By Dar Javed
Walking in the maze of narrow lanes and by-lanes into Old Srinagar called shaheri-khass, meandering through its exposed brick and wooden structures, often shouting for some care and attention in silence. These old embellishments adorning the dwellings and monuments with carved wood facades, intricatepinjra on their exteriors, beautiful lines of khatambandh on their ceilings, telling of a time …of a beautiful bridge man has made with history ….mesmerizing!
Going back to the roots of the craft, its name Khatam-bandh means Polygons combining or stacking together with the help of wooden beadings .It is an art of making ceiling by putting together walnut or deodar wood pieces into geometrical patterns. the uniqueness of this craft is that when the process of making is complete it acquires a unique and beautiful geometrical pattern ,most of the process is done by hand hence it indeed is a painstaking work .About its origin in Kashmir some say This beautiful art was brought to Kashmir in 1541 by Mirza Hyder Tugluq in Mughal times, some believe that this art was brought by Islamic Mystic and saint Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (RA) who visited Kashmir in 14th century along with his followers that also included Khatamband artists from Iran. These artisans passed on this art to local Kashmiris.
Over centuries, the art of khatamband is one of the best forms of artistic talent of Kashmiris. In order to preserve this beautiful art, it was awarded Geographical indication (GI) certificate in 2011 ,Journal No. 41 and certificate No.164 …symbolizing their exclusively in international market
Since its arrival to Kashmir, khatamband art like other arts has also witnessed many ups and downs due to the turbulent times ,be it nineties(90’s) or the continuous prevailing situations ,however it took a bad hit in Nineties. But now it is again in great demand.
Earlier Khatamband used to be the domain of shrines mosques, palaces, royal houses, or houseboats .however now due to the surge in income every other person (Middle and upper middle class) want it for their houses .Khatamband ceilings is now preferred everywhere. According the latest survey conducted in 2012, the total turnover from this sector is Rs 36 crore
There are more than 160 khatamband designs, but not all designs are reproduced as those require very high skills. As per a research by noted designer Sandeep Sangaru with craft development institute Srinagar, there are about 500-700 khatamband artisans in Srinagar. They work in groups of 10- 15 under a master craftsman. As the craft incorporate different geometric shapes the work is very repetitive and is made use machines ,like electric motors and electric saws, this reduces the time consumption,besides providing a compact flawless geometrical shapes .Raw material used is procured locally .it is supplied by JK Forest Deptt. In regular intervals as per availability.
Patterns and Designs:
Some famous designs are : BeetDar ,Mouje Lehar, Has Pohal ,Dawazdha Girid, Chengis Kani, Chaar Baksh ,Hastubal, Pohal Muraba, Muraba Badam,….etc.
Plight of Artisans
Kashmir for centuries has been associated with rich art and culture but for decades has been arrested in a steep decline of this legacy. The artists associated with handicraft are poorest of the communities of the society. Artisans associated with the Khatamband craft are getting wages of 500 to 600 after a tedious labour of 14 hrs a day. According to the Khatamband artists union,the govt provides them firewood quota of around 3000 quintals for one year, which gets consumed in three months .Forest dept provides them firewood for Rs 425 per feet, they get the same from market at Rs 800 (Report published on Kashmir ink ) . Wood should be provided at reasonable rates for full year.
Like other crafts, Khatamband has suffered due to it being unorganized, with the additional constraints of lack of education, low capital, poor exposure to new technologies, absence of market intelligence, and poor institutional frame work. The state has to work on many fronts to revive this age old craft in Kashmir….. (To be continued).
(The writer, a postgraduate in craft designing management and entrepreneurship works as RPF at DIC central university of Kashmir. He is also working with award winning Delhi based initiative ‘Commitment to Kashmir’ on project KASHMIRIYAT.He can reached at: [email protected])