A slice of paradise:  How handmade tilla works withstand test of time despite advent of machines

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SRINAGAR:  As he walks into the sunset, Ghulam Nabi Shah, 74, vividly remembers his heydays when he started tilla artwork at a small shop outside the shrine of Amir Kabir Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (R.A.) at Khanqah-e-Moula.

For 60 years, Shah has nurtured the art with blood and sweat. Even machines could not beat his zeal and art.   “Tilla craft is highly valued in Kashmir. People who love this craft always go for handmade tilla works. Machines do not thrill them. Handmade till works require time and that is why people place orders in advance,” he said.

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Shah said not every fabric can have a machine-made tilla. For example, machines cannot be used for tilla works on the pashmina. “The importance of the handmade tilla works has not been diminished despite the advent of machines. I continue to receive orders for handmade tilla works,” he said.

Welcome to Kashmir, despite the overwhelming influence of contemporary technology, the handcrafted tilla work is still in great demand.

 It is believed that Amir Kabir Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (R.A.) brought arts and crafts to the valley with him when he migrated there. Through his actions, he unlocked unprecedented channels for interaction between Iran and Kashmir. Amir Kabir’s (R.A.) flourishing arts and crafts helped to improve the valley’s economy. He took hundreds of skilled apprentices, skilled in weaving shawls, calligraphy, painting, and other crafts, with him when he arrived in Kashmir. Allama Iqbal (R.A.) even said that Shah-i-Hamdan (R.A.) was responsible for the marvelous arts and crafts that transformed Kashmir into a miniature Iran and revolutionized the advancement of the common people.

 Numerous tilla artisans are preserving their skills outside the shrine of Shah-e-Hamdan (R.A.), also called Khanqah-e-Moula. With nearly nine decades of existence, the bazaar is well-known for its handcrafted Tilla in Srinagar. Tilla is a popular choice for many individuals, particularly women, for their shawls, suits, and other items. Even if machines are also used to craft the tilla on cloth, the allure of manually tilled fabric has not diminished.

Master craftsman Gulzar Ahmad claimed that despite machines, he has witnessed no change in the value of handcrafted tilla.

 “It plays a significant role in our culture. Even though tilla is now crafted on fabric by machines, but that hasn’t affected what we still do by hand. People are aware of the importance of manual labor and understand that they cannot favor machines in a place where hand labor has already cemented a strong cultural position,” he said.

According to Gulzar, handmade till work is more expensive because it is intricate and requires a lot of time.

 “In keeping with Kashmiri customs Brides typically like hand-worked shawls and pherans in wardan (bridal dresses). Every day, I receive two to three orders, mostly from women who are getting married. Tilla craft has a unique elegance that cannot be taken away from it,” he said.

To preserve the art, Shah has started encouraging the younger generation to learn the intricacies of this work. “The young should give it a shot. Isn’t it better to learn the art rather than stay idle? If someone learns the art, he can earn enough money to meet their basic needs because it has a lasting importance, which makes it a better option than engaging in drug use or other undesirable habits,” he said.