Iqbal Ahmad

The art of traditional flooring is fading from the scene!

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Besides the traditional flooring including Patej and Wagu about which I have discussed, in my last column, the art of Gabba making was too a fine tradition in Kashmir and it also seems meeting the same fate as the previous ones. It had a very special place among the customary floorings that were homemade and also exquisite in style and texture. Women in Kashmir had imbibed very special and rare trades and one among them was making of the Gaba. They would first plaster their room floors by a thin layer of clay mixtures and after drying, these floors were covered upon by the Patej and Wagu mats, which were made of straw and pechi. Usually the rural matting mostly consisted of the mats prepared of the straw, called Patej, while as the urban people had no access to the paddy straw so they would prefer the Wagu matting prepared of pechi (a type of grass) which used to grow in the wetlands in the outskirts of the city. This type of matting was not easy to make as it required a great deal of expertise to shape up a mat out of its constituents.

The wagu makers gradually took their product to the rural Kashmir and established their markets in villages. Initially this type of flooring was introduced in village mosques, Khanqahas and Sufi shrines. Likewise rural artisans expanded their market of Patej to urban areas. Such types of matting were most common and every Kashmiri family could afford it easily. In addition to these cheap matting’s, we had a tradition of expensive and most magnificent mats called Gabba.

Gabba mats were made of wool embroidered skillfully using different colorful designs. This matting was very expensive and only well-to-do families could afford it. These mats were put over the straw mats. The ordinary families used such matting’s only on special occasions and functions. Although, the tradition of these mats has almost vanished from Kashmiri households, but Gabba is still seen around, though not so commonly.

A Gabba is a unique type of floor covering prepared from old woolen blankets called ‘Chaeder’. It is made in a variety of forms and designs and the three major types of the Gabba are Appliqué, or Dalgulaar, with a circular star in the middle called Chand, with patterns of embroidery and print.

The Appliqué type of Gabba is considered to be of a high quality. In this form some colored pieces of woolen blanket are brought together and embroidered on joints and beautiful designs, mostly of sun and moon, are added. This type of Gabba is said to be the proto-type of Jamawar, where miniature needles were applied in bringing separately-embroidered pieces together. The embroidered ones are very common while as printed Gabba are merely the imitations of embroidered ones available at very cheap rates. The earlier types of appliqué designs have almost disappeared while one such piece called Mughal type Gabba is preserved in the textile gallery of the State Museum at Srinagar. The other types are common and produced in several localities of Anantnag.

Like other arts, Gabba Sazi (Making of Gabba) is considered a very old art of Kashmir. Scholars have identified bronze figure of Buddha, dated to 6th century AD, shown seated on such a floor cover which, according to them, resembles with a Gabba. On several olden paintings, the floor covers had been shown consisting of Kashmiri Gabba. To the late period, one Kabuli Refugee called Abur Rahman is said to have prepared an embroidered Saddle-piece for his host Kamal Bhat of Ratson Village near Tral. This piece is believed to have revived the centuries old Gabba tradition of Kashmir.  Maharaja Rambir Singh gave further fillip to the Gabba industry when he invited Muhammad Bat, Jamal Bat, Rasul Magray and Nur Sheikh, the masters of this craft, to Kashmir.

Despite inviting masters of the craft to Srinagar and encouraging the trade in the city, the art could not last long in the city. The reasons for it were that the Srinagar based craftsmen were already employed in Shawl looms. So the Gabba sazi could not attract the attention of urban artists. The works from here went to the villages where the village artists were producing woolen blankets or Chaders. The Gabba saz had an easy access to the raw material in the villages. Anantnag gave a fillip to Gabba Sazi as it prepared maximum types of handicraft items and supplied them to other parts of Kashmir.

Although tradition of Gabba floor covering has very much decreased due to introduction of other modern floor covers, but  efforts are required  to preserve this craft  and promote this craft so that it can compete with other modern types of flooring which are gaining ground in Kashmiri households.

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