India’s paper tradition has an antiquity of nearly a thousand years. Even though is presently caught in a struggle between the changing past and an unknown future, India still has the largest population of hand paper makers in the world.
Handmade paper is used multi-fold in Sikkim, from religious manuscripts to its use in monasteries by monks to being sold to the government. The handmade paper is further treated with local herbs enabling preservation for several decades, a common practice for religious manuscripts in Sikkim. Other uses include utilitarian products such as file covers, bags, photo frames, lamps, to name a few. In the older days however, handmade paper was extensively used as is to maintain official records, notifications of the Chogyal’s durbar and the state gazettes.
The basic raw material for the handmade paper stems from two sources – recycled paper and the lesser popular option now, locally available, Argali (Edgeworthia gardenia) bark. The making process first involves compiling and sorting the waste material – primarily old files and documents from the office and cloth waste – rags, synthetics etc. A pulp is formed as the waste is mixed with water and put into a beater followed by lifting, a process of converting the pulp into rectangular shapes. Water is then removed by hydraulic pressing and individual sheets are left to dry before passing them through a calendar. The final step involves finishing and smoothing the paper through a series of hard pressure rollers. The handmade paper is now ready to be cut into the desired size.
A hand paper unit was also set up by the Directorate of Handicrafts & Handloom, Gangtok in 1957 to further promote the eco-friendly process of converting city waste into handmade paper.