Handicrafts and Handloom Department, Kashmir has started a Craft Safari. The department has identified several artisans and clusters in old Srinagar city. At the same time, the safari has different routes. Going for a safari through a single route will take around two to three hours during which you will meet different craftsmen and also come across heritage structures of downtown Srinagar. In the previous six editions of the Craft Safari, we discovered the artisan clusters located at Safakadal, Eidgah, Zadibal, Nowshera, Rainawari, and Kathi Darwaza belts. In this edition, we will discover Khanqah – the place where it all started.
Khanqah – the home of Kashmir handicrafts
Khanqah is the area named after the revered Sufi shrine of Shah-e-Hamdan built by Sultan Sikandar in 1395 CE. It is no secret that the famed Kashmir handicrafts are considered a gift from Shah-e-Hamdan – the 14th-century mystic. The magnificent architecture of Khanqah is a living example of fine woodwork with its walls designed in papier-mache and gold inlay ‘Naqashi’ work and ‘Khatamband’ ceilings. A Craft Safari to downtown Srinagar is incomplete without a walk around the Khanqah area.
‘Mandan’ Kashmiri Soap: Abdul Rashid
Abdul Rashid, a 60-year-old soap maker sustains the dying craft of ‘namdhasaazi’ through his product. It is impossible to sustain ‘namdhasaazi’ without his ‘Mandan’ soap. His 30-year-old shop ‘Modern Kashmiri Soap’ was taken over by him by his predecessor. He made many attempts before he finally succeeded in making the perfectly formulated soap.
People, especially namdhasaaz from across the Kashmir valley come to him for this essential ingredient for their namdha making. His soap is considered authentic and unadulterated. Those who use it say it is gentle on the fabric and works like magic. He also sells another soap variety for bathing which he claims can cure dandruff too.
Zari: Mohammad Shafi Mir
‘Tilla Doozi’ or Zari embroidery is done with fine needles. Zari thread of gold or silver is laid upon the fabric, which is wound around the neck of the embroiderer, and finally stitched down with a fine matching thread invisible on the surface of the fabric.
Mohammad Shafi Mir was six years old when started the art of tilla embroidery. He is a first-generation zari artisan, who followed his passion to embellish beautiful pieces of fine fabric with embroidery. Over the past few years, ’tilla’ embroidery has revived as a fashion statement amongst the youngsters, which is helping the art and artisans like him to sustain. However, Mir rues that the introduction of machines has greatly dented the market of their traditional craft.
Rangur: Bashir Ahmed
Dyeing is the art of infusing different colors into the fabric to give it a lustrous tinge matching the ambiance of any space. In the 122-year-old karkhana, Bashir Ahmed, the last sentinel of this craft from his family, dyes woolen curtains later sent for crewel and chain stitch embroidery. Concerned by the shortage of timber and fuel to set up the process of heating the water where the color and fabric are dipped profusely, he says that he has to use synthetic dyes to make the process convenient.
To explore more techniques to create a larger spectrum of dyes in response to client demand for more color variation, synthetic dyes have become standardized and homogeneous, allowing craftspeople better control over the dyeing and finishing process. Unfortunately, Bashir is the last person from the family who took to this profession. He says his children refused to take up this profession as it did not bring much profit now.
Silver Ware: Farooq Ahmad
Farooq Ahmad’s karkhana is the only one in the valley to create purely antiquated silverware and German silver artifacts including jewelry, dry-fruit boxes, culinary pieces, and Quran cases. His family members are experts in creating fascinating hand-crafted silver ornaments and jewelry.
The antique designs and classic patterns from his collection are exported and admired by connoisseurs across the globe.
Yarn seller: Yamin Allaqband
Yamin Allaqband’s 100-year-old business of dyes and threads is an important stop for craftspeople to obtain the raw material. He deals with threads of all patterns and types including silk, wool, and viscose and dyes used for staple, willow wicker, silk carpets, and wool. He says that the synthetic dyes developed as an alternative to natural colors, which were mainly unstable and had shade variations in every batch due to a lack of consistency in the production process. He creates the perfect color gradients and shades suitable for distinct crafts and uses.
Pashmina Washing: Aali Kadal Ghat
The legend says that the dreamlike texture of Kashmir Pashmina comes from washing it in the Jhelum waters. The process of washing a piece of pashmina is very delicate and requires care and attention. Pashmina being a delicate fabric has to be preserved with utmost caution.
More than Pashmina, Shahtoos, which is considered the finest shawl, requires delicate procedure as it is fragile. Aali Kadal dhobi ghats of Jhelum infuse life into the dyed Pashmina pieces of myriad colors. One can see the kaleidoscopic dance of hanging pashminas left to dry in the sun at the ghats.