Meet Ghulam Nabi Dar who was awarded Padma Shri for outstanding contribution to wood carving

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Srinagar: Ghulam Nabi Dar could not hold back his tears when he was named among 110 Padma award winners. With prayers on his lips, Dar raised his hands to thank Almighty Allah for the honor.

From early childhood, the 72-year-old wood carving artisan from Safa Kadal battled extreme poverty as work became scarce and running a family became a challenge. However, he did not lose heart and continued to fight the odds.

Come 2024, Dar has been awarded Padma Shri for his outstanding work in traditional Kashmiri walnut wood carving.

 “My father was a successful businessman, but one day he suffered a significant loss that affected the entire family. My father was unable to cover my school fees, therefore I had to drop out,” he told The Kashmir Monitor.

Being the eldest of six brothers and five sisters, he took responsibility and set out to find work. “I was 10 years old when I started looking out for work. My maternal uncle took me and my younger brother to an artisan to teach us handicrafts. There were no practical learnings there. We just learned the basics about the handicrafts and then went to another artisan Abdul Aziz Bhat to learn more,” said Dar.

Dar said with dedication and hard work, anything is possible. “I used to practice all night until I could create the ideal flower design or do whatever the master had shown me during the day”, he said.

Then something happened that sparked Dar’s passion. “Orders for Bhat’s workshop used to come from Subla & Company, a reputable company at the time. He used to send us to the company to design the almiras. I was mesmerized by the amazing carvings. These designs were created by old skilled Kashmiri artists. I decided to pursue this work,” he said.

Later, Dar went out to search for an old artisan who could teach him the real traditional work of carving. “I asked a lot of artists to teach me the ancient carving techniques, but they discouraged me since there wasn’t much of a market for it. The elderly artists didn’t want me to experience the same poverty they experienced. They wanted me to concentrate on something else,” he said.

Dar was unaffected by the artisan’s refusal to instruct him; he kept looking for a teacher and pursued his desire. “Fortunately I found Master Nooruddin who honed my skills and I learned the art through his drawings. I am thankful to him. Whatever I am today it’s just because of him,” he said.

In the 1970’s, Dar opened his workshop, but due to persistent financial issues, he decided to move outside. “I had to travel to Baghdad for work. There, my work received excellent recognition. They cherished the work I did. I used to get approached by a lot of firms who wanted me to join them and promised me more money than the previous workshops were paying. I produced excellent work”, he said.

Dar got everything he dreamt of. His financial conditions were getting better now. “ I got fame, money, recognition. My hard work paid off and finally, after 2 years I decided to come back to my hometown  Kashmir,” he said.

Having won both state and national awards, Dar is the most renowned craftsman in Kashmir. “My motivation to work increased after every prize and award”, he said.

Dar’s son has also decided to contribute to the wood carvings and continue the legacy of his father. “My son used to watch me working in my shop and developed an interest in it. Currently, we are three people, me my son, and my younger brother who are working in the workshop. . Alhamdulilah, in addition to Kashmir, we receive orders from all over the world, including Saudi Arabia, Kerela, Bombay, and Calcutta. People from at least every part of the globe adore our work,” he said.

Dar isn’t satisfied with modern carvings as, according to him, traditional carvings are fast fading out. “The real traditional carvings are fading day by day. To me it’s rough work people do nowadays. The real work needs passion, dedication, and patience which is very less seen in the present scenario”.

Dar urged officials to establish handicraft centers in Kashmir where people, particularly the youth, could be given training for at least five years in wood carving. “To teach Kashmir’s youth the ancient carvings, old artisans and other expert artisans should support these centers”, he added.

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