It was Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan who had first described Kashmir as a paradise. He exclaimed, “‘gar firdaus, bar ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast…’ (if there is paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here).

In a new book titled ‘Floor Coverings from Kashmir’ author Promil Pande documents the equally beautiful interior of Kashmiri homes that are decorated with luxurious ‘kaleen, namdah, wagoo, ari’ and ‘gabba’ rugs instead of furniture. The book is filled with numerous illustrations of different floor coverings inspired by the natural beauty of Kashmir, a region rich in trees, flowers, plants and numerous streams of running water.

Kashmir is ethereal. It is mystical. The place enjoys spiritual importance and craftsmen try to capture this special feel of Kashmir in their art.

The ‘kaleen’ is the hand knotted carpet that is famous around the world. It has a long-standing tradition dating back to over 600 years. Other floor coverings like ‘wagoo’ mats trace their antiquity to the Indus Valley Civilisation.

The ‘ari’ rug is known for its chain stitches, and along with the ‘gabba’ was introduced more recently in the early 20th Century. The floor coverings are widely used for sitting and sleeping on.

The knotting of a carpet follows an old ritual. A ‘taleem’ guru begins the process by making notes on a paper roll called ‘kud’. The ‘nakaal’ makes copies of the notation on the ‘kud’ after which the weaver follows the ‘taleem’ to complete the carpet.

The makers of the ‘namdah’ are called ‘Namdagurs’. Designs are created by a ‘namdah naqqaash’ and the embroidery is done by the ‘jaladooz’. The ‘jaladooz’ community also specialises in the surface enhancement of other types of embroidered rugs like ari rugs and the ‘gabba’ rugs.

The ‘wagivgur’ is the artisan engaged in the weaving and production of the ‘wagoo’ mat made by interlacing the ‘pati’ as warp and ‘paeich’ as weft in either ‘tabby’ (single) or basket (double) weave.

The author writes that the creation of all crafts and the weaving of floor coverings is a result of combined knowledge. It is the skillful manipulation of materials, traditional techniques and processes of production shared and transmitted through generations for crafting utilitarian products of lasting value.

For an artisan to weave a floor covering is to be aware of his own customs, beliefs, capabilities and the daily habits of other people he lives with in a community who together represent the whole culture of a society.

While the ‘kaleen’ is designed by a ‘naqqash’, the ceilings of homes, houseboats and palaces are decorated in the khatamband style. The art of ‘khatamband’ is to link small pieces of wood from the walnut, fir or deodar tree into each other in floral and geometrical patterns on the ceiling.

This is done with the hand, and without the use of nails. The wood is processed, cut into panels and fitted to the ceiling in different designs.

The crafts and weaves of Kashmir are clearly a reflection of the beauty of the visual world of the region. The natural landscape of Kashmir has influenced the work of artisans since antiquity.

Every stitch of the precious pashmina shawl is surely inspired by the sturdy look of the mesmerising mountains around, and the soft ripples of the many meandering streams merging into the Indus and Jhelum rivers.

The physical beauty that surrounds the artisan makes him yearn to create similar perfection in life. The artisan is aware of the relationship of the landscape with the people of Kashmir, giving birth to a way of life called Kashmiriyat.

It is the attempt of the artisan to capture the idea of Kashmiriyat into art that makes the craft of Kashmir so special. The Kashmiri understands better than anyone else perhaps the symbiotic relationship between all living beings which is complex, but of mutual benefit to all.

Promil Pande, the author writes: “Kashmiri culture, referred to as ‘Kashmiri-ness’ or ‘Kashmiriyat’ indicated the common cultural ground between Hindus and Muslims of the Kashmir Valley incorporating the shared use of the Kashmiri language as a mother tongue as well as votive, culinary and sartorial practices.

Kashmiriyat, therefore alluded to the love of the homeland (Kasheer) and common speech (Koshur)…similar customs and practices… similar culinary and sartorial styles, shared folklore, music etc… the same sense of mutual recognition and togetherness that was both physical and cultural…”

Kashmiriyat implies not merely religious tolerance but includes ideals of nationality, intercommunity and inter-religious life that is shared through an earnest participation in the festivals and marriage ceremonies of people belonging to other communities. As a concept Kashmiriyat was used as the marker of Kashmiri identity that had cut across the religious divide till the tragic mass exodus of the Pandits in 1989.

However the work of artisans continues to reflect the shared cultural traits of a common language and love for the homeland. The arts and crafts are still prevalent and manifested in the craft consumption practices of Kashmiris living in, and outside Kashmir.

Numerous examples of various craft practices continue to support the Kashmiri way of life in every-day clothings and lifestyle requirements of the people. Kashmiris themselves remain the most ardent patrons of their craft traditions.

The Kashmiri pheran is the traditional outerwear worn by both men and women. The pheran is decorated around the neck, hems and the front with a variety of embroidery crafts.

Kashmiri embroidery is distinguished by the tools and techniques used for crafting. The practice has prevailed for generations amongst craftsmen and reinforces their identity. Clothing includes the pheran, and the ensemble of the salwar kameez, kurta and dupatta or shawl is an integral part of every Kashmiri wardrobe, Hindu and Muslim alike.

Metal household wares such as the ‘samovar, surahi’, ladle and ‘hukkas’ made by the ‘khars’ are all part of every Kashmiri household.

The skilled khar or master blacksmiths have been known as the ‘German khar’ since the 1940s. This is after members of this community had magically repaired German made machines when none other was able to do so.

However war and violence has dwindled the economy of the crafts and the weaves in Kashmir that has been looking out for better times since long.

‘Floor Coverings From Kashmir: Kaleen Carpets, Namdah, Gabba, Ari Rugs and Wagoo Mats’

Author: Promil Pande

Publisher: Niyogi Books