Mushtaq Hurra

Declining Kashmir Carpet Industry

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Creator of the universe has chiseled Kashmir valley with all possible artistic adeptness to make it the chef-d’oeuvre on the planet. Mesmerising landscapes make it a wonder of nature. The valley is not famous for its scenic beauty alone but it is known for its inhabitants who are equally admirable for their adroitness in different arts and crafts. Kashmiriyat is synonymous to handicrafts. Kashmiri artisans possess extraordinary skills and experiences which has helped them to carve a niche at national and global level. Papier-machie, silverware, shawl weaving, woodwork, indigenous rug making, crewel embroidery etc… are some famous handicrafts of Kashmir. Carpet weaving is another important craft here which has brought recognition and laurels to Kashmiri artisans at national and international level.

Carpet weaving in Kashmir valley dates back to 15th century AD when the great ruler of Kashmir Sultan Zainul Aabideen popularly known as Bud-shah, brought some prominent craftsmen from Persia (Iran) to Kashmir, to impart training and skill to local artisans here. Kashmiri artisans excelled in the art and took the craft to sky heights by the dint of their proficiency and industrious approach. During Bud-shah’s era, the craft of carpet weaving grew into an industry. He was a true patron and custodian of arts and crafts.

The beauty of Kashmir carpet has its own place and demand in national and international markets. The handmade carpets of Kashmir valley are uniquely woven. They are knotted not tufted. The intricacy and skillfulness of Kashmiri artisans is vividly prominent and visible in different carpet designs produced here. Silk carpets have won Kashmiri artisans indelible impression and reputation in different local and non-local arenas. The craft coupled with tourism industry proved one of the greatest revenue generating sources for Kashmir valley. It would provide livelihood to thousands of families associated with it.

The craft went through many ebbs and flows but some great lovers and admirers of art and craft came to its rescue during different eras. Mughal rulers were eminently known for their appreciation of art, architecture and crafts. Mughal king Jahangeer proved one of the great patrons of the carpet industry of Kashmir valley. He promoted and patronised the craft wholeheartedly. Weavers and others associated with it were held in high esteem. Marketing was made available at local, national and international levels. The craft flourished during Dogra rule of Kashmir as well.

During the mid of eighteenth century, Kashmiri carpets of Mughal era were displayed at crystal palace exhibition in London, and were lauded by European people for their intricate and alluring designs and olours. The carpets were extremely popular in Indian markets as well, even they continue to be so today.

Handwoven kashmir carpets are probably the most luxurious items that India showcases globally. Kashmir carpet is a marvel of artistry and skill. The magic produced by the fingers of designers and weavers leaves customers and onlookers dumbfounded and mesmerized. Some decades ago, Srinagar city was the hub of this industry. Carpet loom was a common sight in almost every second home of the city. It was from here that the craft reached far and wide of the valley,  particularly north Kashmir.

The craft witnessed the largest probable expansion in north Kashmir. It witnessed a rapid proliferation in the rural belt of Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara. During 80s and 90s, most of the households of our rural area would exhibit a festive look. Big and small carpet looms were found in these homes. It was almost customary then to have a tape recorder on the broad windowsill of the room containing the loom, producing high decibel sounds, resonating bollywood or local Kashmiri musical flavour into the surroundings. ‘Lift five and use red, ‘or ‘ lift one and use green ‘ was the peculiar way of instructing men and boys to weave the carpet. Interestingly, many girls were always seen working at these looms.  There was a craze for the craft in rural areas. I vividly remember my childhood days of 90s when our cricket matches were restricted to Fridays only. Most of the players in our mohalla teams were full time carpet weavers. The weavers, traders, exporters and others associated with it were happy and prosperous.

However, the centuries old popular carpet industry of our valley is going down the drain now. There is hardly a carpet loom seen in Srinagar. Even the rural belt of north Kashmir is bereft of any such sight albeit a few. Nobody wishes to adopt it because the remuneration of weavers has reduced drastically. The weavers are annoyed, as they consider it a brazen exploitation when they are not paid handsomely for their skill, talent and hardwork. It is a raw deal for poor workers to get very low wages. The craft is going to the dogs.

Government has not been serious about the preservation of this unique craft. According to the economic survey of Jammu and Kashmir, carpet exports amounted to worth 86 million dollars in 2011 to 2012. But, the carpet exports witnessed a drastic dip from 2016 to 2017. The carpet exports tumbled down to 56 million dollars during this period . Meanwhile, Iran exported carpet products worth 275 million dollars during the same period. Some noted traders believe that our designs are struggling to compete with their Iranian and Turkish counterparts at international level. Substandard material may be another reason for the decline of the industry. Over the years, carpet weavers have been preferring low quality Chinese silk yarn to indigenous silk of Kashmir, to reduce production costs which has proven a stumbling block in the progress of the art.

Government must do something practical instead of indulging in tall claims. Government must devise a robust strategy to safeguard the craft otherwise it would become history and would be confined to museums and books. Weavers should be rewarded and appreciated through incentives and easy loans. Best weavers should be rewarded at state and national levels. Markets and exhibitions must be made available for the craft. It will certainly bring back the dead craft to life. Let’s hope the different stakeholders associated with the craft will ensure the continuity and conservation of the craft.

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