All Kashmir houses, be it a rich man's house or a poor ones, everyone has arrangements of sitting on the floor. They take care of their guests sitting down on the floor. Going back to hundreds of years, the floor would get agonizingly cold to sit upon during winters, and for saving all during winters and to provide all with a cozy sitting arrangement on the floor, namda and gabba would come to rescue. Gabba was the way of utilizing the house's rags and to convert it into a smart commodity and Namda would have followed. The traditional Kashmir homes include a living area where the sitting arrangement is done on the floor in a typical oriental style. This floor arrangement is amply depicted in many miniature painting where royalty is shown quartered on lavish carpets and huge round the cylindrical cushions with extravagant covering. The floor covering in Kashmir is also due to the extreme cold weather where it become necessary to overcome the sub-zero temperature. The woolen rugs, namdas and gabbas are made of wool to provide warmth to the occupants. Today it has become famous a handicraft of Kashmir and there are people from around the world who would love to just possess it as an item of home dÃ©cor. Locally, even today Namdas are used for the same purposes in their homes.
Felting the wool rather than weaving it, makes the most striking characteristic of this craft. Low quality wool mixed with a small quantity of cotton is used to manufacture namdas. They are usually of two types, plain and embroidered. The locals of Kashmir as well as the royals to keep their family and guests warm when they would sit on the floor have used Namdas for centuries. The Namda is a very important part of a Kashmiri household and there will be next to no houses without these rugs.
Myths & Legends
A popular belief among the Namda artisans goes like this. Once upon a time, Hakim Lukman was worried about the problem of adhesion of wool and he started crying. Tears, which rolled down onto the wool, joined them. This is how he discovered that water acts like a binder for working with wool.
Felted products are an integral part of nomadic life in the northern and central Asian steppes and probably the technique was first discovered in Central Asia. Nomadic Scythians lived in felted tents in the 5th century B.C. as the Kazakh nomads in Central Asia, particularly in Sinkiang, still do today. In the late 4th century B.C. It is mentioned that the technique of felting was known in regions now Pakistan. The Aryans probably introduced Namdas to Pakistan as saddle blankets from Central Asia during the Iron Age. Although their early decorative elements are undocumented, it can be surmised that the types of namdas still crafted as saddle blankets and mats, as in Swat, the Hyderabad District of Sind and Lasbela, Kharan and Mastung in Baluchistan, are reflective of this influence. The Pazyryk finds in the Altai region of the U.S.S.R. circa 5th to 4th centuries B.C. show that the same technique of felting an assortment of dyed fleece into complex decorative patterns, as employed in the Pakistani saddle blankets, was already well developed. Some or their motifs reflected Chinese influence. This particular technique remains traditional to Turkistan, the Subcontinent, as well as Tabriz in Iran, near Western Central Asia. The art of felting is certainly older than that of spinning or weaving. Felting as a practice, must have originated either parallel to use of animal skins or after.
Caps of thick solid felt from the early Bronze Age are preserved at the National Museum in Copenhagen. These date back some 3500 years and were found in the pre-historic burial mounds of Jutland and North Slesvig. In 1939, a tomb from the later Bronze Age (about 1400-1200 B.C.) was uncovered in Hesse, Germany, which yielded a horse bridle incorporating a carefully filled felt strap of sheep's wool. According to experts, felt reached its peak of intensity among the nomadic tribes of Asia. Therefore, the very idea of felt making and perfecting the process can be attributed to them. The Mazenderan region of Iran is where this craft is believed to have originated. The technique and skills have not changed much over the years. Even the tools and their names are the same. The craftsmen were a mobile artisan group. They lived for a few days in a village as honored guests and made felt from the wool the villagers provided. They moved on to the next village with the money provided for their skills. Namda is said to have originated during 11th century when Akbar, the great Mughal ruler was on throne. History of the period reveals that the king ordered his exchequer to arrange for a suitable coverage for his horse that was affected by biting cold. In response to the proclamation that was done in this behalf, a wise old man from the east stood up and offered his intention of felt. He was Nubi by name. The man manufactured the felt himself and embroidered the same in multi-colored beautiful designs. The felt so made as given the title of Namda after the name of its manufacturer Nubi. The King Akbar is said to have been immensely impressed by the workmanship of Nubi and is said to have granted him villages in honor. The art of felting wool into namdas has come from Yarkand. In India, Namda is the local term used for felted wool floor coverings. It comes from the root word 'Namata' which is a Sanskrit word meaning 'woolen stuff'. Before the 19th century, Namda was also produced in Ladakh. Sadha/ plain Namdas were brought in from central Asia to Kashmir for yarma/embroidery work. This work is the ancient skill and source of earning for the Kashmiris, even before the 14th century when Islam bloomed in Kashmir. In 1420, Sultan Zanulabdin took keen interest in handicrafts in Kashmir. Jalakdozi, a kind of handiwork, gained popularity and starting replacing the traditional Yama work. This led to rise in Namda making in Kashmir. Local wool was used as raw material in crafting these. Las Khan, according to his descendants from Kabul, used to come to Kashmir for Namda trade. In 1850, he settled in Srinagar and established his workshop. The craft slowly spread to other parts of Srinagar and the area came to be known as Namdagari Muhallah. This paved way for industrial development. His grandsons now have a huge workshop in Kashmir. During the First World War, Namda started to be exported to Yarkand Persia and peaked even more during the Second World War.
Namdas are a kind of mattress, originally from the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Felting the wool rather than weaving it, makes these. Low quality wool mixed with a small quantity of cotton is used to manufacture namdas. They are usually of two types, plain and embroidered. Formerly, woolen yarn was used for embroidery, but now acrylic yarn (cashmelon) is in use. Namdas and gabbas are embroidered with thread, which gives colour, beauty and strength to them. This cottage industry is concentrated in Anantnag, Rainawari and Baramula. Namdas are felted mats made from sheep fleece. The fleece is scoured, teased and fluffed. The contemporary workshops use a carding machine to prepare the fleece but until recently, the 'painja', a wooden tool resembling a large bow, was used to beat and fluff large quantities of wool. The fluffed fleece is piled on a large burlap cloth in the required size. Placing separate tufts of fleece along the edges creates the fringes. The mass of fleece is sprinkled with soapy water and rolled and kneaded until the layers of wool are felted. The namda is then soaked in a large cauldron of water and finally laid flat to dry in the sun. Since the technique is so primitive it can be assumed that it is the same process as was used in ancient times (wells, 2000). The second decorative style of namdas, characteristics of Kashmir, employs chain stitch embroidery and reflects Eastern Central Asian influence. Chain stitched namdas are still common in Sinkiang. The multi- coloured woolen yarns are hooked through the namda with the 'ara-kung', the Kashmiri tool used for chain stitching. Geometric and animal motifs and flora scrolls of chenar leaves, grapes, irises, almond and cherry blossoms are popular decorative elements. A document early mentioning the namda in Eastern Central Asia was found in the Khotan excavations in Sinkiang dating back to the 3rd century A.D. It is mentioned that namdas were also imported into the subcontinent by way of Leh in Kashmir during the 19th century (Hamid, 1989). These namdas might have been produced in Pakistan during the Moghul Period when Kashmiri crafts flourished in Lahore. However, their contemporary commercial production started with the migration of Kashmiri Muslim craftsmen to Azad Kashmir and Pakistan during the partition. Main commercial production points are in Azad Kashmir, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar. The first small industries training center for namdas was established in Muzaffarabad and new centers, as in the Punjab at Kahuta, mark the future trend to support and develop the namda cottage industry (Rabbani,1991).
Layout The namda presents an interesting use of geometric tessellating grids with bright colours breaking the monotony. The layout is said to be inspired from the khatamband or the wooden ceiling craft. Even the names of different motifs are derived from this similarity. The namda, thus, has a non-directional character and can be spread facing any direction.
Hashi (border) The borders are used to define and emphasize the central layout, without which the namda will look like yardage material. It thereby gives more visual impact to the motifs.
Motifs - Double Khatamband: This motif is a tessellation based on the interrelationship of octagons and squares. The use of verticals, horizontals, diagonals and bright hues provides a unique blend of dynamism. -Aemberzul: This depicts an eight petal- lower portraying the daffodil. These flowers are dainty white with a yellow center. An octagonal grid is emphasized in this tessellation. -Taldaar: Tal is a Kashmiri word meaning 'ceiling'. It is named so since it a reflection of the ceiling craft with similar properties of design as well as insulation. - Gul-i-akhtab: This namda motif, like the meaning of its name, derives its character from the sunflower. It is depicted in large four-petal forms. -Jet jahaz: This motif brings in the influence of new technology into the craft. Simplified forms of the jet are incorporated into the designs of modern namdas. It is said that the artisans whose homes were near the airports devised it and they took inspiration from landing airplanes.
Because of the constant requirement of Namdas in Kashmir itself, the popularity and constant requirement of these rugs never stopped or went down. Soon, with it becoming famous, people from all over the country as well as the world wanted to keep these rugs at home because of their authenticity and beauty. This craft does not face any challenges in today's world, rather, is widely celebrated.