Kashmir is known for its arts and crafts. But there is no single book so far which deals overall and totally with both known and lesser-known crafts of Jammu & Kashmir State. This book portrays a comprehensive study providing wealth of information and visual documentation on the beautiful part of India comprising Jammu, Kashmir valley and Ladakh. A state with rich craft and cultural heritage deserves to be better known in its crafts context of people and culture.
As a close and living relationship ties land to people and people to craft and culture, the book opens with brief description of this relationship.
Since traditional skills co-exist and change in the course of changing conditions, the book covers some of the more important as well as lesser known crafts in their historical background, present and potential for future.
Development being a constant process, the book also reviews the actual craft situation, its scope, design, craft training, the domestic marketing and exports of crafts, concluding on the most important factor- the craftsmen and their welfare.
The book is invaluable in many ways. Over 100 pages of excellent photographs and typical design motifs capture vitality of Jammu & Kashmir crafts. General readers, planners and administrators as well as traders and exporters will find highly useful the details the book provides with the personal touch of author's rich experience over the years.
About the Author
D.N. Saraf (born April, 1918) hails from Jammu and Kashmir. He did his M.A. in Economics and took a special course in Marketing at the Harvard Business School, U.S.A. He has been associated with such prestigious bodies as the India Crafts Council, the American Marketing Association and the British Institute of Management.
Mr. Saraf started his professional career with the development of crafts in Jammu and Kashmir and held several positions in the State - General Manager of the Government Central Market for Handicrafts (1940) to the Director of Industries & Commerce (1954-56).
From his home state, Mr. Saraf moved to the Central Government holding various positions in the handicraft field from 1956 to 1976 - Director, Handicraft; General Manager, Handicrafts and Handloom Export Corporation of India; Vice-Chairman, Central Cottage Industries Emporium; Memer-Secretary, All India Handicraft Board and lately Development Commissioner for Handicrafts, Government of India.
Mr. Saraf has been intimately associated with the development of handicrafts for the last 45 years. Widely travelled and the author of several reports and papers, he has been involved with a number of projects in Jammu and Kashmir, India Government as well as some other countries having worked on several U.N. assignments. Mr. Saraf's last book "Indian Handicrafts - their potential and development 1982" has been highly acclaimed as containing standard reference material.
Mr. Saraf is still actively associated with the state of Jammu and Kashmir, being on the Board of Directors of the two state corporations dealing with handicrafts and handlooms. There can be no better authority on the subject of arts and crafts of Jammu and Kashmir with which this book deals profusely.
It is almost half a century ago that I first came in contact with the official aspect of Kashmir crafts. I was at the time a student at Srinagar. It was a morning in 1934. I had gone to the office of the state director of industries. After going through a gamut of office personnel, I was met by the head-peon (jamadar) Tara Chand, himself the least of them, was most imposing. He wore Khaki with a towering turban from one side of which hung gold zari threads. I was told to wait.
I waited patiently for some hours. I wanted to discuss the question of handloom weaving and hand printing in Samba, my hometown, where my father was engaged in the manufacture and supply of handlooms to the department. (I vividly recall how as a child I used to watch with interest the manufacture and transaction of local Samba crafts- its centuries old tradition of hand printed cloth, its hand woven fabrics and embroidered footwear. The craftsmen, many of whom I knew personally, worked in their homes and sold their products in the local market.)
After kicking my heels on the bench for some hours in front of the khaki personage, I remember thinking that were I director, I would perhaps attempt to listen to people directly more attentively, particularly those actually engaged in craftwork. A director, it seemed to me, existed to serve the maker of crafts and not the other way about.
As luck would have it, only six years later I found myself beginning to serve the crafts of jammu and Kashmir myself- when my first venture was to attempt an organized outlet through a state government central market for handicrafts at Srinagar. Through subsequent years, from 1956 when I was director of the All India Handicrafts Board till 1976 when I retired as Development Commissioner, my contact with Jammu and Kashmir crafts remained a close one. Later as adviser/consultant, handicrafts and handlooms, jammu & Kashmir, as director on the Board of J & K Handicrafts (Sales & Export) Corporation, and the J & K State Handloom Development Corporation, the bond grew stronger. Even now, as a member of the state committee of handicrafts and handlooms development, it seems to me that the overview that comes from planning and organization cannot exist without knowing craft at its root level.
Craft as a saleable product is one thing. Craft in the local and regional lives of people who make, use and inherit certain specific traditions is quite another. The two are of course related. It is the nature of this relationship that began to interest me more and more.
The crafts of the Kashmir valley are of course famous the world over. Still, many people may be interested to know more about them in their own context, particularly some of the lesser known crafts.
Also, very little is known outside Kashmir regarding the more recent developments: There were barely 3000 carpet weavers 10 years ago. There are more than 40,000 now.
Certain crafts have entered a partial dispersal system appropriately enough, in the move from cities and towns to rural areas.
Another significant feature is the large number of women who have been encouraged to make crafts a way of earning and support. I recall with pleasure that as director of industries in the mid 50s I set up the first centre for training girls in carpet weaving. The more orthodox raised their eyebrows and were highly skeptical. But today, happily, hundreds of women are engaged, for instance, in weaving carpets: a male prerogative. Traditionally, again in Kashmir men have been the only commercial embroiderers. They are still the majority. However, many women are slowly finding personal and professional fulfillment in these crafts.
I should like to thank colleagues and friends in Jammu and Kashmir, more particularly those connected with the Directorate of Handicrafts and the School of Designs. Their generosity, wisdom, knowledge and suggestions have been of invaluable help to me in preparing this book. I have also drawn upon the generous help of the office of the Development Commissioner for Handicrafts, Government of India, and the Handicrafts and Handloom Export Corporation of India (HHEC), besides are two state corporations dealing with handicrafts and handlooms. Regarding travel, I have drawn freely upon the literature published by the India Tourism Development Corporation and the State Tourism Department. They have also helped me with photographs.
To the School of Designs, the S.P.S. Museum, Srinagar, the Dogra Art Gallery, Jammu, Crafts Museum, Delhi, HHEC, the State Directorate goes the credit for a number of photographs. Mr. M. Hussain, Chief photographer, State Handicrafts Directorate helped me generously for which I am immensely grateful. My younger brother, Suraj Saraf, has also supplied me with some rare photographs of the arts and crafts of Jammu region as well as authentic information about them. I should also like to thank Mr. Madan Mahatta for his professional assistance, the National Institute of Design and Mr. Rupinder Khullar for supplying me selected slides.
I must thank Mr. S.P. Sahni for his valuable advice and help in starting on this book. Also Mr. Mohiuddin Shah (present Director, J&K Tourism) for supplying information on tourism and certain photographs, especially those on Ladakh by Mr. H. Satz.
I am particularly grateful to my dear friend, lola Basu for her advice and support with the manuscript and the consistent good taste and direction with which she helped me select the visuals.
Most of all, it is the craftsmen themselves who made this book possible. It has been my great joy to know them personally and to work with them for over forty years.
A word about the title of this book. Why 'art' and 'craft'?
Craft as we know it indicates a method of making or quite literally - manufacture: "the direct control over the product and its production by the workman's hand or tool".
It is to be remembered, however, that originally in this country the word silpi contained no distinction between terms that were to evolve later in the medieval period; such as the distinction between 'fine art'-lalitkala - and 'craft' - hastyakala.
Once established, this hierarchy of value between "high" art and "low" or utilitarian artisan-craftsmanship entered and became an engrained part of our social consciousness, particularly in our attitudes to the maker.
But, what if we assume, as was originally assumed, that whatever is made well is in fact creative? This makes more sense when we reflect that this is a country where iconography, mastery of an inherited skill and social/design functions are traditional and collective.
Particularly damaging from a design point of view is the very thinking that has frequently led to our estimating an ornament at the expense of integrated solutions, such as structural design and material utilization, as in the functional purpose of crafts in daily life.
One obvious reason for this has been the historic rift in social usage that came from increasingly feudal patronage. Another is the inevitable distortion of indigenous balances that heavy 19th century Victorian demands generated in those crafts that the empire found it commercially worth while importing: the "exotic",, "oriental fantasy", richly worked surfaces at the expense of other values have taken their toll.
Meanwhile, the older guild system of craft production had already broken down into imperial workshops working on commission for feudal and for export markets. The craftsman was viewed as "Income generating" for a system larger than himself. And he was worked hard.
In Vedic and Hindu India, all creative expression was believed to be derived from a single inspiration. Now, not only did Kashmir lie directly in the passage of the Vedic peoples into India, but its subsequent position in relationship both to peninsular India and to Taksasila, the ancient centre of Hindu learning and Indo-Greek influences, cannot be over-estimated. Much has been made of Kashmir's traditional geographical isolation. Yet its closeness both to Hindu thinking and its strategic position in regard to trade and hence to the cultural map of the world has perhaps been forgotten in the process.
Kashmir's traditional position on the ancient silk route that connected Persia and Persian influence with china and Chinese influence strengthened its hold on Islam as much as with the Far East. What is now the state of Jammu and Kashmir including Ladakh, still holds together in a cluster as it were the socio-cultural and religious influences of Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism and Islam. These influences are inevitably reflected in craft and in the craft context.
Yet the point before fine art, decorative arts and craft began to view themselves separately is itself accurately reflected in the Aitareya Brahmana (6:5:1). All creative work (silpani), it is said, is as it were an imitation of the divine. Whether it be a clay figure, a bronze cup, a garment, worked gold or mule chariot, all are works of art. He who understands this, it goes on to say, understand that all creative work is intended for self-culture (atma-sanskriti). By the act of making, the "sacrificer" integrates himself through the rhythm that perpetuates itself through nature.
"Silpani" are perceived as "supporting" the heavens themselves.
The fact that creative activity of the widest kind was seen to express a "holy" experience of life, that all disciplines converged to expand a single worldview, and that craft was itself viewed as related to nature on one hand and to the integration of the maker's self on the other, I consider particularly significant. It is for this reason that I speak of arts and crafts lest the bond between these be forgotten.
The Indian artisan was originally both a structural designer and a craftsman. By the time of the Mughals the function of designer and artist had clearly separated from that of executor. This remains true of most of the Kashmiri crafts.
Nevertheless, the designer (naqqash) and the craftsman (karigar) collaborate closely. This has led at its finest to the interaction of craft communities in the work of production. At its less fine, carelessness can and has shown through.
While the specific direction of certain crafts has been governed by the taste and distinction of certain courts besides great centers of religious culture, the crafts of the people have survived. Yet, village crafts in Kashmir will remain robust only so long as their actual use and social function is alive.
It craft is man's first technology, a craft at its finest represents the finest that can be commanded with simple tools. Let us, then, not forget those essentially refined and intricate techniques intended too for the discriminating, those to whom a rarity is something worth waiting for. Many fine Kashmir crafts fall into this category.
Let us remember too the landscape, its generosity of seasonal colour, the still texture of sky and water, the richer texture of autumn leaves, of saffron, of lotus and window and pale spring flowers or mellow summer fruit. The poetry of these influences can be seen in the finest kani shawls, in carpets, in embroidery, in the miniaturist techniques that reached even papier mache. The craftsman's eye is open. Indeed, his perception of his own natural environment is a perception that has left the lives of most of us today. It is to this perception as much as to the actual work of his hands that we continue to respond.
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