Introduction to KashmirForum.org Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

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Vijay Sazawal

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Art of Weaving Native Kashmiri Floor Mats

Iqbal looks at the art of making of traditional flooring in Kashmir which is fast disappearing

(Mr. Iqbal Ahmad, 49, was born in Parigam Chek, Kulgam. He is a graduate with Diploma in Numismatics, Archaeology and Heritage. He is an archaeologist, writer, and a cultural historian. He is employed by the Jammu and Kashmir State Government. Mr. Iqbal Ahmad has published 12 reference books on Kashmir archaeology and heritage.)

Preserving the Art of Gabba Sazi

Among the traditional matting’s of Kashmir, mention may be made of Patej, Wagu, and Gabba (local names for different kinds of floor matting). These types had once been very common and popular among the rural as well as the urban households. As the tradition had it, the Kashmiri women first used to plaster their room floors by a thin layer of clay mixtures and after drying, these floors were covered upon by the Patej and Wagu mats, which were made of straw and pechi. Usually the rural matting mostly consisted of the mats prepared of the straw, called Patej, while as the urban people had no access to the paddy straw so they would prefer the Wagu matting prepared of pechi which used to grow in the wetlands in outskirts of the city. This type of matting was not easy to make as it required a great deal of expertise to shape up a mat out of its constituents.

As the time passed by, this type of mat- making took the shape of Kashmiri art and a section of people adopted it as their profession. The wagu makers gradually took their product to the rural Kashmir and established their markets in villages.

Initially this type of flooring was introduced in village mosques, Khanqahas and Sufi shrines. Likewise rural artisans expanded their market of Patej to urban areas. Such types of matting was most common and every Kashmiri family could afford it easily. In addition to these cheap mattings, we had a tradition of expensive and most magnificent mats called Gabba.

Gabba mats were made of wool and embroidered skillfully with different colorful designs. This matting was very expensive and only well-to-do families could afford it. These mats were put over the straw mats. The ordinary families used such mattings only on special occasions and functions. Although, the tradition of these mats has almost vanished from Kashmiri households, but Gabba is still seen around, though not so commonly.

A Gabba is a unique type of floor covering prepared from old woolen blankets called ‘Chaeder’. It is made in a variety of forms and designs. The three major types of the Gabba are Appliqué or Dalgulaar with a circular star in the middle called Chand, embroidery and printed.

The Applique type of Gabba is con¬sidered of a high quality. In this form same coloured pieces of woolen blanket are brought together and embroidered on joints, which makes beautiful designs mostly of sun and moon. This type of Gabba is said to be the proto-type of Jamawar, where miniature needles were applied in bringing separately-embroidered pieces to¬gether. The embroidered ones are very common while as printed Gabba are merely the imitations of embroidered ones available at very cheap rates. The earlier types of appliqué designs have almost dis-appeared. One such piece called Mughal type Gabba is preserved in the textile gallery of the State Museum at Srinagar. The other types are common and produced in several localities of Anantnag.

Like other arts, Gabba Sazi is considered a very old art of Kashmir. Scholars have iden-tified bronze figure of Buddha dated to 6th century AD shown seated on such a floor cover which, according to them, resembles with a Gabba. On several olden paintings, the floor covers had been shown consisting of Kashmiri Gabba. To the late period, one Kabuli Refugee called Abur Rahman is said to have prepared an embroidered Saddle-piece of his host Kamal Bhat of Ratson Village near Tral. This piece is believed to have revived the centuries old Gabba tradition of Kashmir. Maharaja Rambir Singh gave further fillip to the Gabba industry when he invited Muhammad Bat, Jamal Bat, Rasul Magray and Nur Sheikh, the masters of this craft, to Kashmir. The Shamianas, Qanats and Gabbas are prepared and used in the state guesthouses.

Despite inviting masters of the craft to Srinagar and planting of the trade in the city, the art could not last long in the city. The reasons for it were that the Srinagar based craftsmen were already employed in Shawl looms. So the Gabba sazi could not attract the attention of urban artists. The works from here went to the villages where the village artists were producing woolen blankets or Chaders. The Gabba saz had an easy access to the raw material in the villages. Anantnag gave a fillip to Gabba Sazi. It prepared maximum types of handicraft items and supplied them to other parts of Kashmir.

Although tradition of Gabba floor covering has very much decreased due to introduction of other modern floor covers, but still Gabbas are regarded as the classical floor covers. It is the need of the hour to improve its quality and promote this craft so that it can compete with other modern types of flooring which are gaining ground in Kashmiri households.

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