Dying art

The beautiful Panjrakari that for centuries decorated Kashmir’s mosques, shrines and some government buildings may soon be a thing of past as very few people take up the trade. Abdul Mohamin reports.

The craft of lattice work, locally known as Panjrakari, is dying in Kashmir as nobody seems to be interested in learning the art.

The fall of the most intricate of the interior designing crafts in Kashmir is also attributed to it being labour intensive and expensive.

The Pinjrakari art, to a large extent, is similar to Khatamband, in which the ceiling is laid with small wooden plates joined together in various designs.

Shakeel Ahmad of Saidapora Eidgah is a Panjrikari artisan. Earlier he would do the Khatmband work. Shakeel says that doing Panjrikari on windows is not a viable option anymore as it is very expensive.

“Panjrakari has almost become limited to screens, railings, partitions and many other utility products used to enhance the aesthetics of a room or interior decoration,” says Ahmad.

The best Panjrakari works still exist in mosques and shrines across the valley.

Haji Abdul Ahad Najar, who is well versed with Panjrikari but is practicing Khatamband says that very few Panjrakari artisans exist in Kashmir as some have died and others have given up the trade.

“We have not only lost the craftsman, but we have lost the understanding of this art,” Najar said. Advanced geometry was used to achieve the level of beauty and perfection we still find in traditional work, he added.

There are more than 100 different Panjrakari designs and some master craftsmen have evolved superb designs with innovation.

Gule Aftab and Doule Kondure may be the widely made pattern by the modern day craftsmen, but Chingus Khani, Shashtez, Mouje, Mouje Haider, Kandoure, Kripe Koundere, Dawazae Gird, Dawaza Panjak, Panch Muraba, Deh Tez, Dawazah Deh, Sehashpehlu were also popular, says Najar.

The Panjrakari patterns are mostly named in Persian where a similar kind of work that even reached the Arab word is called Meshrabiya.

Terming the revival of the art difficult, Najar said, “The patience one needs to learn the skill is missing besides the work being is too labour intensive and expensive for the customers.”

In the traditional method Panjrakari was done on locally available fir and deodar (cedar) wood. The panjra was arranged in the geometrical forms using mostly bridle and tenon and mortise joints locally called krapewath and ter te tram format.

Najar says that most of the workerss today are using wood bonding agents like resins to attain strength instead of going for the traditional way of fixing it.

The so called Panjrakari artisans nowadays, Najar says, try to copy the former designs, but are unaware that the designs were a product of close relationship between various simple scientific methods that produced such complex patterns.

Panjrakari started with the arrival of Islam here in 1373 CE. Revered saint Mir Syed Ali Hamdani came to Kashmir and Panjrakari artisans accompanying him settled in South Kashmir area of Gur falling between Bijbhera and Islamabad.

While in other parts they excelled in Panjrakari in stone our part made its mark by using wood and it was used to adorn every new mosque and shrine and it became a part of houses of the rich during the late 19th century.

During the Dogra period, Panjrakari was used in various buildings but had a steady decline since, though the craft is used in tourist huts and some government buildings even now.

The Craft Development Institute (CDI) is attempting to revive this dying craft.

HM Iqbal, Coodionator Marketing and Promotion at CDI says the biggest hurdle in its revival is the lack of master craftsmen, who “may not be more than five in number”.

“We are looking at possibility of increasing its craftsmen base and introducing such works that have a readily available market. To some extent our workshop has helped a few artisans to take this craft forward,” said Iqbal adding that the Institute is also working to get geographical indication (GI) for this product.

“The craft declined over a period of time as Panjrakari is a costly affair and the traditional works we see at our mosques and shrines need a higher level of skill and labor,” Iqbal said.

Akhtar Hussain who is incharge of organizing workshops at CDI said that they were looking at possibility of involving more craftsmen who can be taught traditional patterns and some of the designs developed by the CDI.

Ghulam Rasool, a pinjrakari craftsman at Rambagh Srinagar, said that this art needs a strong support.

“The timber is quite expensive. We are using low cost, inferior timber to reduce the cost of the products. If the government provides good timber at reasonable rates the trade can be run profitably,” he said.

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