Introduction to 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.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Forgotten Art

Iqbal laments the loss of yet another Kashmiri handicraft

(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.)

Kashmiri Mat Making, a Forgotten Art

The domestic industry in Kashmir, better known as Kashmir handicrafts, has lost its pristine glory and traditional touch as several crafts of disappeared from the markets, while many of them are dying fast. There are several reasons responsible for the decay but, truly speaking, I am not writing this column to discuss those reasons as I am more focused to analyze the competition between technology and tradition.

Generally the advancement of new technologies which have revolutionized the industrial output, all over the planet, is believed as the main cause for the downfall of traditional, often termed as time consuming methods of creating things. Not just Kashmir, the handicrafts industries which were imbibed in tradition and would usually require great toil are dying and paving way for the giant machines that produce magical results.

Kashmir is often spotted among those places where traditional industries have suffered the worst jolts. It is because Kashmir was, more or less, known for the artifacts produced by its traditional handicraft industry. Although the land was famous in producing number of arts and crafts but today very few of those are seen while the rest artifacts produced by this industry have nowadays occupied the shelves of the museums. These artifacts have become the objects of the past and are placed in museum galleries, for display purposes.

One such trade, the artifacts of which could even not succeed to become the zenith of any museum gallery, is Kashmiri Mat Making which once served as the most essential domestic art of Kashmir. The significance of this art was felt during the winters each year as the mats would be prepared during the chilly winter days when people would prefer to stay indoors. Winters therefore gave people ample time to prepare these mats.

The sad part of the story is that this art died an unnatural death and is seen no more. As much as even the specimen of this art could not survive to this day what to say about the art of making it. This trade once produced the excellent varieties of floor coverings locally termed as Patig and Wagoo. Patig and Wagoo used to be a style statement in Kashmir and numerous designs and patterns of these floor matting’s were found in almost every household.

The beauty of it was that these were the famous local floor mats manufactured by local weavers using local material. It therefore required nothing foreign for its survival and could have stayed here forever. It was a self –reliant trade and art and modifications in it could have been an better choice in an economic way. These mats were replaced by a variety of glorious machine made house decoration and floor covers including high class Wall-to- Wall floorings .

Being one of the necessities of the human civilization, floor covering in Kashmir has had an interesting history. In ancient times Kashmiri people decorated the floor of their huts either by tree leaves or by simple mud plaster. Such is evident from the excavations under taken Burzhama and Gufkral sites. Later Kashmiri’s used to decorate the floors of their huts by open- straw of rice grasses. The floor was firstly leveled and later covered with light mud plaster. After this it was decorated with open dry grasses and hay, especially in winter times. Than came the Mats which were prepared locally by the people.

Mats were composed of ‘Pechi’ (straw taken from dry rice grasses) and were usually used in urban housing and in mosques and tombs. Mats prepared of dry straw grasses were used mostly used in rural houses.

Mat making, as history reveals was introduced in Kashmir in the period of Mirza Haider Daughlat. This period dates back to 15th century AD. There were two types of mat-making arts in Kashmir locally termed as “Waggu” and the other “Patgi”. The Pech, says Lawrence, is the swamp plant from which excellent types of floor matting’s were prepared. It was not cultivated deliberately as it grew, in plenty, in various swamps. The Anchar lagoon to the north of Srinagar was the biggest home of pech. The trade was associated with Hanjis (Boatmen) of Kashmir, having their establishments in lake and riversides. It provided employment to a large number of people. The people of Lasjan, Srinagar were known the best mat-makers for their excellent designs of Patgi.

It was never to be taught to the people as the art was picked up by family women just like that. There was no training required as juniors would sit and observe the seniors of the trade doing it and they would pick up the tricks of making the mats. Though it was an indigenous craft, it shockingly, could not survive against the modern machine borne luxuries.

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