Handmade paper is used for many decorative and functional purposes as it has high tensile strength and versatility. It is used in making various products such as books, lamp shades, letter pads, envelopes, photo- frames, coasters, conference files and pen stands.
Handmade paper has a characteristic feel and texture that sets it apart from machine-made paper. The demand for handmade paper being limited makes it uneconomic for paper making units to produce it for a conventional purpose. The handmade paper units situated in Taragram & Orchha follow an eco-friendly process in which waste paper; cloth, cotton, cotton fibers, petals as well as dry leaves are used. In this way growing trees are not harmed as the materials used are not derived from trees.
Even the resultant pulp generated from these raw materials is made using non-polluting chemicals like lime, soda ash, caustic soda, oxalates, oxygen, and peroxides. The handmade papers are dried without any restraints and hence have natural shrinkage.
Handmade paper has a few indispensable qualities such as high tensile bursting, tearing and double-fold strength. Also ageing does not cause the paper to be brittle making it an excellent surface for drawing and painting. Sometimes women paint on the handmade paper using clay and vegetable dyes making it even more handmade.
The handmade paper industry in India is a dense source of employment. Being a cottage industry, it employs a large number of people as compared to mechanized paper mills. On an average, it employs one man per annual tonne of paper production.
Myths & Legends
The legend of Hardol Singh known as 'Hardol ka bhat' is a popular myth surrounding Orchha. The story dates far back to the 17th century and it is believed that the ghost of Hardol Singh appeared in his niece's wedding. To this day whenever there is a Hindu wedding in Orchha, the very first wedding invite is sent to him.
A small insect known as 'Hymenopterous' of the 'Vespidae' family that evolved millions of years ago is believed to be the inspiration of paper making. The insect also known as 'Paper Wasp' nibbles at small pieces of raw wood and through the process of digestion, transforms it into a paste like substance that resembles paper. The insect uses the substance to make its nest.
Before 700 BC, animal skins and stones were used as a medium of written communication, which was later replaced by the Egyptian papyrus around 600BC. It was only later in 105 AD that the Chinese invented paper making. Historical records of that year show that the invention of paper was reported to the Eastern Han Emperor 'Ho-di' by 'Ts'ai Lun', an official of the Imperial Court. Recent archaeological investigations, however, place the actual invention of papermaking some 200 years earlier. It is believed that 'Ts'ai Lun' broke the bark of a mulberry tree and pounded its fibers to create a sheet. Later it was discovered that the quality of paper could be much improved with the addition of rags, hemp and old fish nets to the pulp. This paper was soon widely used in China and later through the silk route spread to the rest of world.
The Chinese prisoners of war brought to 'Samarkand' in 751 AD after the 'battle of Atlakh' near 'Talas' first introduced the technique of papermaking from linen, flax or hemp rags based on the methods used in China. 'Ibn Nadim' wrote in 'Al-Fihristi'; 'The Chinese write on Chinese paper made from a sort of herbage and this craft industry is a great source of income for the city'.
The Arabs learnt the technique of paper-making from the Chinese captives at Samarkand and spread it westward'. 'Al-Biruni' also stated, 'The Chinese captives introduced it in Samarkand as it spread to the other parts of the world'.
After the paper technology reached the Arabs, they improved the technique and supplemented linen with flax and other vegetable fibers. With the conquest of Sindh by the Arabs, 'Khurasani' paper was first introduced in India early in the eighth century AD, and it continued to be imported for several centuries.
References to Indian paper suggest that the paper-making industry, however limited, had already been established in Delhi and Lahore, the two chief political and cultural seats of India during the 'Sultanate period'.
In India, the first paper industry was established in Kashmir in1417-67 AD by Sultan 'Zainul Abedin' (Shahi Khan). His father Sultan 'Sikander' (c.1386-1410) was ruler of Kashmir when Timur invaded India in 1398 AD.
Sultan Sikander sent an embassy, led by his son, Shahi Khan, to seek Timur's friendship. Timur summoned him for a meeting but in the meanwhile political developments at home compelled him to leave India. He hastened to Samarkand but took Shahi Khan with him who was kept him hostage until Timur's death. Later, Shahi Khan returned to Kashmir with many artisans, skilled in various trades with a view to introducing new industries there. The author of 'Tarikh-i-Kashmir' stated the following about Shahi Khan, 'During his stay at Samarkand he acquired the knowledge of the craft. When he returned to Kashmir he brought with him a number of artisans skilled in different trades such as paper-makers, book-binders, carpet-makers, harness-makers and well trained midwives'.
Due to its superior quality, the demand for Kashmiri paper soon increased in the country and the rest of world.
According to 'Tarikh-i-Farishta', Sultan Abu Said sent fine Arab horses and strong camels of good breed as presents to Sultan Zainul Abedin. Pleased with this act of courtesy, Sultan Zainul Abedin in return, sent saffron, paper, musk, perfumes, rose-water, vinegar, elegant shawls, glass bowls and other fine products of Kashmir industry.
From records, it is evident that the handmade paper industry flourished in India as an artisan-based technology during the Mughal period. This gradually declined with the establishment of paper mills during the British rule in18th and 19th centuries. It was later revived by Mahatma Gandhi's Swadeshi movement.
In 1996 AD, 'TARAGram' was created as a pilot handmade paper unit in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh and has evolved into a technology research and training centre. TARA stands for 'Technology and Action for Rural Advancement' and is the brand name of products of development alternatives while 'Gram' in Hindi means village. The primary stakeholders in the Centre are the 29 neighboring villages. 'Taragram' generates sustainable livelihoods through training in enterprise based activities for building materials, handmade paper and biomass products. Seeing the skill of the 'Sahariya' women, TARA imparted training to 21 women in making paper products such as note books and file covers. A handmade paper unit was established comprising of 30 women who learnt the craft of converting cotton rags into paper. This paper unit has flourished and today employs more than 60 Sahariya women. The stakeholders in this unit comprise of twenty nine neighboring villages, and the unit utilizes Tara's Handmade Paper Technology. Using this unique technology wastes like cotton rags, denim materials, fibers, used paper is recycled into high quality handmade paper.
Sometimes bits of dirt and impurities are found mixed in the handmade paper sheets. It is not a big problem in decorative papers but special care has to be taken to avoid it in pure white and off white drawing sheets.