The sheer ingenuity of the Kashmiri Naqash (Craftsmen) in the many examples of his art comprising of wooden furniture, jewelry boxes, wooden utensils, the wall panels, photo frames, cigar cases are mesmerizing at the first sight and take you in their awe for a long time. The handicraft of exquisitely made wooden artifacts is representative of Kashmiri tradition and goes back to third or fourth century in the architectural remains found in Kashmir Punjab.
The craft of wood carving reached Kashmir from the Central Asia 600-700 years ago through Saint Shah Hamadan. The craft of wood carving reached its pinnacle in the era 1420-1270. Before the walnut wood carving became popular, carving was practiced on the walls, doors, pillars of shrines, mosques, palaces, official royal buildings. Today walnut wood carving has earned a global fame for itself.
Kashmir is the only place in India where Walnut tree is grown. Walnut is a very soft wood, and hence makes carving on it easier. The closed grain and texture also facilitated fine and detailed carving on it. The durability of the wood also makes it a very good option for carving.
The wood from the stem of the tree is used. These days wood from the tree roots are also in use. The wood from the stem bears lighter color while that of the root is almost black with more pronounced grain. The wood from the stem is more expensive as compared with that of the root.
Walnut wood carving is a very complex, tedious and time taking process. Till date no machinery is used and the carving is completely handmade. Initially the logs of wood from the tree which stops giving fruits is cut down and kept for seasoning. Then sheets of required dimensions are cut and kept for natural seasoning for a time period ranging from 6 months to 3 years. In the first stage of seasoning the sheets or planks are kept vertically in open and in the next stage they are piled on the edges alternately one upon the other in shade.
The wooden piece of furniture, boxes or other artifacts is then manufactured by the carpenter. The furniture chan or the carpenter uses only traditional tools such as chisels, saw, measuring tape, wooden scale or tur etc.
Carving a piece of wood is an extremely laborious process which requires expertise in proper use of different chisels, depending on the complexity of the design.
From the carpenter the completed wooden object is then passed on to the carver or Naqash. The carver then carves the motifs on the wood by various steps of laakhun (inscribing the pattern on wood), Dagun (marking or punching i.e. digging out the wood on marked lines with the help of a chisel or mallet), zameen kadun (refers to deeper digging toobtain the 3D effect of the motif), Guzar dun (giving the shape to the motifs or broader outlining of the designs) and Sumbh kadun (texturing of the wooden object with the help of a nail like tool with teeth like structure sumbh). Last step of the carving process involves polishing of the wood by artisans called as Roshan gaar. In this step wood is softened using sand paper, rubbing with a semi-precious stone called as pullet.
The motifs on the wooden artifacts are inspired from the various natural wonders of Kashmir, Chinar leaves, Vine leaves, flowers like Lotus and Rose. The Kashmiri specialty of wood carving is Khatam-band which has geometrical patterns beautifully done on the wood. The designs are either carved along the borders or filling the entire surface. The intricately carved floral patterns or geometrical motifs create beautiful pieces of art.
A single piece can take from 2 days to 6 months depending on the intricacy of the pattern and they may range from Rs. 250 INR to even 8-10 lakhs. But sadly, the future of this exquisite art appears to be gloomy due to skyrocketing prices, making these pieces simply out of reach for consumers.