Papier Mache was invented in China in about 105 A.D . Papier Mache is a French word meaning ‘Mashed paper’. It is a delicate decorative art which shows the artistic zeal of craftsmen in Kashmir. This tradition in Kashmir has its origin rooted in the 15th century when King Zain-ul-Abidin invited accomplished artists from Central Asia. The art was highly favoured by Mughal Emperors of 15th and 16th Century. About that time the art of handmade paper received a revolutionary fillip and provided a new material for the craftsmen. Before that, wood workers and painters made colourful patterns mainly on wood, in making ceiling panels, doors, bedsteads, palanquins etc.
The art was originally known in Kashmir as Kar-i-qalamdan, being confined to ornamentation of cases then used for keeping pens and other small personal articles. The art was also known as Kar-i-munaqqash since it was used for ornamenting smooth surfaces made of paper pulp or layers of polished paper.
The Mughal period saw the art extended to palanquins, ceilings, bedsteads, doors, and windows. During Mughal patronage, most of the palanquins used by the courtiers were said to have been made and painted in Kashmir. Beautiful specimens of the glorious tradition of Papier Mache can be seen in the museums of Europe and America. In the old days the technique of Papier Mache was artistically applied to woodwork, especially windows, wall panels, ceilings, and furniture.
places with Papier Mache designs are fine ceiling at Madin Sahib Mosque (dated 1444 AD), the ceiling at the Shah Hamdan Mosque at Fatehkadal and the Mughal gardens, at Shalimar in Srinagar.
The creation of a Papier Mache object can be divided into two distinct categories, the sakhtsazi (making the object) and the naqashi (painting the surface).There is a class of people called sakhta makers.
Sakhtsazi (Making the object)
Waste paper, cloth, rice straw and copper sulphate; all these are taken together and ground into pulp. After the pulp is ready, wooden or brass moulds are used to give it the required shape. Several layers of pulp are laid one over the other till the required thickness has been obtained and the object has taken a shape. When the pulp dries, it is rubbed with and smoothed with the help of a stone with an even surface. It is removed from the mould with a small saw.
The article then has to be re-joined; this is done with the help of thick glue. When the joint is made secure, the object is rubbed gently with a wooden file called ‘kathwa’. The surface is once again made even and angularities are smoothened. Then a paste of glue and chalk is applied from inside and outside with the help of a brush.
When the glue and chalk coat dries, the craftsman once again rubs the surface. For this purpose, an even piece of baked brick called ‘kurket’ is used. Now small pieces of paper are pasted over it with the help of glue. The purpose is to make the surface secure against cracks to which the glue and chalk coat has been applied.
In the case of items made of wood instead of paper pulp the required wooden shapes are secured through the carpenters working on light wood, ‘kayra’ being the common type. The article is then smoothened and rubbed again to receive the ground (zamin) color. This color may be gold, white, black, red, blue etc.
Outlines are generally drawn with a zarda or yellow color and the spaces are delineated for floral works are stained with astar and white paint. Then the floral works are painted in different colors. The art lies here; it is an interesting sight to see an old artist, elaborating from memory patterns of artistic designs in rich and subdued colours. The opening work called ‘partaz’ is done with any appropriate color.
The bristle of the hair of goat, cat and ass are set in handles of feather (quills) by means of silken threads, inferior bristles are cut and trimmed up. Craftsmen make use of these special types of brushes for producing exquisite designs. Brushes used for this art form are different from those used by painters and artists.
In the early days of this craft mineral, organic and vegetable colors were used. The colors would not loose intensity, strength even if the objects were kept in direct sunlight or in water for days together. The process of preparation of mineral colors is a painstaking effort. At the first place, the minerals are tied in a sack/bag of cloth and moistened with water and then roughly beaten. This broken wet material is grounded into paste on a fislab and the paste is dried into fine powder. Finally, this powder is mixed with glue and water. The material is then rigorously stirred till a fine color in the shape of mixture is obtained.
Organic and Vegetable Colour Sources:
White – white lead came from Russia,
Body white – was prepared from a local stone called ‘shallaneen’.
Ultramarine Blue – was prepared from ‘Virdigris’ (green) and ‘lapis lazuli’
Browns – were prepared from a clay which was imported from Armenia,
Yellows – were prepared from a flower ‘guli ksu’ and a wild plant ‘weftangil’.
Violet and Blue – were extracted using the indigo leaf and weed.
Reds – were derived from cochineal, log wood and local forest wood named ‘lin’. Red was sometime obtained from saffron.
Light Brown- Green and dried walnut skins yielded light browns, and
Black – was produced from lamp blacks as well as from walnuts. For large and plain groundwork, black was produced from half-burnt cowdung.
Painting on the papier mache objects these days is done in distemper colors. These colors are made from pigments diluted in water to which some glue is added to fix it to the ground on which it is used. Handmade red clay or black clay pots and containers glazed inside are used for colors employed in papier mache process.
The important elements in Papier Mache designs are objects of nature mostly flowers and birds, particularly the kingfisher and bulbul, historical figures, animals,
hunting and battle scenes, court scenes influenced by miniature paintings. Papier Mache products reflect a very subtle grammar of motif and style. Popular patterns or design motifs are the traditional ‘hazara’ or ‘thousand flowers’ (the pattern attempts to display every conceivable flower) and ‘gulandergul’ or ‘flower within flower’. The chinar leaf, the iris, the Persian rose, the almond and cherry blossom, the tulip, narcissus and hyacinth are also popular motifs. Border patterns such as gondur and tyond are generally geometric abstracts. Among other rich designs are ‘Arabesque’, done in gold against a brown or red ground to show sprays of rose blossoms in fine lines and ‘Yarkand’, an elaborate
design built up in spirals with gold rosettes radiating from various centers and white flowers laid over gold scroll work.
A great variety of richly painted products like flower vases, wall plaques, bowls, trays, boxes of various shapes and sizes, bangles, mirror holders and frames, caskets, lamp vases, screens and items of furniture are made for their functional appeal and decorative charm. There is much more scope for pleasing functional items, such as bedstead legs, candle stands, trinket boxes, and fine packaging for expensive items. In Ladakh, masks are made out of paper pulp (mixed with clay, cotton, flour and glue) and painted in bright colours.
Handicraft workers make statues also for the monasteries in this technique. The style of Papier Mache painting has also been applied on cookie boxes, steel trays and glasses and similar items of daily use.
The ingenious Papier Mache artisans of Kashmir transform a variety of utility articles into rare art pieces. These skills are passed down from generation to generation, son taking the place of his father and father taking place of his father this art has been handed down from family to family. Kashmiri craftsman have tried to maintain the culture of Papier Mache and to this day it is still being made by hand in these small home shops where families gather together and work on it and bring these beautiful creations to the world.