His love for the art kept him going
Last year when Dr Mohammad Rashid-ud-Din Kundangar asked his father, Mohammed Amin Kundangar, a renowned gold jeweller and calligrapher, for making a gold pendant, known locally as Jigni – the master craftsman readily agreed.
Even at the ripe age of 96, the legendary gold engraver would gather his small tools, and with his nimble hands keep on working in his small workshop. It wasn't that he needed any money, or prove his excellence, both of which had long been achieved, but his love for the art kept him going.
After six months of work he completed the pendant. On one side of the pendant he engraved a holy verse, on the other a Kashmiri couplet
Yim zaar kus sa boze
Kar Sanna Su Yaar Boze
Yaa Tulli Khanjar Maare,
Natte Saane Shaba roze
Loosely translated as,
My sobs go unheard
My beloved turns away
Crying for him, I'll die
Else he comes
"He never stopped. Even in his nineties he would make it sure that he spent at least one or two hours at the workshop," said Rashid-ud-Din Kundangar.
Amin was the last professional Kundangar working in Kashmir. With him the art too died and for the first time in hundreds of years, one cannot find any hand in this craft in Kashmir.
Born in 1920s in Kundangar family in Khoja Bazaar, Srinagar, Amin was lucky to experience the time when the gold engraving craft was at its peak. Patronised by Dogra Rulers, Kundangar family, due to their art, had the privilege of gaining access to Kings' palaces. Apart from Maharajas, only few other families like those of courtiers, nobles and rich families would afford the Kundan jewellery.
The meticulously crafted ornaments also known as Jarrah in Kashmiri were gracefully worn by royals, nobles, land lords and aristocrats. The most common worn ornaments include TICKA, TAWEEZ, HANG TAWEEZ, HALQBAND, JUMKA EAR RINGS. BRACELETS, JIGNI etc.
The commoners who could not afford exquisite Kundan jewellery would be content with duplicate kundan items called as Washe Kundan. The jewellers who used to work with it were called as Zargars in Kashmir.
Kundangars would strictly work with 100 percent pure gold. Once gold was received, it wouldn't melted in a furnace but instead heated by burning cowdung. It would be a slow process and at the end of the day the Kundangars would get refined gold in ribbon like wafers. These gold wafers would be placed on a lac base and deposited one onto another into a desired thickness. On them the precious or semi-precious stones are studded. As per demand the gold ornaments are engraved with words or sentences in varied languages.
The exact process is not known as the master Kundangars never revealed the art to anybody. It was a closely guarded secret, and not even shared with relatives. "They would treat it as professional secret. Even when I used to be with my father, he would gently cover all of his tools with a cloth," said Rashid-ud-Din. "It was a craft that moved from heart to heart over generations."
Unfortunately this guarding of secret has been the reason no new craftsman was trained in the art and currently the entire craft is almost gone.
Rashid-ud-Din who previously worked as LAWDA Vice Chairman keenly observed the art in his family and documented it in his writings.
"Our forefather Mohammad Baba had come to Kashmir along with Qafila Noor of Shah Hamdan Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (RA) and got settled in as Mujavir at the shrine of Khanqahi Mo'ulla Srinagar. One day a desperate Sikh devotee came to the shrine with his wife and approached Baba and requested him to pray for him for a child, which the Baba did. Next year the same Sikh came again and after locating Baba told him that they had been bestowed with a son, due to your prayers.
The Sikh who was a Kundangar from Punjab started continuously visiting Kashmir and staying for months. Baba used to visit the Sikh and observe him for hours. At home Baba tried to emulate the trade and brought the required tools. Once the Sikh disciple visited Baba's residence and to his utter surprise found Baba imitating his art and skill.
On knowing the keenness of Baba to learn the art of Kundan the Sikh disciple readily taught Baba the art of Kundan and saw to it that he becomes a skilled Kundangar. Baba and his son Hakeem later passed on the craft to his son Nizamuddin who mastered the art of Kundan so skilfully that he became the Father of the art of Kundan in Kashmir and this way the entire Baba dynasty turned into Kundangar Dynasty. The art thus passed on from father to son and so on," Rashid-ud-Din wrote in a paper on the art.
Ghulam Mohamad Kundangar, father of Amin had achieved fame and prosperity in this intricate art form. He had four sons – Ghulam Ahmad, Ghulam Mohiudin, Maqbool Hussain and Mohammad Amin. Out of the four, Maqbool Hussain had made a name for himself with a clientele spread among the high and famous all over the British Empire. He and the youngest brother, Mohammed Amin, pursued the family passion for kundangari, jarah and wash kundan, different form of precious metal arts.
The Kundangars of Kashmir took the art to another level by beautifully combining calligraphy into it. One could find number of gold ornaments or other items on which the craftsmen have intricately engraved names, couplets or other words.
Rashid-ud-Din terms the art of Kundangar or Jarrah as the combination of two arts- one that of Kundan from India and another of calligraphy from Central Asia.
One more market that opened for Kundangars was that of Britishers who used to engrave names and other titles on silver or golden plaques, trophies or any other memorabilia from them. The flawless work of Kashmiri Kundangars could have easily competed with best in the world.
Surprisingly almost all of the Kundangars who would inscribe beautiful English words and sentences were illiterates themselves. But given their skills, a viewer anywhere in the world could have never imagined that the writers didn't knew the meaning of these words. It was a flawless work.
INTACH State convenor Saleem Beg termed the passing away of Amin as the near end of this art form. "Once on the high table of markets of precious objects, Kundangar items survive now only in museums and as family heirlooms. Out of the art forms practiced by our artists that gave Kashmir a unique identity and dignity, gold and silver carving has held a place of prominence. calligraphy on gold and silver were the preserve of few of them. Kundangars, those who handled kundan (gold) were a class apart. He was not just the last of the practitioner of a dying, rather dead art form. He was an embodiment of humility, a proud master and a mystic who radiated affection and righteousness in word and deed," said Beigh.
According to Beigh, the two brothers (Maqbool and Amin) were commissioned to do silver crest for Royal Air force, UK. This crest was so beautiful that they were awarded by the British Government for its intricate craftsmanship. "There are so many artefacts created by Kundangars of Kashmir in various museums in India and abroad. I wish someone sometimes researches the museums and family collections in India and UK to locate their creations, do a descriptive catalogue," said Beg.
Amin was the first matriculate of the family and in 1947 he could have easily become an officer in government sector. However interesting turn of events, mostly political, led him to this craft.
Being educated and having a different worldview, Amin was staunch follower of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Most of the meetings of Muslim Conference under Sheikh Abdullah were held in their Kundangar House at Khoja Bazar. Mujahid Manzil had yet to come to fore at that time. In the same hall Sheikh Abdullah decided to change the name of Muslim Conference to National Conference, which didn't go well with Amin and many others.
He began to murmur words of protest, which his father and family, who were followers of Sheikh Abdullah, disapproved of. Fearing rebellion from Amin, his father told him not to pursue government job as they had their own craft and business. Amin couldn't say no to his father and entered the workshop in 1940s, never to come out again in the world of politics.
His childhood friend Mohammed SayeedNaqsbandi, who had similar views was exiled to Muzaffarabad. Amin avoided thesimilar fate due to his work.
It was this work which he continued for nexteight decades and went on to produce some of the best artefacts, which are nowproud possessions of families and museums across the world.
Unlike the couplet, people listen to hiswords and appreciated his work. He engraved his name literally in goldenletters, which will remain witness to his legacy for the generations to come.