Paper Mache - An Exquisite Kashmiri Handicraft

Author: Shad Moien Ahamd

Kashmir Paper mache is a handicraft involving the transformation of paper pulp into intricately decorated artifacts such as Paper mache boxes, bowls, elephant models, cups and numerous other handy objects. It is said that the technique of Paper mache was introduced in Kashmir by the Persian Mystic Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, also known as Shah-i-Hamdan in Kashmir. The Paper mache artform with its origins tracing back to Central Asia and Persia has since gained immense popularity and blended itself into the fabric of Kashmir art spectrum.  


It is said that the first Paper mache industry was established by Sultan Zain-ul-Abedin in 1417-67 AD after his return from imprisonment in the land of Samarkand. He brought with him artisans of various skills to develop crafts and introduce new trades in India.These artists were also well-versed in other handicrafts such as wood-carving, copper engraving, and carpet weaving.Many calligraphers migrated from Persia and Central Asia to Kashmir during Zain-il-Abedin’s rule. The most renowned among them was Mohammad Husyn - who received the title ‘ Golden Pen’ from Emperor Akbar.

Due to its unmatched quality, the Kashmiri paper or Khosur kagaz was held in high regard for preparing manuscripts. This may explain why initially there was an increased focus on using Paper mache for preparing Kalamdan or the pen-cases only known as Kari-Kalamdani. As a result of the rapid growth of paper industry during this time, the demand for pens along with bookbinding and craft of making decorative book jackets in Paper-mâché also flourished. During the Mughal era, the use of Paper mache technique was extended to include many items of home furniture that were made in Kashmir.

Paper mache - How is it made?

In the process of making a Paper-mache product, there are two distinct groups of artisans responsible for the final article. Namely, Sakhtasaz, who makes the object with paper pulp; the second being Naqqash, one who creates the ornamentation of the surface with colors.


The Sakhta-saz who is involved with this process prepares a paper pulp by manually pounding a mixture of discarded paper, cloth, the straw of rice plant, copper sulfate, which are mixed and made into a pulp. This paper pulp mixture is combined with a locally prepared rice-based glue called; Atij’ it is applied onto the molds made of wood, brass or Plaster of Paris and is left to dry in the sun. The artwork is then carefully detached from the mold using a saw and then rejoined using dense glue. The sealed joint is then smoothened by rubbing it slowly with a file made of wood known locally as ‘kathwa’.The object so formed is known as 'kalib'.

The prepared ‘Kalibs’ are now handled by the women folk who process it further. Pishlawun is the application of a light coat of Saresh (lacquer) on the object. It is followed by a second coat consisting of Saresh mixed with chalk powder and water. The Kalib is then left to dry. The smoothening process is then followed by rubbing the object with “Kirkut” which is either a small piece of over burnt brick or pumice stone (Sangh-i-paaya). The kirkut is gently rubbed along the surface of the object. The fourth coat consists of rubbing the object with bare hands.


The object is covered with thin strips of butter paper, it forms a layer between the paint and the plaster covering the artwork so that the surface remains free of cracks. This layer is covered with a coat of base paint. The  Naqqashi now begins to transform the blank molds into beautiful artwork.

Usually the motifs painted are red and green apples, pomegranate, peaches, cherries, apricots or green almonds or walnuts, lotus and lotus pods, things of beauty, fish, birds, creepers, roses, Islamic patterns, deers, rabbits and the rest of the life forms, human figures remain an uncommon choice.

Naqashi Colors :

The colors used in Paper Mache Naqashi are mineral, organic or vegetable based.Traditionally the colors for painting was made from natural pigments and minerals, it was a strenuous process to prepare them. The ground or Zameen (the base coat) was commonly metallic, of gold, silver or of tin. Fine particles of pulverized tin, silver or gold were mixed with glue and applied on the surface and allowed to dry and then burnished with an agate. A light rub of amber locally known as kahruba or copal (sandirus) varnish followed this and whilst wet, fine verdigris powder was spread to get a greenish-blue tone. Tin or gold foil imparted a subtle luster. For a red effect on luster a preparation of lac was used, some artisans even use the dyes from Cochineal or the Kermis insect. White lead came from Russia and verdigris was obtained from Surat or Britain. Lapis Lazuli of ultramarine was bought from Yarkand.

The paper Mache objects produced in Kashmir today vary from Christmas ornaments to coasters and include boxes of every permissible size and shape. These artifacts are tastefully decorated and are surprisingly lightweight and durable.Their coating of lacquer protects them from water and gives them extra durability. A finished masterpiece reflects the keen attention to detail and sheer effort put in to produce such a work of extraordinary aesthetic appeal.

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  • Published In: ROOT
  • Created Date: 2018-01-11
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