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Kashmir’s traditional papier mache  in the last throes

Srinagar, Aug 12: The centuries-old technique of paper mâché is quietly disappearing in Kashmir as new generations shy away from learning it and practising artists choose other careers due to the lower pay.

The centuries-old craft of papier-mache, which is intricately intertwined into Kashmiri society’s history and customs, is slowly disappearing as the number of individuals working in the industry has declined for a variety of reasons.

Thousands of households in Kashmir used to rely on the sale and production of papier-mache goods as a source of income. Along with the arrival of Islam in the area, the craft of papier-maché emerged. Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani, a Sufi philosopher who travelled to Kashmir in the 14th century from Persia with a group of skillful artisans, brought it to the region.

However, the art is currently in decline as a result of children from business-related families being uninterested in continuing the tradition owing to lower profits. It is created from paper pulp and is a lavishly ornamented and vibrant item. It is arguably the only work that is entirely handcrafted and unaffected by machinery.

Although artisans put in long hours from daylight till night, the rewards do not match. An artist often makes between Rs 250 and 300 per day, which leaves them living paycheck to paycheck.

“We want our kids to go to school so they may have better lives. My meagre daily salary has no value. Muhammad Ashraf Dar, a craftsman from Hawal, said, “We don’t want our kids to continue the art.”

He said that the majority of artists quit when their creations were copied, which decreased demand.

“At the moment, there is relatively little demand for papier-mache items. Dar predicted that the market will improve soon because the number of international visitors had grown in recent months.

Papier-mache Repulped paper is combined with glue or paste to create vases, cups, boxes, trays, and other ornamental things that may be moulded. They are elegantly lacquered with vibrant paint and tastefully embellished with Oriental themes.

The largest city in the area, Srinagar, houses modest workshops where they are often made.

According to Muhammad Maqbool, a third-generation papier-mache artist in Srinagar, “I think 5% of Kashmir’s population is involved in this profession, but the trend is such that many of them are leaving the traditional art, and very few youngsters are preferring to come to this profession.”

The current generation does not wish to engage in this traditional craft because there is less money involved. The majority of goods from Kashmir are exported to other regions of India and beyond. In addition to ornamental objects, papier-mache handicrafts include Qur’anic reading tables and even miniature furniture pieces that portray daily life and historical events from Mughal palaces.

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