Aesthetic Appeal: Papier Mache craft from Kashmir

05-03-2021

Aesthetic Appeal: Papier Mache craft from Kashmir

We all are aware of Papier Mache as a craft piece that we made during our school activity class. But is Papier Mache just limited to junior school activity or is it beyond that? The answer is much more beyond…

Papier Mache is one of the most popular traditional crafts from Kashmir that has been passed down from generations for centuries. The art was introduced in India in the 14th century by a Persian mystic, Mir Syed Ali Hamdani on his visit to Kashmir. Several skilled artisans and craftsmen from Persia accompanied him who taught this beautiful paper art to the local craftsmen of the Valley. ‘Papier mache’ is actually a French word that means ‘chewed or mashed paper’. The art became famous by its Persian name ‘Kar-i-Qalamdani’ which means a pen case. Initially, it was restricted to making pen cases only. But through the years, as the local artisans from Kashmir learnt the art and added their own style to it thereby making it famous all over the world with a number of artefacts being manufactured under Papier mache.

The most famous papier mache artefacts include utility items like jewellery boxes, storage boxes, coasters, bowls, trays, pen stands and home decor items like vases, miniature hookahs, photo and mirror frames, Easter eggs, animal figures, wall hangings, etc.  Papier mache is also used for making furniture pieces like stools, chests and cabinets, lamps, tables, etc. Some popular themes that are used in Kashmir Papier Mache include the designs inspired by life scenes of Mughal kings and queens, Gul Ander Gul (Flowers within flowers), Gul-i-Hazara (a pattern of thousand flowers), Bagaldar Chinar (the famous chinar tree of Kashmir), birds, Jungle scenes, and various geometrical patterns.  

The art of making a Papier mache handicraft is very time consuming and requires a lot of dedication, accuracy and hard work. Papier Mache is carried out in two major steps -

Sakthsazi (making the structure of the artefact)

The sakthsazi is the process in which the basic structure is made using the pulp of paper. It begins with soaking the waste paper in water for several days. This soaked paper along with pieces of cloth and the straws of a rice plant is then crushed manually in a stone mortar. The mixture is crushed until a very fine pulp is obtained. Glue is then mixed to this pulp.

This mixture is applied to the desired mould and then left to dry for some days. After drying, the piece along with the mould is cut into two halves and the mould is removed. The cut pieces are carefully joined together with glue. The structure is now smoothened with either a stone, baked clay or a wooden file.

Naqashi (painting or decorating the artefact)

A thin layer of butter paper is pasted over the smoothened piece which acts as a barrier between the basic raw structure and the final paint coat thereby protecting the paint from cracking off the finished article. The artist now draws different designs by hand on the object and it is coloured using minerals and organic or vegetable colours. Finally, the varnish is applied to give an added lustre to the artefact.  

Besides making valuable Papier mache handicrafts, the art was used to decorate walls and ceiling of monuments like the Shah-e-Hamdan mosque and the Naqshband shrine in Kashmir.

Papier mache is a pure handcrafted and time-consuming art which is why the end products are generally expensive and rare. As a result, cheap, machine-made imitations of papier mache is flooded in the market leading to a decline in demand and sale of this traditional handicraft from Kashmir. To prevent this art from dying and to help the regional artisans earn a decent livelihood from it thereby protecting their knowledge and community rights, Geographical Indication (GI) tag is accorded to Kashmir Papier Mache in the year 2012.