Laced with wild flowers, shimmering lakes-it is truly what the mogul emperors described it as-“a paradise on earth-. Taking inspiration from their surrounding this unique craft involves the use of paper pulp for creating beautiful artifacts painted by expert craftsmen in lifelike images of kingfishers, maple leaves and other motifs.
The traditional Kashmiri method of Papier-mache painting is known as Kari-I-Qalamdani. Qalamdan means a pen case, and was named such because in its initial stages the craft was used only to make pen cases.
Groups of people called the ‘Sakta-makers’ make papier-mache objects out of pulp and sell these objects to the ‘naqaash’ or papier-mache painter.
Yes, papier-mache is a craft made from waste, papier-mache tends to use the whole pulp, which is made and there is zero wastage after the product is complete.
The popular traditional patterns are the following:
Hazara This pattern is called the ‘thousand flowers’.
Gul-i-wilayat The name means ‘flowers found in foreign lands’.
Gulandergul This too is a pattern brimming with flowers where they are drawn in bunches and one behind another.
Badam tarah The name means ‘almond’.
Chinar Sarav The five-pointed leaf from the majestic Chinar tree lends the shape and name to this pattern.
Zambuk Sonposh Zambuk is a type of grass in Kashmir, the leaves of which resemble the Chinar leaves.
Bagaldar Zarad gulab (yellow rose) This pattern, like its name, displays a yellow rose and also other flowers like panchbargi, sosan, kalder etc. in yellow.
Phulai A pattern consisting of small and tiny flowers in bunches is called the Phulai.
Tcheen Darazland This pattern is made of small and big flowers of the apple tree.
Borders (Haashiya) These are border patterns, which were traditionally induced with calligraphic patterns
A great variety of richly painted products like flower vases, wall plaques, bowls, trays, boxes of various shapes and sizes, bangles, mirror holders and frames, caskets, lamp vases, screens and items of furniture are made for their functional appeal and decorative charm. There is much more scope for pleasing functional items, such as bedstead legs, candle stands, trinket boxes, and fine packaging for expensive items.
In a craft known as the Safi, paper pulp was used to make book covers. Papier-mache work began to be done in leather bindings in holy books like the Quran.
The craft was originally known in Kashmir by its Iranian name ‘Kar-I-Qalamdani’. Qalamdan means a pen case, and was named such because in its initial stages the craft was used only to make pen cases. The noblemen and men of high stature commissioned the manufacture of pen cases. The Qalamdan was used to hold belongings like bottles of medicines, handkerchiefs, rings, insignia etc.
Many products are crafted out of this technique, both decorative and utilitarian. The popular ones are flower vases, wall plaques, bowls, trays, boxes, bangles, mirror holders, frames etc.
Groups of people called the ‘Sakta-makers’ makes papier-mache objects out of pulp and sell these objects to the ‘naqaash’ or papier-mache painter.
The Sakta makes the molds themselves according to the object and purpose. Great tributes have been paid to Kashmir artists for their cleverness and ability to copy even the minutest details of the figures they wish to recreate. Though the Kashmiri handicraft of papier-mache has foreign origins, these influences have been aptly imbibed and adapted to evolve into unmistakably Kashmiri characteristics.
The legend of how papier-mache became famous has been passed down with much respect in the local’s families. The legend is such: In the year 1398, when Tamur Lane invaded India, Sultan Sikander sent his son to pay tribute to the invader. Tamur lane betrayed the agreement of his alliance with the Sultan and made his son a hostage in Samarkand for seven years. Many craftsmen from Central Asia and Persia had accompanied Tamur Lane to India and were placed in Samarkand as well. There this young dynamic Prince was told that the people of Samarkand practiced a strange craft made of paper pulp, which he saw and was very inspired. He learnt the art and later when he became the king after his father’s death, he spread this art among the craftsmen of his region, taking it up to great heights.
Paper is the crucial propagator of this craft, without which it would not have originated. It is said that paper in China originated as early as 105 AD, built on the revolutionary idea of a court official named Tsai Lum. Many substances like old rags; fishnet, hem waste etc. were used to make paper with the purpose of preserving some documentary records on it. After almost 6 centuries had elapsed, papermaking moved from China to the west. Paper is believed to have been one of the major commodities in trade, which the Chinese carried to Western parts of China when the trade route from Pacific Ocean to Mediterranean was opened.
During the Aryan occupation of Samarkand in AD 751, they took a number of Chinese prisoners who were adept in the art of making paper. The place had abundant raw materials like crops of flare and hem. The craft is believed to have successfully passed over to the Arabs around this time. From there it spread to wherever the Arabs went and conquered due to their keenness to spread religion and culture in a scientific manner too. The craft spread from central Asia to Iran and from there to Kashmir during the reign of emperor Akbar.
The two men who stand out for their contribution to the development of this new culture are Mir Syed Ali Hamdani and Sultan Zain-ul Abideen. Syed who fled to Kashmir from Persia following Timur’s invasion brought with him a host of artisans and craftsmen who found favor with local court from Central Asia. The 15th Century king of Kashmir Sultan Zain-ul-Abideen supplemented this work of Syed Ali. Most traditional historical references maintain that Zain-ul-Abideen invited craftsmen from all part of Islamic world especially from Iran and Central Asia. It was from Samarkand, according to a leading contemporary papier-mache artist Mohammed Saleh Beigh that Zain-ul Abideen obtained artisans well versed in the art of kar-i-kalamdan or as it was alternatively called kar-i-munakash. Indeed according to popular legends, Zain-ul-Abideen is said to have spent some time at Samarkand before his accession to the throne. According to Encyclopedia Kashmir, the art of making pen cases from mashed paper was known in the Seljuk Iran, from where it must have spread to other parts of Central Asia including Samarkand.
This journey to the then heart of the Islamic civilization if it did actually take is would indeed have imbibed the young prince with a refined taste for art and crafts that were yet lacking in his own kingdom. And once he ascended the throne, the Sultan made a sustained attempt (even coercion) to enrich his land. Amongst the various crafts that got introduced in this period is the art of making lacquered pen cases known as Kar-I-Qalamdan.
Qalamdan means a pen case, and was named such because in its initial stages the craft was used only to make pen cases. The noblemen and men of high stature commissioned the manufacture of pen cases. The Qalamdan was used to hold belongings like bottles of medicines, handkerchiefs, rings, insignia etc. Another name it had was the ‘Kar-I-Munaqqash’ probably because it was used for ornamenting smooth surfaces made of paper pulp or polished paper. The illustrated Persian magazine Honar-o-Mardam (Tehran vol.73) carries a detailed article on the topic. According to the article, the art was necessitated by Qalamdan, which existed during the days of Seljuka (12th century). The art of making pen cases received a great impetus during the rule of the Safavids of Iran in the 16th century.
Before Akbar’s time, various materials were employed for writing, like stones, bricks, wooden boards, chips of bamboo, copper plates, barks of trees and palm leaves. The oldest manuscript existing today in the time where paper usage was at its peak is from the 8th century. In India, paper was used to impart dignity in the correspondence. Slowly the uses of paper moved on to that of making pulp. This is evident from the tomb of Zain-ul-Abidin’s mother at Zaina Kadal in Srinagar where mashed paper with glue was used for fixing glazed tiles on the outer walls. Most historical records maintain that the craft was to a large extent limited to the capital city of Srinagar and that too within the Shia community, a majority of whom were immigrants from Persia or surrounding areas. Unfortunately no papier-mache object from the Sultanate period (14th to 16th Century) survives today. The art must also have been practiced during the Mughal period but hardly any documentary evidences from that period survive to explain the nature and the extent of the craft. Mughal records, nevertheless make mention of the fact that the Kashmiris were renowned for their painting skills. Though the reference seems to be with regards to miniature painting, yet it does support the tradition of an established artisan community whose members might have diversified into the wider and more acclaimed field of miniature painting.
During the course of the 19th century, a number of French agents were operating within the valley. These agents who were basically engaged in the trading of pashmina shawls also gave an impetus to the papier-mache industry also albeit in an indirect manner. The shawls that were sent from Kashmir to France used to be packed in papier-mache boxes and once they had reached France were sold separately, fetching high price. Soon these papier-mache objects carved a separate market for themselves in France and other parts of Europe. Gradually along with boxes, papier-mache flower vases were also in demand in the French market.
The extent of the French influence on the local Kashmiri artisan can be gauged from the fact that the term “papier-mache” replaced the traditional name of the craft in its native place also. The French influence had its drawbacks, the most serious of which was the designs or color schemes that were introduced on the demand of the French agents catering to the then prevalent European tastes.
This unique craft involves the use of paper pulp for creating beautiful artifacts painted by expert craftsmen in lifelike images of Kingfishers, maple leaves and other motifs. Elements of nature mostly feature in the designs. Flowers, birds (particularly kingfisher and bulbul) and a variety of animals appear on these patterns. Historical figures as well hunting and battle scenes are also seen, which are inspired from the miniature paintings.
Papier-mache, today, has become highly stylized and appealing by using real gold and silver paint and by adding intricate decorations. The designs and decorations of the Kashmiri Papier-mache, usually in the form of flowers and birds, have a strong Persian flavor. Among other rich designs are ‘Arabesque’, done in gold against a brown or red ground to show sprays of rose blossoms in fine lines and ‘Yarkand’, an elaborate design built up in spirals with golden rosettes radiating from various centers and white flowers laid over golden scroll work. Some items like bowls and vases are lined with brass, while on special orders boxes and other items are ornamented with gold and silver leaves and depict beautiful landscapes and objects like a house boat, that form an inseparable part of Kashmiri lifestyle.
The papier-mache object produced in Kashmir today varies from Christmas ornaments to coasters and include boxes of every imaginable size and shape. These objects are not only beautifully decorated, but are surprisingly light and strong. Their coating of lacquer protects them from water and gives them extra durability.
The popular traditional patterns are the following:
Hazara This pattern is called the ‘thousand flowers’. It attempts to display every conceivable flower from roses and irises to hyacinths and narcissus. The Hazara patterns could be ‘rangbasta’/colorful, monochromatic or achromatic. In rangbasta, the colours used are the actual colours of the flowers.
Gul-i-wilayat The name means ‘flowers found in foreign lands’. It is similar to the rangbasta but has stems and foliage drawn in too. It also sometimes has birds featuring in it.
Gulandergul This too is a pattern brimming with flowers where they are drawn in bunches and one behind another.
Badam tarah The name means the ‘almond’. The motif is a popular traditional one seen a lot in the Kani shawl of Kashmir. It has grown to be the symbol of Kashmiri craftsmanship. It is also generically called the paisley.
Chinar The five-pointed leaf from the majestic Chinar tree lends the shape and name to this pattern. Its predominance in the Kashmir landscape has led to it being beautifully used to embellish the papier-mache products. It has thus also developed into something of a souvenir value.
Sarav The Sarav pattern is that of a cypress shrub and has evolved into a more tapering shape, gradually drawn out into a long delicate form of an individual tree. Details of leaf, bud, flower, fruit and even birds perching for fruit and nectar are drawn. It proves to be a sophisticated form of ornamentation with its motifs subjected to flowing curvilinear and intertwining forms.
Zambuk Zambuk is a type of grass in Kashmir, the leaves of which resemble the Chinar leaves. The Zambuk pattern is done only in golden or silver with colorful birds displayed in it.
Sonposh Any of the patterns or motifs done only in gold is called the Sonposh. If a hazara is done in gold, it’s called the Hazara Sonposh.
Bagaldar These are designs in which the motif clusters are placed side by side forming ornate sections.
Zarad gulab (yellow rose) This pattern, like its name, displays a yellow rose and also other flowers like panchbargi, sosan, kalder etc. in yellow.
Phulai A pattern consisting of small and tiny flowers in bunches is called the Phulai. It mainly shows the panchbargi, tchubargi, trebargi and ikbargi on branches or bunches.
Tcheen This pattern is made of small and big flowers of the apple tree. In this design, the base and the flowers are shades of the same color.
Darazland This pattern is a variation of the Phulai and has bigger flowers in various colors.
Borders (Haashiya) These are border patterns, which were traditionally induced with calligraphic patterns. Taking one basic motif and repeating it one after the other form the pattern. The borders are made with patterns such as the Tyond (space fillers) and Gondur (geometrical abstract done with gold in a black background with white insides).
A great variety of richly painted products like flower vases, wall plaques, bowls, trays, boxes of various shapes and sizes, bangles, mirror holders and frames, caskets, lamp vases, screens and items of furniture are made for their functional appeal and decorative charm. There is much more scope for pleasing functional items, such as bedstead legs, candle stands, trinket boxes, and fine packaging for expensive items. The style of Papier-mache painting has also been applied on cookie boxes, steel trays and glasses and similar items of daily use. The ingenious Papier-mache artisans of Kashmir transform a variety of utility articles into rare art pieces. These skills are passed down from generation to generation, son taking the place of his father and father taking place of his father this art has been handed down from family to family. Kashmiri craftsman have tried to maintain the culture of Papier-mache and to this day it is still being made by hand in these small home shops where families gather together and work on it and bring these beautiful creations to the world.
Passed down from generation to generation, son taking the place of his father and father taking place of his father this art has been handed down from family to family. Kashmiri craftsman have tried to maintain the culture of Papier-mache and to this day it is still being made by hand in these small home shops where families gather together and work on it and bring these beautiful creations to the world. But with the age of technology and fast paced economies, the art of Papier-mache has shown signs of decline. The new generation of Kashmiris is as worldly and knowledgeable as the rest of their peers and has not shown the inclination to preserve this art.
However, as with anything else there is new awareness among the Kashmiri’s that his art needs to be preserved and brought out to the world to see and admire. An interesting feature of the industry was the slow and steady replacement of paper as the basic material for the craft. In the latter part of the 19th Century wooden boxes made of silver fir (budloo) replaced the traditional paper pulp boxes.
Thereafter in the 20th Century mashed paper and wood was increasingly replaced by ghata (paper board sheet). Thus today very few items that are sold in the Kashmiri market by the name of papier-mache are made from mashed paper. Indeed papier-mache, as is referred to, both locally and in the outside market, is the art of naqashi or the painting of various floral, geometrical and figurative designs and patterns on the various items covered with lacquer.
The traditional Kashmiri method of making Papier-mache starts with waste paper, which is soaked in water for several days until it disintegrates. The excess water is drained and the soaked waste paper, cloth, rice straw and copper sulphate are mixed to form a pulp.
Waste paper, Saresh (Thick glue made of natural gum and mishri/sugar), Chalk, Glue
Colours – In the early days of this craft mineral, organic and vegetable colours were used. The colours would not loose intensity, strength even if the objects were kept in direct sunlight or in water for days together.
Organic and Vegetable Colour Sources:
White – white lead came from Russia
Body white – was prepared from a local stone called ‘shallaneen’
Ultramarine Blue – was prepared from ‘Virdigris’ (green) and ‘lapis lazuli’
Browns – were prepared from a clay which was imported from Armenia
Yellows – were prepared from a flower ‘guli ksu’ and a wild plant ‘weftangil’
Violet and Blue – were extracted using the Indigo leaf and weed
Reds – were derived from cochineal, log wood and local forest wood named ‘lin’. Red was sometime obtained from saffron
Light Brown– Green and dried walnut skins yielded light browns
Black – was produced from lampblacks as well as from walnuts. For large and plain groundwork, black was produced from half-burnt cow dung.
A craft made from waste, papier-mache tends to use the whole pulp, which is made and there is zero wastage after the product is complete.
Kanz and muhal – This is Limestone mortar and pestle, which is worked by a lever on a pivotal beam.
Karin – Trowel used to spread the pulp onto the mold
Polishing stone Saw – to cut the Mache out of the mold.
Kathwa – wooden file
Qalam – brush made from goat’s hair
Kurket – rough piece of baked brick for polishing
Clay containers – to hold colors
Brushes – The bristle of the hair of goat, cat and ass are set in handles of feather (quills) by means of silken threads, inferior bristles are cut and trimmed up. Craftsmen make use of these special types of brushes for producing exquisite designs. Brushes used for this art form are different from those used by painters and artists.
This Kashmiri craft recycles waste paper into beautiful artifacts painted by expert craftsmen. The wonderfully vibrant hand painted motifs on the different types of items look illuminated as a result of the shiny varnish finish. Paper Mache (also spelled Papier-mache, Papier-mache) has a long and rich tradition in Kashmir, it is a delicate decorative art, which shows the artistic zeal of a craftsman. At first glance, all papier-mache objects look roughly the same, but there is a price differential, which depends on the quality of the product. However, besides at least three different grades of papier-mache, some are actually cardboard or wood! The idea, however, is not to hoodwink the unwary, but to provide a cheaper product with the look of papier-mache.
The creation of a papier-mache object can be divided into two distinct categories, the sakhtsazi (making the object) and the naqashi (painting the surface). Grinding and soaking various vegetable mineral dyes in pigment or stone form obtain the colors for painting designs on the surface. The final product is a beautiful art work that cannot be called a creation of one artist. It travels many pairs of talented hands before reaching a table or a mantel. Above all other talents, the aesthetic sensibility and hereditary skills are most essential in these craftsmen.
The traditional Kashmiri method of making Papier-mache starts with waste paper, which is soaked in water for several days until it disintegrates. The excess water is drained and the soaked waste paper, cloth, rice straw and copper sulphate are mixed to form a pulp. This mixture is placed in a mould and left to dry for two to three more days. On the drying of pulp, the shape is cut away from the mould in two halves and then glued again. The surface is coated with the layer of glue and gypsum, rubbed smooth with a stone or baked piece of clay and pasted with layers of tissue paper. A base color is painted on, and a design is added free hand. The object is then sandpapered or burnished and is finally painted with several coats of lacquer.
Above all other talents, the aesthetic sensibility and hereditary skills are most essential in these craftsmen.
Preparation of molds The molds were traditionally made out of clay by the craftsmen themselves and left to dry. They were dried in the shade since exposure to sunrays would cause cracks to develop on the surfaces. Molds today are also made out of wood and brass. Pulp is applied to the mold and is removed from it when it dries. Then the same mold can be reused several times. In the case of objects with brass and copper, the mold is not removed and remains part of the strengthening structure. Especially in case of flower vases so that they can be filled with water without the paper causing it to collapse.
Making the pulp A mixture of old rags of cotton and paper is soaked in 25 liters of water till it becomes pulpy in a tub. The pulp is drained and put in a mortar and ground. It is then beaten using wooden pieces and dried in mild sunlight. Rice or wheat starch is added to the pulp to give it the softness and sticky quality.
Laying the pulp Several layers of pulp are laid one over the other till the required thickness has been obtained and the object has taken a shape. This is done with the help of the karin or trowel. After it dries, it is rubbed with a polishing stone to obtain an even surface.
Making the product The article detached from the mold in parts using a saw to cut it out. It is then rejoined using saresh. The article is then lightly rubbed using the kathwa to even out the surface. Glue and chalk mixture is applied both inside and outside using the qalam. The surface is smoothened out yet again using a kurket. Small pieces of tissue paper are stuck over with glue to make the surface secure against crack being developed in the glue and chalk coat. It is polished till the zamin or ground colour is obtained.
Drawing Outlines are generally drawn with a zarda or yellow colour and the spaces are delineated for floral works are stained with astar and white paint. Then the floral works are painted in different colours. The art lies here; it is an interesting sight to see an old artist, elaborating from memory patterns of artistic designs in rich and subdued colours. The opening work called ‘partaz’ is done with any appropriate color.
Colour Preparation The process of preparation of mineral colours is a painstaking effort. At the first place, the minerals are tied in a sack/bag of cloth and moistened with water and then roughly beaten. This broken wet material is grounded into paste on a fislab and the paste is dried into fine powder. Finally, this powder is mixed with glue and water. The material is then rigorously stirred till a fine colour in the shape of mixture is obtained.
Painting It begins with the outlines being drawn using zarda or yellow colours. The spaces required for floral work are stained with astar and white paint consisting of gypsum mixed with glue. If the decoration is to be of a raised type, then these areas are also marked at this stage. This is then dried and polished for the ground colour to be painted. The opening work called partaz is done using required colours and designs are added in the descending order of detailing required. Then fine detailing is done using a thin brush. The artists skillfully draw in intricate arabesque designs. Where large sections of gold are required, then dor (melted caramel sugar) is applied over the parts. The leaves of golden foil are stuck over this. When the leaves are taken off, the gold is stuck only to the parts of design where dor is applied. For fine strokes of gold are needed, ink made from these gold leaves are used and drawn using a thin brush.
Varnishing Once the colours are set, the article is varnished using amber or copal dissolved methylated spirit. It is left to dry in the sun and then wiped with a wet cloth before washing it clean. A jade stone is used to polish it at this stage. The gold coat is applied after this and the interiors are painted in black. The interiors are also varnished after the black paint dries.
List of craftsmen.