A Thing of Beauty: Paper Mache

Kashmir is famed for its natural beauty- lofty, snow-capped mountains, green meadows dotted with flowers, crystalline water, and blue skies. Some credit is due, however, to man-made charms. There are many worth mentioning, some of them being: shawl making, carpet weaving, wood carving, embroidery and papier-mâché. All these handicrafts are exquisite but there is something particularly enchanting about the craft of papier-mâché. Skillfully shaped, lacquered, and polished to perfection; this handicraft can be found in the shape of baskets, eggs, boxes, animals, vases, and so many more. Every single article is painted by hand in unique patterns and vibrant colors. Papier-mâché is said to have been introduced in Kashmir by Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (RA) some 600 years ago. Another story attributes the start of this craft in the Valley to Sultan Zain-ul-Abideen. Either way, the spread of this art in Kashmir seems strangely apt. Surrounded by picturesque sceneries, how could the people of Kashmir resist reflecting this beauty, in their work?
Now, of course, making a masterpiece requires much labor & hard work. The work starts with soaking ripped-up paper. This paper is ground (along with cloth and rice stalk) to make a mixture, and rice glue is added. The obtained pulp is put on a mold and allowed to dry. After this is detached from the mold, it is smoothened and lacquered. Then comes the painting part. Known as “Naqashi”, this is a complex and intricate job. Skilled artists usually render floral, or geometrical designs in bright colors against a dark background. The result is strikingly attractive. Despite these merits, the papier-mâché craft is rapidly losing market in Kashmir. There are various reasons for the decline of this once-booming industry, one being the 2014 floods. Now the pandemic has also dried up opportunities for improvement. This age-old handicraft is losing vitality due to the lack of an audience. As consumers, we ought to spare some thought to the upkeep of this art, which is, after all, a part of our heritage. For as Keats said, “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

Andleeb Bilal

Class X

(Edited by: Sana Khursheed)

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