Kashmiri crafts are prized for their intricacy, complex designs and elegant styles. I am always attracted by their nature-inspired patterns and skillful use of colour. Flowers, trees, birds and animals inspire their papier mache, carved walnut woodwork, metal work, crewelled curtains and their woven and embroidered pashmina shawls.
|Papier mache shikara on carved walnut wood table|
|Carved metal pot looks out onto a garden|
|Embroidered chinnar leaf-curtains in my house|
So sought after are these products that fakes are now mass-produced and transported all over the country and, worse still, back into Kashmir! Shawls from Ludhiana and Amritsar find their way into the hands of Kashmiri vendors and most exhibitions in Indian cities have at least one stall of "reasonable" (cheap!) semi-pashmina (containing not a thread of pashmina - the prized wool of the high altitude Himalayan mountain goats). Apparently there is a large market for these pseudo-pashmina shawls and stoles for people no longer want to buy the 'once in a lifetime' shawls (which last considerably more than a lifetime), preferring to wear them for a short while and replace themwith newer styles.
Trying to find authentic products even within Kashmir is quite a job. We were fortunate to have met Renuka, a pleasant lady who works with local craftsmen in Srinagar and who gave us the address of the Beigh family of Kashmiri embroiderers. I had only one afternoon free for shopping and had to decide between crafts, food (walnuts, apricots, saffron, honey, spices) and textiles. Textiles won hands down and then it was a decision between woven shawls and embroidered ones - each is an art in itself - and I chose the latter.
The Beigh family 'karkhana' (a factory) was in a small lane flanked by large houses which had no names or signs anywhere! Fortunately our driver knew exactly where it was and said it was a pink coloured building, the only one in that lane. We climbed up a few flights of stairs to enter a large, many-windowed room with a threadbare carpet covering the entire floor. At each window were placed two large cushions that served as seats for the embroiderers. There was a basket of yarn in one corner and a large mass of old threads hanging on the opposite wall. This was all the equipment in the karkhana! Four elderly men sat, embroidering quietly and as we entered, two younger men came up and greeted us.
|Skeins for embroidery|
|Old threads for darning|
|A shawl embroiderer|
|Master craftsman and head of the Beigh family|
|The shop in the karkhana|
|Detail of embroidery|