Wagoo: Traditional Kashmir mat falling flat in face of polymer onslaught

Wagoo: Traditional Kashmir mat falling flat in face of polymer onslaught

Artisans giving up craft as demand, profit go down

Once present in every household of Kashmir, Wagoo—local reed mat—is struggling for its existence in the age of polymers.

 

Sultan Mohalla of SaidaKadal locality in Srinagar was once known for producing these reed mats that would furnish the floors in the length and breath of every Kashmiri household.

 

Weaving these mats was an important activity in the area. This mat was used to cover the surface with other furnishing on top.

 

Being made of natural material it has great insulation properties and was suitable for both summers and winters.

 

Wagoo are produced by plaiting reeds, strips of paeich (Bulrush) and straw. But times have changed as only few now practice the craft with no apparent clientele in sight.

 

In yesteryears, Mala Begum (70) would make mats and witnessed huge demand from dealers, but the story is different now.

 

She and artisans like her are finding it difficult to get any customer for this commodity due to the competition from Ethylene Vinyl Acetate foam sheets preferred by people in their homes.

 

“There was no household which wouldn’t make Wagoo here in Sultan Mohalla, but almost all have left the craft because of competition from foam and the returns are also low,” she said.

 

“I don’t remember my exact age when I weaved my first mat but I do remember when I weaved last one,” she said.

 

Mala and other women in the locality were in this craft as the production line was mostly dominated by women, helping finances of their households.

 

The marketing part was done by men folk who would sell the mats in every nook and corner of Kashmir valley.

 

Mala along with her husband brought up their eight children from the income of the craft. Last year her husband died, and since then she has not weaved any mat.

 

“It had become difficult for us to survive on the craft. My son is doing manual work to feed the family now,” she said.

 

“It takes two persons to weave a single mat which we sell for Rs 200 with a profit of Rs 50. It has now become difficult to survive on this trade,” she said.

 

Jana Begum, another weaver from Mir Behri, a large locality in Dal interiors, said that the new generation is now distancing themselves from engaging in this activity as the profits have gone down drastically.

 

“It (mat weaving) will die once we stop breathing because the new generation is not ready to take up the trade. And why would they when there is no future or returns from the craft,” she said.

 

“It will become a thing of past soon.”  

 

A single bundle of paeich now costs Rs 40 and due to the increase in prices the profit in the reed making has decreased.

 

The bulk of the raw material comes from Anchar Lake with very limited material available in Dal interiors.

The weavers said the demand is low and they now make the mats only on order.

 

“We make only when someone asks us for, otherwise there is no demand as it used to be,” another weaver, Muhammad Abdullah, said.  

 

Ghulam Hassan Sultan of SaidaKadal, who now spends time sitting idle on a shop front, said he used to make a good profit out of the sale of Wagoo which would be between Rs 300 and Rs 400 rupees and that too eight years ago.

 

“I stopped selling Wagoo five years ago. There is hardly anyone who would buy Wagoo,” Sultan said.

Sultan, 80, said that for him it is hard to see the end of the thing which fed him through his life.

 

“I yearn to sell a single mat. I had a loyal clientage and I knew by heart who would buy new Wagoos,” he said.