In November 2021, Srinagar was designated as part of UNESCO Creative Cities Net Work (UCCN), and with this it has entered the club of 295 Creative Cities Net Work across the world. After Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Varanasi and Jaipur, Srinagar is the sixth Indian city to achieve this distinction for different categories.
UNESCO, this year picked up the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir UT, among 49 cities. Srinagar became the second Indian city after Jaipur which was selected under the UCCN ‘Crafts and Folk Art category’.
This is a popular project launched by UNESCO in 2004 to promote cooperation among cities to work together towards a common objective of placing Creativity and Cultural Industries for their development plans at the local level and cooperating activity at the international level.
The honourable prime minister was the first to send the message of congratulations to the people of UT, as he said that “it is the fitting recognition for the vibrant cultural ethos of Srinagar.” As per the experts, “the UCCN tag would not only give global recognition to the Srinagar city but also will help in international funding, tie-ups with craft universities and pitching craft as a product.”
Srinagar has qualified because of its crafts and folk art, which is an intrinsic part of its tradition and culture besides the breath taking natural beauty of the city itself. Being the famous tourist city, the tourists from all over world come to this city in search to buy the best quality, Pashmina shawls, carpets, hand woven rugs, woollen items, embroidered stoles and jackets, pherans, wood carving etc.
Traditionally the designers are heavily influenced by Persian, central Asia, Mughal and even Tibetian Art forms. The city is famous for many performing arts and traditional music. The artistic genius of the Kashmiri people is expressed in the fields of literature, poetry, literary images, shawl making, embroidery, wood work, wood carving, paper machie and metal work.
The art and crafts of Kashmir testify to the Kashmiri artist being a true lover of nature. Nature is reflected in all designs and decorative pattern of the Kashmiri Art. It is not possible to discuss Kashmiri craft and art in one write up. However, I may briefly discuss historical background of few crafts which has given Srinagar a distinct name in the world.
The Art of paper machie came to Kashmir in 14th century with Mir Syeed Ali Hamdani—a Persian scholar and mystic. The Kashmiri style of representing paper mache is unique and of highest quality. The common themes of naqashi are Kashmiri symbols like almonds, Chinar leaf, flowers and box pattern with precision of details.
Kashmiri carpets: The fashion of carpet weaving also came with Persian travellers during the time of Zain-ul-Abadin who brought carpet weavers from Persia and central Asia. The Kashmiri learned and passed the art from generation to generation with improved quality.
Shawls: Shawls are made of Pashmina and marino wool. The product is indigenous and identified by its distinctive Kashmiri weave. It has evolved in the popular cultures of Europe, north America besides our own country as indicators of nobility and rank. It was used by Mughal and Iranian emperors, personally and honouring the members of their durbar. In late 18th century, it arrived in Britain and then in France, where its use by Queen Victoria and Empress Josephine popularised it as a symbol of exotic luxury and status.
Wood carving: it is special kind of handicrafts; producing large objects like study table, dining table, cabinets, night stands and beds and smaller items like jewellery boxes, pen sands trays and other decorative items. The use of indigenous walnut wood makes the wood carving even more authentic to the place. Willow Wicker craft is a handmade craft involving of willow reeds and is a local economic tradition in the valley.
Copper ware: Mir Syed Ali Hamadani, an Islamic scholar and mystic from Hamdan was essential in popularising copper ware among locals and brought crafts men from Persia and central Asia to train the locals 700 years ago. The locals focussed on manufacturing vessels, silver jewellery, brass and copper ware such as service pots, trays, with expertise on products like Taeshnaers, Tramis and Somavaers. The craftsmen in Kashmir also attained the expertise in products like Namda, Gaba and Kashmiri Embroidery work like crewel and sozni with special focus on chain stitch.Dr. Abdul Ahad, a wellknown contemporary historian says that “the traditional arts and crafts of the Srinagar city have contributed greatly to the flowering of urbanisation of the city by being the core of its civilization stockpile since time immemorial and have passedall the tests oftime. They have been at the centre of world attention and attraction since medieval times, constituting vital source of its commerce and trade.” Dr Ahad further says that “Napoleon’s wife became the first ambassador of Kashmir’s artistic grandeur and popularised Kashmiri creativity throughout Europe, motivating Allard and Ventura, the two French Generals at the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, to indulge in trading in Kashmir Arts and Crafts. The Dogra Mahrajas held annual international exhibitions to promote arts and crafts of Kashmir.”
The Srinagar city, particularly the Downtown, is responsible for evolving and developing the art and crafts in Kashmir and taking it to the pinnacles of success. The craftsmen who mostly live in old city (Downtown) deserve the credit of this distinct achievement for recognising the Srinagar as the creative city of craft and folk art by UNESCO. It will add one more feather to Kashmiri people if Srinagar is enlisted as the Heritage city by the UNESCO in near future, which it well deserves. The concerned departments of Central as well as UT governments need to take all necessary measure to maintain and preserve its historical and archaeological material remains, to facilitate the world organisation in declaring the Srinagar down town area as a erhitage city.
Abdul Rashid Khan is IGP (retd)
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK