The craft of Khatamband is used to make elaborate ceiling work in Kashmir. These provide both insulation against harsh cold, as well as a rich aesthetic appeal. Earlier Khatamband used to be domain of shrines, palaces, houseboats and royal houses. The shrine of Khwaja Naqshband is probably the best example of this craft. Its traditional customers had been houseboat manufacturers, but that was a long time back - “ for the last decade, no new houseboat has been made However in today's day, every other person wants it for his or her house. Now the technique is used on screens, doors, windows etc.
With fewer or no nails used at all, the Khatamband ceiling can easily be disassembled and re-assembled at another place. Now-a-days Khatamband has become a sort of status symbol in Kashmiri society, plus its insulation from cold adds to its value. Whatever the reason the renewed demand has saved an old tradition from extinction. The uniqueness of this art is that when the ceiling is complete, it acquires a unique geometrical pattern. The forest department at appropriate intervals supplies wood, the primary raw material for this craft. This is facilitated due to the Association of Khatamband artisans. They act as mediators to distribute the stock within the registered groups in stipulated quotas. Few changes have taken place in the process of Khatamkari. Earlier the Ricna was a traditional tool used to make markings on the wooden plank. Now, they use a pencil. Though the Ricna was more precise in it's markings, the craftsmen discontinued its use since it strained the eye to use it. Ply has replaced the wood in the ceiling frames as wood has become more expensive.
Myths & Legends
Woodwork was an essential part of Kashmiri lifestyle from time immemorial. The carpenter made not only household items but also items for temples and royalty. The art of carpentry was recognized as an essential part of community work. Ancient texts like the Brihat Samhita and Shilpa Shastra provide detailed instructions on woodwork - how to work with the different kinds of wood and even how to fell the various trees.
Jammu and Kashmir is known for its woodwork, stemming from the wide variety of trees growing in the region. It has a rich history of woodwork and carving, popularly seen in the architecture of the place. History mentions 12-storeyed palace in Srinagar made of woodwork. This was destroyed during the reign of King Harsha, when invaders set fire to it. Woodcraft flourished post 1028, especially in architectural elements. The new palaces called the Razdanis were set up on the banks of river Vitasta or Jhelum. These banks were close to the rich forests of Tashwan where the wood could be sources easily. The palace, moved to the left bank during the reign of King Ananta (1028-1063), was beautifully crafted in wood. Bihana mentioned the wooden architectural elements, the great 11th century Kashmiri author. He wrote about them with awe in his courtly epic, Vikramankadeva Charitam. King Jayasimha (1128-1140) allowed his citizens free supply of wood from the forests, which led to many wooden houses being built in this region. During the reign of King Zain-ul-Abadin, woodcraft flourished and is said to have reached its artistic peak. His palace was a testimonial for the richness of skill and heritage. Unfortunately, it was set alight by Chak rebels. It is said that the palace kept smoldering for an entire year. It is believed that all Hindu/Buddhist buildings of Ancient Kashmir are of stone, on the other hand many of the mosques and shrines that were built subsequently, are either made wholly of wood or are decorated finely in wood. Their facades even though partly built of brick masonry have yet eloquent use of wood in the form of structural material as well as decorative element. The wood has been utilized to build the pyramidal roofs, balconies, verandahs, arcades, porticoes, paneled walls and painted ceilings.
It is believed that the famous saint, Shah-I-Hamdaan, who visited the Himalayan valley along with many followers that also included Khatamband artists from Iran, brought Khatamband to Kashmir during the 14th Century. These artisans passed on this art to local Kashmiris. Architect Bilal Sheikh says, â€œKhatamband got popular in Kashmir because of its beauty and quality of insulation.â€. Later, Mirza Hyder Douglat worked hard in spreading the art throughout Kashmir. A finished ceiling comes alive in unique geometrical patterns. With hardly any nails used, this ceiling can easily be dissembled and re-assembled at another place. . Few of these artists stayed on in Kashmir in the Traal village.
These artists passed on their craft to the Geeru family. Khatamband however did not flourish at the time. Mirza Hyder Daulat later revived it in 1514. The Geeru families are now concentrated in an area called Safa Kadal. The art of khatamband is said to have been introduced by Mughals from the Persian khatamband that was also made in Central Asia. However, the existing specimens show that in Kashmir certain innovations were made in the craft that replaced the ivory, bone, mother of pearl, brass and silver and in this place pure wooden pieces were painted with floral motifs as in the mosque of the Madani. It was also sometimes painted to give different hues to separate geometrical panels or else inscriptions written as on the panels of the wall in the Khanqah at Srinagar. Such innovations even though make the craft different from the khatamband in the outlook, yet these make it more beautiful. In the past this craft may have been very popular and has been appreciated for its beauty. In the mid nineties, the craft died down due to its extravagance and the cost, which came with it. Houseboat manufacturers were the traditional customers of Khatamkari. That too did not help since no new houseboat has been constructed for over a decade. The Geerus secretly guarded the craft till the 20th century and then passed on through generations
There are more than 160 designs for the Khatamband in Kashmir, but today's artists can only reproduce about 100. Artists have however greatly compensated the lost designs with newer ones, where they experiment with mirror, colour combination and other things and there is no limit to their creativeness. The meaning of Khatam translates to 'incrustation'. These incrustation patterns are usually star shaped. They are made with thin sticks of ebony, teak, ziziphus, orange or rose wood. Brass was used for golden parts and camel bones for the white parts. For collection objects, expensive material like gold, silver and iron are used. The mosque of Madani in Srinagar, a small building but the earliest example surviving, has its roof in the pyramidal wooden style supported on long wooden columns with a paneled ceiling in khatam-band, as is the case in the Khanaqh-i-Mualla in Srinagar. These and many buildings in and outside Srinagar that have elaborate carving on the base and capital of the pillars as well as wooden ceiling in Khatamband design. Their super structures in the form of arcades and porticoes, their opening filled with latticework, and enriched carved wooden insertions enhance charm and accentuate the stylishness of this architecture.
The design consists of various polygonal patterns held together by beading. Few names of the many patterns are Muraba, Kansut, Sarva, Lakut, Bod, Badam, Sakhur, Bita, and Tobul etc.
The craft of Khatamband is not facing any challenges as such and is rather doing very well both domestically and internationally. But, the increase in demand is leading to large scale requirement of hardwood from deodar and pine trees growing in the hills, which in the coming years might lead to environmental damage.