashmir region.

"Srinagar city is very famous culturally and traditionally and this old aged rich craft has huge importance. Recently Srinagar city made an entry into the UNESCO heritage list due to its art and craft. So the purpose of this special craft safari is to restore the glory of this centuries-old and rich art and promote Kashmir art and artisan community,” he said. He says as Kashmir is a tourist place it was important to promote and show diversity in art and craft in the valley. Such kinds of tours empower artisans to work.

"We are taking efforts to educate tourists, visitors and locals about the efforts these artisans put in by involving tour and travel fraternity and tourism department," says Shah.

Meanwhile the artisan community also appreciated the department of handicraft to start this unique initiative in the shape of this craft safari tour and they hope that in future with the help of such types of steps Kashmir art would be promoted and artisans will get some benefits. However, they say that the government must go beyond holding safaris and try to bring back the lost glory of the dying crafts of Kashmir.

Greater Kashmir