KHATAMBAND-The Art of intricately carved ceilings in Kashmir

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Catch the craft

By: Dar Javed

Walking in the maze of narrow lanes and by-lanes of old city of Srinagar, meandering through its exposed brick and wooden structures often shout for some care and attention in silence. The old embellishments adorning the dwellings and monuments with carved wood facades, intricate PAinjrakari on their exteriors, beautiful lines of Khatambandh (wood carved ceiling) tell a story of the bygone days about a beautiful bridge man has made with history- it is simply mesmerizing !

Going back to the roots of the craft called Khatambanb, the literal meaning of which is Polygons combining together with the help of wooden beadings, it is an art of making ceiling by putting together walnut or deodar wood pieces into geometrical patterns. The uniqueness of this craft is that when the process of making is complete it acquires a unique and beautiful geometrical pattern and most of the process is done by hand- indeed a painstaking work. About its origin in Kashmir- some say this beautiful art was brought to Kashmir in 1541 by Mirza Hyder Tugluq during Mughal times while some believe that Khatamband was brought by Islamic Mystic and saint Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (RA) who visited Kashmir in 14th century along with his followers included Khatamband artists from Iran. These artisans passed on this art to locals here.

Over the next centuries, the art prospered and became a very fine tradition with the locals as some mastered it and carved out beautiful indigenous designs. In order to preserve this beautiful art form, it was awarded Geographical Indication (GI) certificate in 2011 (Journal No. 41 and certificate No.164) symbolizing its exclusivity in international market.

Since its arrival in Kashmir, Khatamband art, like other arts, witnessed many ups and downs due to the various bouts of turbulent times in the valley but nevertheless the art form retained its special position in all of wood works and continued to remain in vogue.

Earlier, Khatamband was usually seen in shrines, Jamia mosques, palaces, royal houses, or houseboats. However, things have changed drastically and one can see that more and more homes in Kashmir are now going for such wooden ceilings, be it in the city or the villages. There are more than 160 Khatamband designs, but not all designs are reproduced as some require very high skill and also elaborate timelines to complete. As per a research by noted designer, Sandeep Sangaru, with Craft Development Institute, Srinagar, there are about 500-700 Khatamband artisans in Srinagar. They work in groups of 10- 15 under a master craftsman. As the craft incorporates different geometric shapes, the work is very repetitive and the use machines including electric motors and electric saws is often seen. This reduces the time consumption besides providing compact and flawless geometrical shapes. Raw material used is procured locally and mostly supplied by JK Forest Deptt.

Some famous designs are of Khatamband include ‘BeetDar’, ‘Mouje Lehar’, ‘Has pohal’, ‘Dawazdha Girid’, ‘Chengis kani’, ‘chaar Baksh’, ‘Hastubal’, ‘Pohal Muraba’, ‘Muraba Badam’, etc.

The artists associated with handicraft are poorest of the communities of the society and it goes without saying that those golden hands that carve such beautiful designs often go hungry. The wages are less, the process is tedious and those people for whom the work are usually sort of exploiters who may sell the work for much more than that given to the artisans. Artisans associated with t Khatamband craft are getting wages of 500 to 600 after a tedious labour of 14 hrs a day. According to the Khatamband artists Union, the govt. provides them firewood quota of around 3000 quintals for one year which gets consumed in three months. Forest deptt.provides them firewood for Rs 425 per feet ,they get the same from market at Rs 800. These artisans demand that wood should be provided to them at reasonable rates.

Like other crafts, Khatamband has suffered for being largely unorganized, with the additional constraints of lack of education, low capital, poor exposure to new technologies, absence of market intelligence and poor institutional frame work. The state has to work on many fronts to revive this age old craft in Kashmir.

The writer is a postgraduate in craft designing management and entrepreneurship and works as RPF at DIC central university of Kashmir.

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