(Mr. Iqbal Ahmad, 51, was born in Parigam Chek, Kulgam. He is a graduate with Diploma in Numastics, Archaeology and Heritage. He is an archaeologist, writer, and a cultural historian. Mr. Iqbal Ahmad has published 12 reference books on Kashmir archaeology and heritage.)
Those Golden Hands!
The wood works of Kashmir were, undoubtedly, the most interesting and praiseworthy works that earned the valley a distinction among other parts of the world. Such was the craftsmanship of the carpenters, who in reality were great artists, that great kings and rulers here patronized the form and also tried to showcase it to the outside world.
The tradition of wood works for several centuries was the result of those golden hands which knew the craft and felt the soul of wood. It would take them several hours to draw a single engraving or a design, even a line, and they would patiently do that. They knew that the work had very less margin for error and trained themselves to meet the nuances of the form.
Latticework, locally known as Panjra Kari, was once very popular in Kashmiri architecture. The craftsmen dealing with wooden works used to fill the doors, windows, ventilators with Jali screens formed of lattice work. It was the most complicated art and perhaps no less than carving or inlaying. The Jali screens were formed of smaller wooden pieces finished very brilliantly and were then arranged in geometric forms so as to display their edges. They are held in position by the pressure they exert upon each other by certain main lines being doweled together and by the frame of the panel within which they are fitted. These wooden pieces made of either Deodar or walnut wood. The logs were chipped to the desired length and breadth and then woven in several orders. The geometric Sun and Moon patterns were commonly followed.
Many designs of Panjra Kari were popular in Kashmir, the most favorite being those of the Rising Sun and cobwebs. The best kind of Pinjra work was known by their Kashmiri names Posh Kandur, Chaharkhana, Shashpahlu, Dwazdah Sar, Sheikh Sar, Jujjari, Shirin and Tota Shesh Tez. The Panjras were formed in these designs in square and rectangular shapes. These Panjras were then put in various uses in Kashmiri houses, windows, doors railings, ventilators, ornamental partitions and screens. Most of the houses built in 19th & 20th century were wonderfully decorated by Panjra-Kari.
Unfortunately the craft has disappeared from contemporary Kashmir craft scene while as the marvels depicting this art form are being dismantled instead of preservation and promotion. In the old city of Srinagar including Habba Kadal, Saraf Kadal and Zaina Kadal areas numerous houses were decorated by lattice works with doors, windows, ventilators (Roshan Dans) filled with these Jali screens. This art, like other wood works, has a long history in Kashmir as some scholars have traced its his¬tory from eleventh century, the period of Harsha. While quoting Kalhana, these scholars have made mention of a twelve storey wooden palace of Harsha's period decorated by wooden works.
Most of the scholars believe that Shahmiri Sultans first introduced it in their architecture while few other suggest that Panjrakari was in¬troduced and promoted by great Mughals. Though it least matters who introduced this art form, but the historical records signifiy that the craft was cultivated here for centuries together. It was initially used in Muslim Shrines- almost all-ancient Muslim shrines carry wonderful designs of intricate latticework. From here it was adopted in common structures and during a particular period, it was followed strictly in Kashmiri architecture and became an inseparable part of Kashmir architecture. As much as, some foreign travelers reaching here from across the globe chose Kashmir Lattice works as their research subject and thus bestowing immortality to this art form, atleast in archival records.
Bernier, who visited Kashmir in the reign of Aurangzeb makes a mention of the latticed windows, shutters and doors and the Palaces of kings and nobles along with a view of the beautiful ladies of their harem. That is why, the Pinjra also figured fre¬quently in the romantic folklore of Kashmiri. To quote a Kashmiri verse, Zaele panjray teale nazar trave Bali Asimi Tamblav (Bestow upon me, one glance from behind the Pinjra. Oh beauty pray, do not tantalize me). Several other verses also symbolize the popularity of Jali screens. The doors were not thrown open al-ways but remained ajar, creating the pattern of creeping sun, invoking a scene of romance within the four walls. Though the re¬vival of this artistic and romantic Pinjra in cemented works has been initiated, the sheen and glory of the craft in wood is however something that may never be possible.
The craft has now almost disappeared and even the existing works are vanishing from the old houses. The ruined and neglected houses of the old city of Srinagar exhibit a pathetic view of these glorious screens. As the things stand, the revival of the art in this modern age looks very difficult. However, few spinners of the art visible on the Muslim shrines and on traditional houses of old city could be saved if required steps are taken. The shrines and olden houses and building carrying these artifacts need to be preserved and conserved on modern and scientific lines.