Armed with just a hammer and a chisel, the Sangtaraash (stone-carvers) in Kashmir break the hardest of stones to carve them into decorative shapes. They are an embodiment of patience, discipline, dedication and hard work.
The mortars and pestles carved out of these stones end up in nearly all the households of Kashmir where they are used to crush spices and make mouth-watering chutneys.
Of late, the practice of building hammams has become widespread in Kashmir, apparently due to long power cuts in winters. The stone slates carved by these men are used to build the floor of hammams.
Ghulam Nabi Bhat, 70 of Khanka Bagh, Pampore has been practising this art for more than five decades. His story represents the stiffness of stones and the beauty of final products that he carves.
“I was 15 when I started this work and have seen many changes in how the people of Kashmir view Sangtaraashi. Although one earns decent money in this field but the current generation won’t accept to do it because of the social stigma and more importantly the patience and hard work that this art requires,” said Ghulam Nabi.
“I have married off my three daughters and have also gone on the holy Hajj pilgrimage on my earnings from Sangtaraashi. There is a high demand for pestles, mortars and Hammam slates but this art is dying due to lack of manpower.”
He said the art of Sangtaraashi proves that with patience and hard work, even a mountain can be broken down with a simple and small thing like a chisel.
“We also used to carve tombstones some six years ago but now people prefer marble sheets because they are lighter and cost less,” he said.
Mushtaq Ahmad, 50, of Sempora, Pantha Chowk has been giving shape to the stones for thirty years.
“I was 20 when my father told me to join him and without any word, I got up and started carving stones, but now If I tell my son to join me, he will refuse because of the mindset of people in the society and the negligence of government,” he said, as kept hitting the chisel with a hammer.
He said the ban on stone quarries has also affected this business as it gets difficult to buy raw material.
“Earlier, we prepared the orders in one week but now due to shortage of raw materials, our orders are delayed,” he said.
Ahmad believes there is only one hope to save this ‘dying art’. “The government has to come up with a scheme to compensate old Sangtaraash on a monthly basis. This will help them to fulfill their daily needs and encourage youth to take this art as their profession,” he suggested.