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Artisan Maqbool working on a Tray (L) motif inside Tray (R).

Walking in the maze of narrow lanes and by-lanes of old city Srinagar called SHEH-RI-KHASS in Kashmir, packed by houses of wooden and brick architecture often shout for care and attention in silence. It is in these lanes that Papier Mache artisans live, work and transform waste paper/scrap into master pieces of brilliance. Mohammad Maqbool, 47, with a beautiful smile on his face in his match sized room (workshop) greets whoever visits his workshop.

The Room is filled with the smell of paint as Maqbool stokes his brush with precision skill and confidence on the tray, transforming it from a plain raw structure Paper pulp locally called ‘SAKHTA’, to a magnificent piece of art that reflects KASHMIRIYAT. His hand is moving with the inspiration of something that has passed down through ages. The way he is defining symmetry in it as an artist leaves one in awe. In his room Maqbool sits high in the court of art, shaping his beautiful creation – Tray with attention to details. With his head bent down and eyes on it as he strokes with brush, Maqbool talks Kashmir in Art. Maqbool, a master craftsman who keeps this art alive engages in conversation, his words about Kashmir. Ah those scholarly words …THOUGH PROTECTED BY RING OF HIGH ENCHANTING MOUNTAINS, THE VALLEY (KASHMIR) HAS WITNESSED ITS OWN VULNERABILITY SEVERAL TIMES OVER AND  AGAIN …. ONLY TO EMERGE STRONGER AND BETTER.

Coming to the roots of this craft, Papier Mache technique  was introduced in Kashmir by King Zain-ul-Abideen in 15th century. In Kashmir Papier Mache originated in the form of making pen cases (Qalamdans) from paper pulp. During Mughal period 1586 – 1762 Papier Mache received good boost as Mughals liked the technique and all other objects like bowls, lampshades , ceilings were made.


The amazing transformation of scrap papers into master pieces of brilliance, done with richness of beauty in colour and finness, is what Papier Mache is all about. Papier Mache is to Kashmir what art is to man… inseparable. It is one among the six crafts from Kashmir registered under Geographical Indication (G.I) act of India, S.No. 161 and Application No. 181.


There are two important aspects of Kashmiri Papier Mache. (Shown in photos below)

  1. Naqashi.

The first step is making of foundation of papier object with paper pulp. The paper pulp is soaked in the water for 3 days. And then put in a traditional mortar for pounding.

Pulp is then left to dry before being mixed with glue locally called ‘ATIJ’ or rice and flour. A mould of wood or clay is made that allows an artisan to mix the paper with glue around the mould giving shape to mashed paper.

The second stage is NAQASHI – painting, during this stage base coat paint is applied then artisan designs object by hand.

The brushwork

A unique feature of Kashmiri Papier Machie is the effect of delicate shading that is obtained by very fine brush work almost in the manner of fine semi curvilinear line work known as partaz.

Traditionally most of the colours used in papier machie were mineral, organic or vegetable base. The traditional colours employed in the rendering were crimson, green blue and black.

However this beautiful art is staring at survival issues ever since abrogation of 370 and now Covid 19 has added to huge losses. Post August 2019 artisans are in an indefinite lockdown, without work and with no sales. On National Handloom day Prime Minister asked people to go for local handmade and handloom products to strengthen efforts for  self reliant India. He lauded those associated with India’s vibrant handloom and handicraft sector. In a recorded message he said that it should be our effort that Indian handicraft and handloom is used by all. Papier Mache being an important handicraft from Jammu Kashmir  has contributed to the UT’s economy during difficult times and has given Kashmir  global identity along with other crafts . Hence Need is to help Papier Mache artisans to live a happy and dignified life and help them in their battle of survival. Let’s endorse handicrafts and support “Go  Vocal for Local handmade products”.

The writer is a postgraduate in Craft Management and Entrepreneurship from Craft Development Institute Srinagar Kashmir, is working with COMMITMENT TO KASHMIR (Ctok) Delhi that supports and nurtures a new generation of Crafts people from Kashmir and can be reached at [email protected]

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