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Thriving in the foothills of Kashmir is the resonating presence of Papier Mache, the artistry that transforms a byproduct of daily life into articles of
utmost significance. Deriving influence from the Persian rule of the day, Kashmiri Papier Mache is four centuries worth of mastery in the field of handicraft. The term Papier Mache finds origin in French, translating to "chewed paper" in English. Creativity finds new expression in the hands of the local Kashmiri artisans, where something as unexpected as paper pulp becomes the heart of a profound art form, influencing generations to come.

Visiting India in the 14th century was the renowned Persian saint Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, alongside his group of craftsmen elegantly practising wood carving, copper engraving and carpet weaving. Still nascent and young during the rule of Shah Mir, the Srinagar valley saw a swift change in practice from kar-i-qulamdan, the earlier form of wood engraving to its current version of Kar-i-Qulamdan. Soaking up the delightful influence of this intricate handwork, Kashmir redefined Papier Mache with a flavour of its own. 

Wholesome in intention and brilliant in technique, the Naqashi artisan achieves the closest representation to perfection one can find. Their degree of accuracy remains unprecedented. To dissect the process of this art form, we carefully watch the magic of Sakhtsazi, Pishlawun, and Naqashi. These flavourful Urdu terms each denote a stage of handwork; Skilled artisans first model paper pulp into the desired form, process it for structural integrity and finally beautify it with glistening colours over two weeks. What the world finds refreshingly delightful about Papier Mache is the lack of technological intervention. The process is firmly grounded to the warmth of passion that the artisan shrewdly adopts.

With meticulous technique and skill, the artisan simplifies a process that would otherwise require deep comprehending. Starting from scratch, the artisan soaks the raw paper in water for four days, letting the course of time weave its tale. Pounding the lump of paper with a Muhul, consistency is attained. To the sundried mix of paper, rice and straw, he applies a locally engineered glue known as Atij, being used as the binding agent for four centuries. The Kalib finds a rough shape before the artisan leaves the mould to harden and dry.

To the devote lover of all things handmade, the smoothness of the Kalib is a thrill. Fashioning perfection with bare hands, these handicrafts render a sense of realness. Still, a long way to go, the patient artisan now leaves the job to the women of the household, who delicately smoothen the outer layer of the Kalib. A light coat of lacquer is applied before chalk powder and water is mixed. Further refinement is achieved with burnt brick or pumice stone, and the Naqashi takes over with his magical strokes of paint.

The themes portrayed are vivid and extensive; Forests and shrubs, fragrant flowers and representations of the king's Darbaar - to name a few. Gul-andar-gul, Hazaarposh and the Mughal styles have become the most beloved themes over time. Crossing the political borders of nationality, this surreal craft has global aficionados and enthusiasts. The Gul-andar-gul and Hazaarposh are known to capture one's imagination with their intricacy and romanticism, taking the viewer away to vineyards and forests with its vivid imagery. The Naqashi perfects the detail of every minute flower and twig, undoubtedly impressive in a time of impersonal industrial manufacture. 

Kashmiri Papier-mache appeals to the art critic just as it does to an amateur admirer. The artist displays a brilliant use of colour contrast and complementary tones in the Hazaara and Shirkha styles of decoration. As the name suggests, a 'thousand' hues come together in the Hazaara style to emphasise the unity of nature and art. On the contrary, the Shirkha style of Papier-mache uses a single tone to highlight emphasis. With Kashmir's exotic patterns and signature styles, the Naqashi carves gorgeous lampstands, boxes, drawers and pots out of waste paper and soaks it in vibrant colours.

Kashmir's Papier Mache continues to be an elixir, signalling the waking artforms of medieval India to bring back the authenticity that once flourished in the region. Like many other indigenous art forms from remote parts of the country, Kashmir suffers a peak winter of disappointment. We hear tales of artisans withdrawing from their destiny - bittersweet in their attempts to leave days of hardship behind them. They leave behind days of colour and joy to keep up with the raging demands of urbanisation. 

In the words of Liberty Bailey, every decade needs its own manual of handicraft.  Abandoning this timeless practice snatches away the artisan's sense of self, numbing society's exposure to real art. In the face of adversity, coming together to create a stable platform for authenticity becomes crucial in the legacy of Indian handicraft. At Artsytribe, we witness the incredible alchemy of its makers, transforming worthless paper pulp into treasures to behold. The beautiful craft of Kashmiri Papier Mache never lets us stray too far from nature, be it with intertwined pairs of flowers or the brilliant use of fresh colour. After all, great art picks up where nature ends.