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Art and Culture of Kashmir

Sufism Jammu & Kashmir is one place where the roving eyes of travelers come upon one endearing natural vista after another. A visit to this Eden revitalizes everyone - body, mind & soul. Over the centuries saints, seers and followers of all religions have come to Kashmir and left it richer, more spiritually robust. Jammu and Kashmir is dotted by both natural and man made religious pilgrimage sites. Shrines of all faiths exist in a good number here, symbolizing the spiritual and secular character of the Region.Hundreds of Shrines placed in scenic locations all over its hilly landscape.

Origins of Sufism in Kashmir

Sufism is a mystic tradition within Islam and encompasses a diverse range of beliefs and practices dedicated to divine love and the cultivation of the heart.

Jammu & Kashmir, the land renowned for its scenic splendours, has been endowed with a rich lineage of Sufi tradition. It is dotted by innumerable Sufi Shrines, which are held in high devotional esteem by people of all religious faiths. These sacred places, today, have become synonyms of religious secularism and brotherhood and symbols of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh unity within Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh.

The Sufi Pirs, Rishis and Saints preached the doctrine of love, compassion and humanity and espoused the cause of peace among people.

The great Sufi Saints of Kashmir like Hazrat Bulbul Shah, Amir-e-Kabir Shah-e-Hamdan, Noor-ud-Din Wali, Lal Ded, Baba Rishi, Baba Budhan Shah, Roshan Ali Shah, Peer Mitha and Panj Peer, who had followers in Kashmir as well as the rest of the country are revered everywere.

Kashmir Handicrafts

From the amusing trinket to a collector's item, you'll find it all in Srinagar. Row upon row of shops filled with handicrafts line the streets. The array is awesome. There are objects to suit every pocket, for the variety within each craft is wide.

Kashmir Handcrafts
Display of Handicrafts at Kashmir Hut, Srinagar

Carpets

A carpet may well be the most expensive purchase from your trip to Kashmir but it is a lifelong investment. Kashmiri carpets are known the world over for two things - they are handmade, never machine made, and they are always knotted, never tufted. It is extremely instructive to watch a carpet being made - your dealer can probably arrange this for you.

The yarn used normally is silk, wool or both. Staple carpets are made to fill a slot in the market – customers demand carpets, which are not unlike silk in appearance so as to blend with the decor of their houses. One important difference between silk and staple though is that pure silk is far lighter than staple per unit area.

Carpet weaving in Kashmir was not originally indigenous but is thought to have come in by way of Persia. Till today, most designs are distinctly Persian with local variations.

Kashmir Carpets
Carpets

The knotting of carpet is the most important aspect, determining its durability and value, in addition to its design. Basically, the more knots per square inch, the greater its value and durability. Count the number of knots on the reverse of carpet in any one square inch, and it should be roughly the same as the dealer tells you, give or take 10 knots.

Chain Stitch And Crewel Furnishings

Because of the high quality of embroidery done on wall hangings and rugs, Kashmiri crewel-work is in great demand throughout the world. Chain stitch, be it in wool, silk or cotton, is done by hook rather than by needle. The hook is referred to as aari, and while maintaining the same quality, hook work covers a much larger area than needle work in the same amount of time.

All the embroidery is executed on white cotton fabric, pre-shrunk by the manufacturers. The intrinsic worth of each piece lies in the sizes of the stitches and the yarn used.

Crewel is basically similar to chain stitch. It is also chain stitch done on white background, but here the motifs, mainly stylised flowers, do not cover the entire surface, and the background is not embroidered upon.

Papièr Mâchè

At first glance, all papièr mâchè objects look roughly the same, but there is a price differential which depends on the quality of the product. However, besides at least three different grades of papièr mâchè, some are actually cardboard or wood! The idea, however, is not to hoodwink the unwary, but to provide a cheaper product with the look of papièr mâchè.

The designs painted on objects of papièr mâchè are brightly coloured. They vary in artistry and the choice of colours, and it is not difficult to tell a mediocre piece from an excellent one. Gold is used on most objects, either as the only colour, or as a highlight for certain motifs. Besides the finish of the product, it is the quality of gold used which determines the price.

Shawls

There are three fibres from which Kashmiri shawls are made - wool, pashmina and shahtoosh. The prices of the three cannot be compared - Woollen shawls being within reach of the most modest budget, and Shahtoosh being a one-in-a-lifetime purchase. Shahtoos is a banned commodity nowadays.

Woollen shawls are popular because of the embroidery worked on them, which is unique to Kashmir. Both embroidery and the type of wool used bring about differences in the price. Wool woven in Kashmir is known as raffel.

Many kinds of embroidery are worked on shawls. 'Sozni' (needlework) is generally done in a panel along the sides of the shawl. Motifs, usually abstract designs or stylised paisleys and flowers are worked in one or two, and occasionally three subdued colours. The fineness of the workmanship and the amount of embroidery determines the value of the shawl.

Pashmina is unmistakable due to its softness. Pashmina yarn is spun from the hair of goat found in the highlands of Ladakh, at 14,000 ft above sea level. It is on pashmina shawls that Kashmir's most exquisite embroidery is executed, sometimes covering the entire surface, earning it the name of 'jamawar’. A Jamawar shawl can, by virtue of the embroidery, increase the value of a shawl threefold.

A second, less frequently seen weave done only on pashmina, covers the surface with tiny lozenge shaped squares, earning it the delightful name of 'chashm-e-bulbul,' or "eye of the bulbul". As this weave is a masterpiece of the weaver's art, it is normally not embroidered upon.

Copper and Silverware

The old city abounds with shops where objects of copper line the walls, the floor and even the ceiling, made generally for the local market. Craftsmen can often be seen engraving objects of household utility - samovars, bowls, plates and trays. Floral, stylised, geometric, leaf and sometimes calligraphic motifs are engraved or embossed on copper and occasionally silver, to cover the entire surface with intricate designs which are then oxidised, so as to stand out better from the background. The work, known as 'naqashi', determines the price of the object, as does the weight

Basketry

Willow rushes that grow plentifully in marshes and lakes in Kashmir are used to make charmingly quaint objects, ranging from shopping baskets and lampshades to tables and chairs, all generally inexpensive. To increase their life span, unvarnished products should be chosen and frequently sprayed with water, particularly in hot, dry climates, to prevent them becoming brittle.

Wood Carving

Kashmir is the only part of India where the walnut tree grows. Its colour, grains and inherent sheen are unique and unmistakable, and the carving and fret- work that is done on this wood is of a very superior quality.

 Wood Carving
Wood Carving

Chinar leaves, vine leaves and flowers can be either carved along borders or can fill entire surfaces. The artistry of the carving and its abundance dictates the cost. Trinket boxes and the larger jewellery boxes should have invisible seams. Other walnut wood objects are salad bowls, nut bowls, photo frames, trays and furniture, which range from simple telephone tables to elaborate dining tables with six chairs.In the case of furniture, the price is dictated by the thickness of wood used.

For more Information, visit www.jkhandicrafts.com