Powerful journalism on tap - Download The Kashmir Monitor app.

Domes, Mehrab, Minarets: Master coppersmith’s Islamic designs infuse new life into dying art

Srinagar: Mohammad Aslam Bhat starts his day by banging vessels at a quaint shop near Shah-e-Hamadan shrine on the banks of Jhelum in the old city. 

He may look just like another coppersmith in town but Bhat gets invited to exhibitions all over the country where he also delivers talks.

Photo: Umar Ganie/KM

There was a time when copperware was only associated with utensils, but Bhat has been credited with breathing new life into old techniques by bringing forth new designs and products ranging from motifs of Valley based shrines to table lamps.

Photo: Umar Ganie/KM

“There was a time when we would only make traditional utensils but now a new generation and new thinking has come forth. The artisans too brought the desired change but the essence of our products remains the same. New designs include motifs of Hazratbal and Khanqah-e-Moula shrines among others. If you look at these designs, you can notice the dome, ‘mehrab’ and old traditional window that are a part of Islamic art. Besides, we also make lamp shades, table lamps and traditional utensils like ‘majma’  and ‘handi’ in new designs but having a Kashmiri touch,” Bhat told The Kashmir Monitor.

He said he first got the idea of bringing innovative designs after meeting a designer at the Craft Development Institute (CDI), Srinagar.

Photo: Umar Ganie/KM

“It was my dream to take my products to the urban market but I needed a platform. One day I met a new designer at CDI who first asked me to make new designs and products. People that time asked me what I was doing and if I was doing the right thing, but soon I received an order from Noida and got a good response later,” he said.

Bhat, who learnt the craft from his maternal grandfather Ghulam Nabi Misgar, said copper-work had a great future but they needed better support from the government.

“Now, I get offers to do work that was hitherto not related to copper. I once got an offer to make Christmas decorations that I could not take due to other commitments at that point of time. People also tell me that the copper lamp shades are solid and unbreakable and want more. And after Covid, demand for copper utensils has increased as people feel using the same is good for health. We especially receive a lot of support and encouragement vis-a-vis orders and new designs through the ‘Commitment to Kashmir’ (CtoK) project under the aegis of Laila Tyabji, head of ‘Dastkar’, and other big names that have played a great role in revival of traditional crafts,” he said.

Photo: Umar Ganie/KM

“At places like Pune where they use machines to make copper goods, coppersmiths get a lot of support from the government unlike here in Kashmir. In Pune, I also saw copper utensils being used in restaurants. Here, all our products are handmade and the same amaze people outside,” added Aslam, who has attended exhibitions and addressed seminars at Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Telangana.

Art researcher Wiqar Bashir said Bhat was among the ‘last few master craftsmen of this calibre’.

“The virtuosity of Mohammad Aslam Bhat is amazing and he has nearly four decades of experience in the field. Malleating copper and especially the harder low grade (as fine grade is not available in Kashmir now) into small table vessels or the structurally complicated samovar is a highly skilled craft, which he executes deftly. He is undoubtedly one of the last few master craftsmen of this calibre. Interesting, he has also pioneered use of Kashmiri architectural elements and Islamic geometric ‘jali’, cut work for lamp shades and these products are a class apart and a connoisseur’s delight,” he said while adding that the craft needed more support from the government and other agencies.

Photo: Umar Ganie/KM

“In Pune, the craft was revived with strong backing from INTACH and Forbes Marshall Foundation. The once dead craft is now in high demand, fancy and exported overseas too. The government here has to think serious and look beyond occasional event demos and petty incentives. This craft desperately needs design innovations, material quality control and branding to survive and flourish. Otherwise, this will be history soon,” Wiqar told The Kashmir Monitor