Exquisite Art, gifted hands

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Over the centuries, skilled Kashmiri artisans have produced a myriad of intricate and elegant pieces of art—carved in wood. Junaid Bazaz reports on the beautiful tradition of woodwork.

 

My Art Work: A Kashmir wood carver's creation.

My Art Work: A Kashmir wood carver’s creation.

Kashmir is home to the finest quality of walnut wood in the world. It is the only state in India where walnut grows. The texture and quality of the walnut wood differs even on the same tree. The wood acquired from the root of walnut tree is almost black in color and is the most expensive part of the tree.

Walnut wood is carved to create beautiful furniture and showpieces. There are several types of walnut woodcarving. The most expensive carving method utilizes the deep carving technique. It requires the skills of the best artisans of Kashmir to create deeply carved walnut wood works. Dragons and lotus flowers are popular motifs used in the deep carving crafts. In shallow carvings, the lattice work has Chinar motifs embossed onto the wood. In semi carvings, designs are carved along the rim in a thin panel, occasionally with a central motif.

Wood carving is done on a wide range of products—from everyday furniture such as wardrobes, table lamps and dining tables, to more ornate decorative pieces and jewelry boxes.

History

The art of wood carving in Jammu and Kashmir dates back to many centuries, but artisans believe it was explored and improved approximately 650 years ago by the Muslim saint Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (R.A).

Artisans believe on his arrival to Kashmir, the saint brought many artists from across the world along with him, including those from Iran. In addition to spreading the teachings of Islam, these artisans taught Kashmiris the art of wood carving. “Basically it is from there that wood carving was actually introduced to Kashmir,” veteran artist Ghulam Rasool Ahanger said.

After the introduction of the art, intricacies and developments in wooden work began to flourish in Kashmir. Later, Zain-ul Abedin was responsible for the development of wood work and architecture of wood in Kashmir.

Architects say that the wooden palaces of Zain-Ul- Abedin were more expansive and elaborate than any other example of wooden architecture, as the wooden patterns were connected together through innovative techniques without the use of nails, hinges or glue.

The ancient history of wood work in Kashmir is also evident in the ornate and magnificent wooden palaces of ancient kings in the region.

Process of Carving

According to Ghulam Rasool Ahanger, an artisan with 45 years of experience, it takes seven stages for an artifact to be completed:

1.            First, the walnut wood is seasoned for two years.

2.            Then the wood carver draws a sketch of the design over the surface. The process is called Dagun.

3.            At this stage the design is carved by different devices. This is referred to as Zamin Kadun.

4.            The artifact is then given a particular shape called Guzar (giving a face). At this point, the artifact is almost complete.

5.            Then sandpaper is used to create a smooth finish.

6.            If anything is to be re-done or there is a lacunae in the work it is set right using fine tools and the process is called Daagsumbe.

The piece is then taken to a polisher and finally finished by a special kind of stone, what artisans call Plut in local parlance.

Raw Material

Ahanger says that there are broadly three types of wood used for carving – walnut, deodar, and kayur. Artisans choose from amongst these three based on what the artisan has in mind to create. For instance, Ahanger says, “If an artisan has to carve for construction purpose, there is no better choice than deodar. And if he has to create something for purposes other than this, then walnut or kayur is best suited for the job.”

The forests of Kashmir are rich in biodiversity, and have an abundance of wood. But buyers mostly desire material made of walnut wood. Ahanger says, “This is available in abundance and in good quality in the south Kashmir regions of Islamabad and Shopian.  It is of Grade A quality and is preferred both by artisans and buyers.

Market

The demand of Kashmiri wood carving is high, within Kashmir and outside the state as well. Over the years, its market has increased locally and internationally. Abdul Lateef, who sells wood carvings both in the state and outside says that markets is increasing steadily. “Earlier the local market was not as good as it is today. Now a lot of Kashmiris prefer it also,” says Lateef while displaying wood carved artifacts to customers at his showroom on the Boulevard.

 

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