Kashmir’s copperware craft losing its grip

Suhail Bhat

Srinagar, Aug 2: The age-old copperware craft of Kashmir is looking at a bleak future as the machines have overrun this business with craftsmen saying that they may have to close their business if nothing is done to address their issues.
During the Mughal era, metalwork in Kashmir became focused on making gun-barrels and swords. Techniques of casting and forging iron along with enameling or Meenakari as it is commonly known were used for decorating the handles of swords. By the end of 19th century with the decline of Mughal era, the skills of Kashmiri metalworkers got oriented again towards making vessels, now ornamented with Meenakari. This was applied on silver jewellery, brass, and copperware like serving pots, jugs, trays.
As the demand for copper and brass articles increased, the raw materials were imported. All the articles made were for everyday use, for cooking and serving.  Other commonly used articles were Lota (pot), Tream (plate), Naer (water jug), Tash Near (portable handwash), dishes, bowls and ladles and many more.
A coppersmith, Tariq Ahmad Kawa, 40, a resident of Saraf Kadal in Srinagar, told Excelsior that he started taking interest in copperware craft from childhood as he wanted to follow the family tradition. “I am deeply worried if this business will last in Kashmir as it is struggling due to change in tastes of people and other factors. Other age-old crafts of Kashmir have almost gone extinct,” he said.
The raw material of copper comes from outside Kashmir and it only has demand in the Valley and Ladakh. According to experts, the new generation of Kashmiris are not interested in buying copperware items due to its yearly maintenance and less resale value.
Copperware requires an ample amount of time and labour and the making process is slow and difficult. The process of making copper or brassware goes through many artisans which are specialized in a particular technique.
Another reason that this craft is coming to end, according to the experts, is due to a lack of craftsmen and skills. They said that the new generation is least interested in this craft that is laborious and requires patience and skillset.
Kawa said that machines have also overtaken this business that is desisting the new generation from learning this craft. “An act was passed in erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir back in 2006 that forbids making copper items by machines. This act was meant to save the age-old tradition of copperware craft in Kashmir. But this act was never implemented,” he added.
Another coppersmith told Excelsior that the government should save this craft. “If this craft dies, hundreds and thousands of people associated with this craft will become jobless,” he said.
He appealed to the Lt. Governor to frame a policy for saving this centuries-old craft of Kashmir.

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