Srinagar: city of crafts and folk arts

In November 2021, Srinagar was nominated as part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) and thus entered the club of 295 Creative Cities Networks around the world. After Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Varanasi and Jaipur, Srinagar is the sixth Indian city to obtain this distinction for different categories. UNESCO this year chose the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir UT from among 49 cities. Srinagar became the second Indian city after Jaipur which was selected in the category “Crafts and Folk Art” of UCCN. This is a popular project launched by UNESCO in 2004 to promote cooperation between cities in order to work together towards a common goal of placing creativity and cultural industries for their local development plans and activities cooperation at the international level. The Honorable Prime Minister was the first to send the congratulatory message to the residents of UT and said that “this is the appropriate recognition for the cultural dynamics of Srinagar”.

According to experts, “the UCCN label would not only give worldwide recognition to the city of Srinagar, but also help international funding, links with craft universities and showcase craft as a product.” Srinagar qualified because of its craftsmanship and folk art, which is an integral part of its tradition and culture besides the breathtaking natural beauty of the city itself. Being the famous tourist town, tourists from all over the world come to this town in search of buying the best quality, Pashmina shawls, rugs, hand woven rugs, woolen items, embroidered stoles and jackets, pherans, wood carving. , etc. Traditionally, designers have been heavily influenced by Persian, Central Asian, Mughal and even Tibetan art forms. The city is famous for many performing arts and traditional music. The artistic genius of the Kashmiri people is expressed in the fields of literature, poetry, literary images, shawl making, embroidery, woodworking, wood carving, papier mache and metal work. Kashmiri art and craft is a testament to the fact that the Kashmiri artist is a true lover of nature. Nature is reflected in all the designs and decorative motifs of Kashmiri art. It is not possible to discuss Kashmir crafts and art in one article. However, I can briefly discuss the historical background of a few trades that have given Srinagar a distinct name in the world.

The art of papier-mâché arrived in Kashmir in 14e century with Mir Syeed Ali Hamdani, a Persian scholar and mystic. The Kashmiri style of papier mache depiction is unique and of the highest quality. Common themes of naqashi are Kashmir symbols like almonds, chinar leaves, flowers, and box designs with precise detail. The fashion for carpet weaving also came with the Persian travelers in the time of Zain-ul-Abadin who brought in carpet weavers from Persia and Central Asia. The Kashmiris have learned and passed on the art from generation to generation with improved quality. Shawls; The shawls are made of Pashmina and marino wool. The product is indigenous and identified by its distinctive Kashmiri weave. It evolved in the popular cultures of Europe, North America and our own country as indicators of nobility and rank. It was used by Mughal and Iranian emperors, personally and in honor of members of their durbar. At the end of the 18e century, it arrived in Britain and then France, where its use by Queen Victoria and Empress Josephine popularized it as a symbol of exotic luxury and status. Woodcarving is a special type of craft that produces large items like a study table, dining table, wardrobes, nightstands, and beds, and smaller items like jewelry boxes, pen trays and other decorative items. The use of native walnut wood makes the wood carving even more authentic to the place. Willow Wicker Crafts are handmade crafts involving willow reeds and are a local economic tradition in the valley.

Copper Articles: Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, an Islamic scholar and mystic from Hamdan, was instrumental in popularizing copper articles among locals and brought in craftsmen from Persia and Central Asia to train locals there is 700 years old. Locals focused on making ships, silver jewelry, brass and copper items such as serving jars, platters, with expertise on products such as Taeshnaers, Treams, and Somavaers. Kashmiri artisans have also acquired expertise in products such as Namda, Gaba and Cashmere embroidery work like Crewel and Sozni with particular emphasis on chain stitch.

Dr Abdul Ahad, a well-known contemporary historian, states that “the traditional arts and crafts of the city of Srinagar have greatly contributed to the flourishing of the urbanization of the city by being the core of its stockpile of civilization ever since. time immemorial and have passed all the tests. of time. They have been the center of global attention and attraction since medieval times, being a vital source of its commerce and trade. Dr Ahad adds that “Napoleon’s wife became the first ambassador of Kashmir’s artistic greatness and popularized Kashmiri creativity throughout Europe, motivating Allard and Ventura, the two French generals at the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh , to engage in the trade of Kashmir arts and crafts. The Dogra Mahrajas have held annual international exhibitions to promote the arts and crafts of Kashmir.

The city of Srinagar, especially the city center, is responsible for the evolution and development of arts and crafts in Kashmir and bringing it to the peak of success. Craftsmen who mostly live in the Old Town (downtown) deserve credit for this separate achievement for having recognized Srinagar as the Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art by UNESCO. It will add one more feather to the Kashmiri people if Srinagar is inscribed in the near future as a heritage city by UNESCO, which it well deserves. Relevant departments of central governments as well as UT should take all necessary measures to maintain and preserve its historical and archaeological remains in order to facilitate the world organization by declaring downtown Srinagar as a heritage city.

(The author is a retired IGP from Rawalpora, Srinagar)

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