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Kashmir, the paradise on earth, refers to the region's breathtaking natural beauty and traditional handicrafts. Along with many other types of art, Kashmir is renowned for its unique wood carving technique.
One of Kashmir's most significant crafts is carving on walnut wood. With an elevation of 5500–7500 feet above sea level, Kashmir is one of the key locations where walnuts grow. The wood is sturdy and robust, and delicate and intricate work is made easier by the wood's close grain and uniform texture. Additionally, artistic effects are visible easily on its polished surface.
Rose, lotus, iris, clusters of grapes, pears, and chinar leaves are frequently seen as motifs on a range of carved goods. Wooden artefacts with strong relief carving feature dragon designs and patterns adapted from Kani and embroidered shawls.
During the rule of Zainul Abdideen in the 15th century, Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom is thought to have brought walnut woodcarving to Kashmir, largely to boost the valley's economy.
Initially, the art was only used to build ornate castles and homes. Written accounts describe the enormous razdani, or palace, of Zain-ul-Abadin and the intricate woodcarvings within. The shrines of Nund Rishi, Noor-ud-din-Wali, and the Naqshaband mosque are just a few instances of the outstanding examples of finely carved buildings, shrines, and mausoleums that still exist in Kashmir.
All About Walnut Wood Carving
The walnut tree, called locally "Doon Kul," provides the raw material for the beautiful woodcarving of Kashmir. The tree is only chopped once it reaches the age of 300 years.
The city of Srinagar is the center of wood carving art. Walnut wood workshops may be found in the heart of Srinagar, where master carvers lean over the wood, chiseling and polishing.
The processes involved in walnut wood carving are joinery or carpentry, carving, and polishing, each with their own expert artisans.
The master carver, known as naqqash, begins by etching simple designs on the wood before subtly enhancing them using fine chisels and a wooden mallet to create an embossed surface. The carving of furniture and other delicate things is a complicated and intricate procedure that calls for the highest level of expertise and traditional workmanship. A kharkhana, or workshop, is run by an ustad, or master, who is accompanied by karigars.
Earlier, the karigars used to sing old Kashmiri compositions like sufia kalams, or other songs to keep themselves energised through the tedious process of carving. Gradually radio, and now smartphones, often dish out the music.
Struggle To Keep Walnut Wood Carving Going
Nowadays, walnut wood carving craftsmen face several challenges in Kashmir, such as the craftwork not producing enough cash, making it difficult for local craftsmen to continue the craft practice, and artists are concerned about the craft's future. With fewer students in walnut carving and fewer active karigars or artisans in Kashmir, current karigars find it challenging to fulfil the demand for wood-carved items.
To accommodate rising demand, shopkeepers in Kashmir collaborate with wood carving craftsmen in Saharanpur to bridge the supply-demand gap. The items from Saharanpur have contributed to the growing demand for Kashmiri souvenirs that are affordable to visiting tourists. Saharanpur, a town in western Uttar Pradesh, is also known for its beautiful wood carvings. These trades may be dated back to the late nineteenth century. The relationship and migration of Kashmiri artists in that area introduced Kashmiri patterns. These artisans were well-known for their distinctive jaali and vine leaf motifs.
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