Meet Nazir Pahalwan, the only surviving craftsman who keeps dying art of ‘meenakari’ alive in Kashmir

KM/A Aamir Khan

Srinagar: Once a much sought after embellishment art of the Kashmir valley, ‘meenakari’ (enamel work) is now dying a slow death.

While the youngsters do not take to this craft anymore, experts consider old city resident Nazir A Pahalwan, 68, the ‘last surviving master-craftsman’ of ‘meenakari’.

Despite ailing health and bad financial conditions, Pahalwan has kept the dying art of ‘meenakari’ alive for the last 50 years. He continues to do ‘meenakari’ from the dilapidated workplace in the premises of his residence at Sokhalipur, Rajouri Kadal – a stone’s throw away from the historic Mahraj Gunj market.

Photo: KM/M Aamir Khan

“I learnt this craft from my father Ghulam Nabi Pahalwan, who died at a ripe age of 94. When I took to this craft as a youngster, even those days not many people were doing ‘meenakari’. At Amirakadal, there was one Sujaan Singh, who used to do ‘meenakari’. But, he passed away later. And there was another from the Kundangar family that used to do ‘kalmi harf’ work on the silver and gold items. This work is done on both gold and silver and we mostly write names of Allah. Now, I know only two other persons, who do this work – my brother and another one in Kawdara. It is a difficult job and that is why not many take to this profession,” Pahalwan told The Kashmir Monitor.

Photo: KM/M Aamir Khan

However, art researcher Wiqar Bashir said Pahalwan was the ‘last surviving master-craftsman’ of the art of Kashmir style ‘meenakari’.

“A couple of others too may be involved in this art but Nazir Pahalwan is the last surviving master-craftsman of the unique embellishment called ‘meenakari, which was once a much sought after Kashmir artwork. Old Kashmir ‘meenakari’ pieces are treasured by collectors and museums. Nowadays, we only come to see old Kashmir meenakari pieces in museums and art books. Kashmiris was once a renowned center for meenakari on silver, gold, and brass. The process of meenakari involves the use of special micro tools and needs a lot of patience,” he said.

Photo: KM/M Aamir Khan

Wiqar said not many were aware that an artist of the caliber of Pahalwan was still alive. “When I tell other art lovers about Pahalwan, they are surprised that artists like him can still be found…..in fact, I located him after an extensive inquiry and search for the last ‘meenakari’ in Kashmir,” he said.

Photo: KM/M Aamir Khan

“In meenakari, an opaque or semi-transparent a glossy substance that is usually powdered colour glass applied by vitrification to metallic or other hard surfaces for ornament or as a protective coating. Kashmir style is a slight variation of the ‘Champleve’ method enameling,” he added.

Pahalwan said the art of meenakari was affected further after the eruption of militancy in the Valley more than 30 years back. He fears that the art may survive only till he remained alive.

“After militancy, this art was hit hard. There has been no help or assistance from the government either. Now, no one takes to this profession. As long as I am alive, the art will survive. After that, it may become extinct,” he said.

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