The Kashmiri Papier-Mâché

Papier-mache is undoubtedly a craft of significance for Kashmir. Today it is a handicraft protected under the Geographic Indication Act 1999 by the Government of India.

Papier Mache is one of the handicrafts that are an integral part of the Kashmiri tradition. The art has been handed over by generations of expert artisans. The art of papier-mache is one of the very few handicrafts that has yet not been intruded upon by modern-day industrial culture. It is still made in homes and little workshops in Kashmir and various other parts of Srinagar.

Though the papier-mâché art has now been completely ingrained in the Kashmiri tradition, it did not originate here. Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani, a Muslim saint from Iran, brought this art to India during his visit in the 14th century. Hamdani, who was also known as Ali Sani (Second Ali) came to India with an intent to convert people to Islam in an organized manner.  Papier-mâché was one of the many pieces of art he brought here.

The term papier-mâché is technically a French word that means ‘chewed paper’. In English, it has been adopted as a term that signifies an object made by moulding paper pulp. Kashmiri papier-mâché, as is evident from the definition of the term, is a handicraft based primarily on paper pulp. The paper pulp is moulded in various forms including boxes, vases, bowls, trays, and other small objects. These objects are then richly decorated with colours.

Making papier-mâché products is a lengthy process that requires patience and love for the art. Discarded paper is first immersed in water for a few weeks. These are then made into pulp. The pulp is dried to be made powder. The powder is mixed with rice water and made into a pulp that is then applied on molds of wood or brass. Once it dries the product is polished with gemstones to make the surface perfectly smooth. After some more layers of polishing with different things, the products are decorated with bright colours. In the end, the products are varnished.   

The unique style of this paper pulp handicraft was registered by the Controller General of Patents Designs and Trademarks as ‘Kashmiri Paper Mache’ from April 2011 to March 2012. Hence, today it is a handicraft protected under the Geographic Indication Act 1999 by the Government of India.

Products made out of papier-mache are one of the significant income-generating goods for the local artisans of Kashmir. These are marketed primarily within the boundaries of India. However, there is a significant market for them in the international market as well. Tourists visiting Kashmir often take some papier-mâché products as a souvenir of their visit to the ‘heaven on Earth’. 

Papier-mache is undoubtedly a craft of significance for Kashmir. But, just like all other handicraft industries, it is getting a tough fight with lower quality cheaper machine products. Artisans need a great will to keep the sector going. The GI tag though is a great support that has increased the market demand for these products by visitors from all over the country.

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