The spinning wheel of Kashmir, locally known as Yender, holds a unique place in our history. It intertwines craftsmanship, culture, and innovation. In a region known for its picturesque landscapes and artistic traditions, the traditional Yender stands as a symbol of the skilled craftsmanship, self-sufficiency and heritage of Kashmir. The traditional artifact has been crafted for centuries, embodying the region’s cultural significance and practical utility.
Also known as charkha (the Sanskrit word for wheel), Yender was conventionally used in various aspects of daily life with its design and construction reflecting the needs and values of the local community. It worked with a drive wheel being turned by hand while the yarn was spun off the tip of the spindle.
In India, it was Mahatma Gandhi who brought the Yender (charkha) into larger use with his teachings, while achieving freedom from British Govt. He hoped that charkha would assist people of his country to achieve self-sufficiency and independence, and so used it as a symbol of the Indian Independence Movement.
Crafting of a spinning wheel was a meticulous process that required a deep understanding of woodwork. The artisans, often referred to as “kharadars” would skillfully carve it from wood that was both durable and functional. The process involved shaping the wood into a circular form and then creating grooves or ridges on its surface to aid in spinning. This intricate designs showcased the artisan’s expertise and creativity, turning each Yender into a unique piece of art.
Yender held a prominent place in the social fabric of Kashmir. As a result, it symbolized culture & served as a tangible link to past. The process of crafting and using it was passed on from one generation to another, thus preserving the artisanal knowledge that defined Kashmiri craftsmanship.
Beyond its functional role, Yender also played a role in the region’s spiritual and artistic practices. The circular shape of it carried symbolic significance, representing concepts of continuity, independence, unity and eternity. This symbolism extended beyond the physical tool and found its way into local folklore, poetry, and art. It was also celebrated in Kashmiri songs and stories, and was beautifully woven into the cultural tapestry of the region.
However, as times changed and modernization swept through the region, the traditional Yender faced challenges. With the advent of technological advancements which introduced more efficient and automated tools for spinning, rendered the manual use of Yender so obsolete. And as a result, the demand for it declined, and the art of crafting it began to fade.
Our well established handicraft industry in Kashmir has international reputation. Among various handmade products, the world famous pashmina shawls have achieved a royal status and are liked by all irrespective of sex, age and nation. And for the preparation of this fine product, the pashmina fiber has to go through the first step called spinning which is undoubtedly done on Yender.
In Kashmir, the spinning on Yender, both in rural and urban areas, was done by the women folk. These women were paid in turn for it. However, it was an arduous task as it caused lot of physical stress leading to backache, numbness in legs and several other associated problems. Then keeping in view the difficulties of spinning, an innovative Table-top Paddle Operated Charkha came into being so as to improve the efficiency of spinning and thereby reducing the physical drudgery and at the same time keeping in view the originality of the product intact. Still then the traditional floor based Yender was incredible. No doubt the machines accelerated the productivity, yet, the machine spun yarn cannot vie with the hand spun one. Nowadays, the tradition of Yender seems to have been ignored only because the social position of women has considerably improved in recent years as a result of education. It is showcased only during cultural programs here. No doubt, the standard of living and mode of thinking of the people has considerably developed, but they should remember it as their heritage and asset. Even if it is present anywhere these days, it is either in the museums or on balconies of our houses, kept by our elders as a sign of heritage. Throughout my life, I have seen Yender either at my Mausi’s (aunt) place at Old Town, Baramulla or at the balcony of my old house.
Efforts to preserve and revitalize this unique aspect of Kashmiri heritage gained momentum in past few years. Cultural organizations, artisans, and enthusiasts recognized the importance of this traditional artifact of Kashmir. Workshops, exhibitions, and documentation initiatives were launched to ensure that the craft of creating wooden chakras should revive. Efforts are aimed to educate both locals and visitors about the cultural and historical significance of Yender.
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in traditional crafts and artisanal practices, including the Yender. People are now looking back to their roots, valuing the handmade wooden craft. The trend has opened up new opportunities for artisans to revive their expertise and showcase it on a larger platform. The appeal of owning a piece of history, handcrafted with care and skill, has created a booming market for traditional products including traditional Yender.
In conclusion, the Yender of Kashmir stands as a testament to the region’s rich cultural heritage, craftsmanship, and adaptability. Once a fundamental tool of daily life, Yender has evolved to become symbols of tradition and artistry. While the challenges of modernization posed threats to its existence, efforts to preserve and promote the craft have breathed a new life into its renewal. By embracing history and valuing the skill of the artisans, the people of Kashmir are hoping that the legacy of traditional Yender continues to spin forward into the future.
Manzoor Akash teaches English, hails from zone Dangiwacha, Rafiabad. He is a recipient of National Peace Award, 2022.