Origin: In the 15th century, during the reign of Zainul Abdideen, Islamic missionary Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom introduced walnut woodcarving in Kashmir. Since then, it has become Kashmir’s very own and its secrets have been passed on through generations. One of the oldest forms of handicrafts, ancient temples depict the rich heritage of wood carving. However, this intricate art form flourished in 20th century after globalisation. In Kashmir, the availability of soft walnut wood married art loving people. Repercussions of this were that carved walnut wood-making became Kashmir’s most loved craft.
Wood carving is the demonstration of skills on walnut wood. Walnut wood is a little softer wood as compared to other woods, so it makes it easy for craftsmen to carve the wood and give shape to it. Kashmir is the only place in India where walnut wood is available. The wood carving products are famous because of their unique and intricate designs.
Present Day: Kashmir is one of the few destinations in the world where at an altitude of 5500-7500 feet above sea level walnut trees are still present. Machine crafted wood work has diminished the demand for this age old craft. Machine wood carving products are typically easier to make, cheaper and are made in bulk. In contrast, wood carved products call for long hours of love and are thus expensive. Yet, this labour of love still resides in the heart of locals and art lovers. Today, Srinagar is home to approximately 3000 skilled artisans alone thus the craft needs customers.
The Walnut Wood Carving work has been protected under the Geographical indication (GI) of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. This handicraft plays an important role in providing employment to locals. This art form can be found in almost every Kashmiri household
The different types of wood carving products are trays, bowls, cigarette boxes, vases, table lamps, wall plaque, jewellery boxes, ornamental caskets, hanging mirrors, photo frames etc. Wood carving is also done on larger scale for furniture like doors, bedstead, dressing units, tables, chairs, windows etc. The most famed motifs are that of rose, lotus, iris, bunches of grapes, pears, chinar leaves, dragon motifs and patterns taken from kani etc. People love this exquisite art form for being hand-made and intricate detailing.
Procedure: The fine art of woodcarving calls for walnut tree locally known as ‘Doon Kul’. Traditionally, it is cut only once its 300 years old. It’s a very special wood as it is hard and durable. Pahalgam and Sonmarg in Kashmir are homes to some of the oldest groves.
Wood carving products are made using different tree parts like root, trunk and the branches. The products are made by selecting the wood after studying the wood grains. Once the design and the figure is selected, the log of the wood is elected as per the product to be made. Then the process of carving is initiated by using different types of tools like knives, gouges and saw etc. The last step of this process is polishing and adding finishing touches to the product.
There are four types of carving which is used to make these products namely Kashmir-raised, engraved, undercut, and plan. Most commonly found carving designs are flowers like rose, lotus, iris, lilies, beautiful motifs, grapes, chinar leaves, dragons etc.
Walnut trees are of four varieties namely; ‘Wantu’ or ‘Vont Dun’ (fruit has hard shell), ‘Dunu’ and ‘Kakazi’ or ‘Burzol’ (best fruit with lightest shell), which are cultivated and the ‘Khanak’ is found in the wild.
Wood carved products have huge demand overseas and are exported in different parts of the world like USA, U.K, Germany, France, Italy, UAE, Canada etc. These handicrafts have contributed in a big way to Indian economy and this also helps in preserving Indian culture and heritage.
Bring Home: You can buy these wooden carved crafts from different parts of Jammu and Kashmir and local markets. To name a few you can find them at Lal Chowk, Badshah Chowk of Srinagar, Raghunath Bazaar and Hari Market of Jammu and J&K Arts Emporium etc.