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Kashmir papier-mâché is a handicraft of Kashmir that was brought by Muslims from Persia in the 15th century. It is based primarily on waste paper pulp, and is a richly decorated, colourful artifact.
Artifacts are generally in the form of vases, bowls, or cups, boxes, trays, bases of lamps, and many other small objects. These are made at homes and workshops in Srinagar, and other parts of the Kashmir Valley.
There is a significant international market for these artifacts. The product is protected under the Geographic Indication (GI) Act 1999 of Government of India.
Papier-mâché is the French word for chewed paper for objects made by moulding waste paper pulp in various shapes. Then decorating them with designs using various colours.
In the figurative sense the word Papier-Mâché has come to be identified as the art of Kashmir. The Papier-Mâché technique of using paper pulp for making decorative objects was first adopted in Kashmir in the 15th century by King Zain-ul-Abidin.
Mir Sayyed Ali Hamdani, a Sufi mystic, came to Kashmir during the late 14th century along with his followers, many of whom were craftsmen.
These craftsmen used hand-made paper pulp from Iran in Central Asia for their artifacts. These artists who were also well-versed in other handicrafts such as woodcarving, copper-engraving and carpet-weaving made Kashmir their permanent home. They settled here along with their families.
During the Mughal Era, Papier-Mache was used widely, extending its use to include many items of home furniture that were made in Kashmir. Many notable objects of this type are exhibited in museums in many parts of the world.
This tradition of using papier-mâché or pulp on wood work to be colourfully painted with different designs, is very much in practice even today. Some of the older designs involved intricate painting of kingfishers, maple leaves and other designs, such as “Arabesque”, “Yarkand” and “Hazara”.
The skilled artisans of Kashmir involved with this painstaking process of this craft are called Sakhta makers. The materials used in this process are discarded paper, cloth, straw of rice plant, copper sulfate, which are mixed and made into a pulp.
Kashmir’s papier mache art is a story in itself. Migrants from Persia and Central Asia travelled to Kashmir and introduced many arts and crafts in the 15th century. Today, masters of the art live in the narrow bylanes of Srinagar’s Zadibal-Alamgari Bazaar. They bring to life the literary works of poets, kings and emperors through local motifs.