The golden story of ‘Copper-crafts’

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BY: Dar Javed

Kashmir is a treasure trove of handicrafts, heritage and natural beauty. Among the elegant treasure Kashmir possesses is Kashmiri Copperware (locally known as kandkari Work). Copper, locally known as Traam, has been an indispensable commodity in Kashmir since ages. The age old art of crafting copperware is deep rooted in culture here and is famous all over the world. The craftsmanship of Kashmir is known for the work of engraving and making household and decorative products from copper including utensils like  Lota (pot), Tream (plate), Naer (water jug), Tash-Near (portable handwash), dishes, bowls, trays, vessels, Lamp Shades and many more and the most famous being Kashmiri ‘Samovar’- a traditional tea container or large cattle.

History has it that the Sufi Saint and an Islamic scholar, Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (RA),who travelled from Central Asia was instrumental in making copper popular among the natives. He brought craftsmen from central Asia (especially from Persia) to train locals. However, during the reigns of the great king of Kashmir- Budshah Zain-ul- Abideen, this craft received good support and the ruler became the active catalyst and pioneer to restore the grandeur of the craft.

The process:

Copperware requires ample amount of time and labour and the process is slow and difficult as well.

The process of making of a copper or brassware goes through many Hands (artisans) specialized in each segment of the process. The process involves the basics of blacksmiths techniques, Naqash – the engraver, Zarcod – the gilder, Roshangar – the polisher and Charakgar – the cleaner or finisher. In past there were special localities or Mohallas that were named after these professions.

Some of the tools used in the process of making a copperware are, Draz (hammer), Mekh (stakes) Yandrewah (anvil), Compass ,chisels, punches, files etc.

The beautiful shops of household utility and decorative copperware items in Shehr-e-Khaas, downtown area of Srinagar city has been traditionally the hub of copperware since the 19th century. The old markets of Zaina Kadal, SR Gunj ,MR Gunj  still house  this glorious art. Large beautiful copper samovars, cups, glasses, tasht naari’s,  traami’s, jugs, bowls, trays, vases ,vessels ,water bottles ,table Lamps, pendant Lamps etc are  gracefully found  in the beautiful shops even today. The old city is full of shops where craftsmen (Naqash) are often seen engraving copper items.

On a narrow street in Shamas Wari area of  Zainakadal is a small coppersmiths workshop .Mohammad Aslam, 45, who is actively engaged in this craft and finds solace and joy in his work ,which he is performing from his childhood. He is one among the finest in the business besides many others from Downtown area of summer capital, Srinagar which has always produced talented artisans in copperware.

While Aslam is contended with his job, he however regrets that once an inseparable part of the culture, this art form was fading away swiftly and copper utensils were being replaced by steel and other metal. This, he believes, has rendered thousands of technical hands jobless and the art is was at the verge of the extinction.

There isn’t any serious effort from the government side to uphold and ensure the survival of this art and the least any administration could do was to support the people who are in the making of copperware and have given their lives to this art form. Some schemes must be drafted to help this sector regain its lost glory.

The writer is a Research project Fellow at Design incubation centre, Central University of Kashmir


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