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.
Myths & Legends
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.