Iqbal Ahmad

The abysmal state of traditional Mat manufacturing in Kashmir 

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The domestic industry in Kashmir, better known as Kashmir handicrafts, has lost its pristine glory and traditional touch as several crafts have disappeared from the markets, while many others are dying fast. There are several reasons responsible for the decay but, truly speaking, I am not writing this column to discuss those reasons as I am more focused to analyze the competition between technology and tradition.

Generally the advancement of new technologies which have revolutionized the industrial output, all over the planet, is believed as the main cause for the downfall of traditional, often termed as time consuming methods of creating things. Not just Kashmir, the handicrafts industries which were imbibed in tradition and would usually require great toil, are dying and paving way for the giant machines that produce magical results.

Kashmir is often spotted among those places where traditional industries have suffered the worst jolts. It is because Kashmir was, more or less, known for the artefacts produced by its traditional handicraft industry. Although the land was famous in producing a number of arts and crafts but today very few of those are seen while most such things have nowadays occupied the shelves of the museums. These artefacts’ have become the objects of the past and are placed in museum galleries, for display purposes.

One such trade, the artefacts’ of which could even not succeed to become the zenith of any museum gallery, is Kashmiri Mat Making which once served as the most essential domestic art of Kashmir. The significance of this art was felt during the winters each year as the mats would be prepared during the chilly winter days when people would prefer to stay indoors. Winters therefore gave people ample time to prepare these mats.

The sad part of the story is that this art died an unnatural death and is seen no more. As much as even the specimen of this art could not survive to this day what to say about the art of making it. This trade once produced the excellent varieties of floor coverings locally termed as Patig and Wagoo. Patig and Wagoo used to be a style statement in Kashmir and numerous designs and patterns of these floor matting’s were found in almost every household.

The beauty of it was that these were the famous local floor mats manufactured by local weavers using local material. It therefore required nothing foreign for its survival and could have stayed here forever. It was a self –reliant trade and art and modifications in it could have been a good choice when seen through the economic lens. These mats were replaced by a variety of glorious machine made house decoration and floor covers including high class Wall-to- Wall floorings .

In ancient times, Kashmiri people decorated the floor of their huts either by tree leaves or by simple mud plaster. Such is evident from the excavations undertaken at Burzhama and Gufkral sites. Later Kashmiri’s used to decorate the floors of their huts by open- straw of rice grass. The floor was firstly levelled and later covered with light mud plaster. After this, it was decorated with open dry grasses and hay, especially in winter times. Then came the Mats which were prepared locally by the people.

Mats were composed of ‘Pechi’ (straw taken from dry rice grasses) and were usually used in urban housing and in mosques and tombs. Mats prepared of dry straw grasses were used mostly in rural houses.

Mat making, as history reveals, was introduced in Kashmir in the period of Mirza Haider Daughlat. This period dates back to 15th century AD. There were two types of mat-making arts in Kashmir locally termed as “Waggu” and the other “Patgi”. The Pech, says Lawrence, is the swamp plant from which excellent types of floor matting’s were prepared. It was not cultivated deliberately as it grew, in plenty, in various swamps. The Anchar lagoon to the north of Srinagar was the biggest home of Pech. The trade was associated with Hanjis (Boatmen) of Kashmir, having their establishments in lakes and riversides. It provided employment to a large number of people. The people of Lasjan, Srinagar were known the best mat-makers for their excellent designs of Patgi.

It was never to be taught to the people as the art was picked up by family women just like that. There was no training required as juniors would sit and observe the seniors of the trade doing it and they would pick up the tricks of making the mats. Though it was an indigenous craft, it shockingly, could not survive against the modern machine borne luxuries.

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