Kashmir is world famous for it’s depth in wood carving and other similar arts. Carved walnut wood-work is among the most important crafts of Kashmir. Kashmir is now one of the few places in the world where walnut is still available at an altitude of 5500-7500 feet above see level. The wood is hard and durable, its close grain and even texture facilitating fine and detailed work. It also presents visually interesting effects with mere plain polished surfaces in fact in contemporary products, plain surfaces and small carvings are preferred, especially on trays, tables, bowls and similar items.
The Kashmir craftsman, however, rejoices in carving intricate and varied designs. A variety of carved products bear recurrent motifs of the rose, lotus, iris, bunches of grapes, pears and chinar leaves. A variety of articles, both decorative and utilitarian, ranging from small items like bowls, trays, wall plaques and table lamps to screens, bedsteads and larger items of furniture are carved in walnut wood. Four main types of carving are usually practised in Kashmir-raised, engraved, undercut and plain. The carving of furniture and smaller items is an elaborate process and involves high degree of skill and craftsmanship. The carving is done with the help of small indigenous tools. The art of wood carving is centred in the city of Srinagar.
The raw material used for the fine woodcarving of Kashmir is obtained from walnut tree locally known as ‘Doon Kul’ and is cut only once it matures to an age of 300 years.
Walnut trees are of four varieties namely; ‘Wantu’ or ‘Vont Dun’ (fruit has hard shell), ‘Dunu’ and ‘Kakazi’ or ‘Burzol’ (best fruit with lightest shell), which are cultivated while the ‘Khanak’ is found in the wild. These can be cut only once they mature to give fruits.
The wooden planks so obtained are then numbered (dated) and piled one upon the other. The process is always carried out in shade. The gaps in between the different layers of the planks allow the passage of air, which helps in the seasoning process. Seasoning goes on for 1 to 4 yrs.
The naqqash, master carver, first etches the basic pattern on to the wood and then removes the unwanted areas with the help of chisels and a wooden mallet so that the design emerges from the lustrous walnut wood as an embossed surface
The carving of furniture and smaller items is an elaborate process and involves high degree of skill and craftsmanship.
Kashmir remained shut for months after abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019 and now COVID-19 lockdown.
Amid this, at least 3 lakh people associated with handicrafts including carpets, papier-machie, shawls, wood carving are finding it difficult to feed their families. Kashmir’s handicrafts are famous across the world due to quality and are man made.
Ghulam Nabi Hakak; A resident of srinagar told that their earnings have been reduced due to covid.
“All the money I had saved which I earned through carving has been exhausted. It is around 2 years, we are making no earnings,” he said.
There are so many artisans who have taken up odd jobs to manage the expenses of their families during the lockdown.
“We were making earnings even during the worst times. But this time, our business is shut as we are not able to export our carved pieces in international markets,” he said.