“I have always wondered what is it that has drawn me to Kashmir, ever since I was a child. In earlier days I thought it was the beauty visible to my eyes, the natural splendor that was always a part of my fantasies. Over a period of time, I have realized there has been a force beyond what I could see – the spirit of Kashmir, which has been living and pulsating under the Kashmir soil from eternity, that has allured me. Last year, I spent two weeks in downtown Srinagar, walking down the streets dotted with skeletal houses in a decrepit state and I realized the aptness of the statement, “”All that was beautiful is now ugliness of devastation. And yet I do not altogether die; what is indestructible in me remains.”” It is this inner beauty, the spiritual beauty, and the natural beauty that is imperishable. It is the splendor of nature that has made its place into the culture and traditions of the valley and its denizens. And what an apt epitome of all this through the Kashmir arts and crafts!
Looking back at the origin of the craft and cultural traditions of Kashmir and its non-stop journey, one can see its cultural heritage is as multidimensional as the variegated backdrop of its physical exuberance. It has been in flux, and the present cumulative expression is the result of a mix of Buddhist compassion, Hindu tolerance and Muslim zest for life which have been enshrined into the heartbeats of the inhabitants of the Happy Valley. Closely linked to this is also the effect of landscape – its sanctity and evergreen stature, on the people of Kashmir, their lifestyles, and their traditions, their art and culture.
Legends tell that tens of crores of years ago, Kashmir Valley was a lake called Satisar, the lake of Goddess Sati. Rishi Kashyap went to Kashmir to rescue people from an oppressive Demon, called JalodBowa. He broke open the mountain wall at Baramulla and the water of Lake Satisar flowed out, leaving behind the oval but irregular valley of Kashmir. Historians say that Kashmir Valley was originally known as Kashyapmar or the abode of Rishi Kashyap. With time the name changed to Kashmar, and finally Kashmir.
Kashmir, from 2nd Century was annexed by Emperor Kanishka and became a part of the Kushan Empire. The culture of Kashmir was preserved for many centuries. It was in 3rd century that Emperor Ashoka sent Buddhist missionaries to Kashmir where they established their first town, Srinagar, which was the base for great works of Buddhism and Sanskrit Literature.
It was against this backdrop that Kashmir was converted to Islam in early 14th Century – a peaceful conversion. Many noted Persian leaders sought refuge in the valley. It was under the regime of Zain-ul-abul-Din that many of handicrafts for which Kashmir is now famous, including carpet weaving and papiermache were introduced. During his rule, varied skilled artisans moved to the valley and prospered through his efforts to enrich arts, leading to interaction and fusion of the indigenous traditional crafts with the outside influences. The Mughal era, without doubts had a strong cultural and aesthetic influence on Kashmir.
In today’s supersonic age, in spite of the invasion of the machine made goods flooding the village markets, it is the mud pot, the home spun and embroidered shawls, the kangri and the glittering copper samovar that occupy a significant place in every Kashmiri home, just as the aroma of Kashmir’s divine culinary creations refined for centuries for the royal palate continues to fill the air around Kashmiri kitchen.
No wonder that the people of Kashmir, who have, generation after generation lived with the unparalleled beauty of bounteous nature, carry the indelible imprints of their beauty as perceptions in their chastened minds which find expression in their creativity. The patterns and designs in all craftsmanship bear witness to the artisan’s affinity with nature and his awe and admiration for the abundance of color and form, found in his environment. It is the trees, the flowers, the awesome snow covered mountains that have stirred their creativity. Motifs such as lotus and iris (sosan), water lily (gule–neelofar), narcissus (nargis), chinar leaves, bulbul, kingfisher, honeybee etc comes so naturally to the carver’s chisel or the naqash’s brush as if under the spell of nature. Similarly, the shimmering waters of myriad lakes and streams and the snow-clad mountains lend inspiration to the weaver’s choice of color and forms.
These deft fingers, huddled in a warm cozy room, along with the comforts of kangri and hookah, holding a needle or a chisel or a brush reiterate the notion that a man or a woman with imagination, skill and sensitivity to his environment needs only the simplest of implements to create patterns of infinite beauty.
No wonder, Emperor Jahangir’s last wish was “”Kashmir and nothing else!””
Crafts of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, published by Mapin publishers
Geography of Jammu & Kashmir State – Dr A.N Raina
Glimpses of Kashmiri culture– Prof K.N Dhar
Photographs by GopikaNath