The forgotten art of Paper making in Kashmir

Iqbal Ahmad

In ancient times, Kashmir had its own paper industry and paper was called Koshur Kagaz. This industry was lost during 20th century due to the advent of by Indian mill paper industry, as it could not meet demands of growing paper industry. The state museum and cultural Academy have been housing the manuscripts written on handmade paper. But no traces of history of handmade paper- equipment or method, are left anywhere. The British Settlement Commissioner for J&K during the last Dogra ruler, Hari Singh, Walter Lawrence, provides a brief description of paper making method. The pulps, a mixture of hemps and rugs is placed in stone troughs and mixed with water, and the layer of the pulp is extracted and placed in sun. Then it is polished with pumice stone and surface is glazed with rice water.

Excerpts:

 

The Indigenous Industry:

“The Department of Archives, Archaeology and Museums is organizing a workshop on paper making and calligraphy at SPS Museum Srinagar. This is very interesting event where perhaps for the first time a   demonstration would be given on traditional art of paper making, though  there have been workshops   on the art of calligraphy earlier as well.  A Karnataka based paper making unit ‘Kirtas’ shall be making demonstrations regarding this art.

Do you know, in ancient times, besides China, it was Kashmir which had its paper industry and supplied paper to the other states of undivided India? This paper was locally called Kagaz and the manufacturers associated with this industry were known Kagaz gar (the manufacturers of paper).

History reveals that  when people of other lands used to write on stones and rocks, people in Kashmir wrote on the local paper called Koshur Kagaz. They had discovered it very early and had been providing it to the people in the plains of undivided India. Many traditional domestic paper industrial units functioned in the valley lands which produced the local paper to its writers.

The Lost Heritage:

“Unfortunately we lost this glorious domestic paper industry during the early decades of 20th century AD. It was destroyed by expansion of Indian mill paper industry, as it had no such capacity to meet growing demands of the large paper requirements. No traces of handmade paper industry are left anywhere now. The state authorities could not help in preserving the traditional equipments of its local paper industry.

The state museum, cultural academy, research libraries and private collectors have been housing the last evidences of manuscripts of handmade paper but neither equipment nor the paper preparation methods are illustrated anywhere. That is, the people of today have no idea of the glorious industry that existed here even before the world was aware of it. They even have no information that the paper was produced domestically.

History is witness that Kashmir was famous for its paper industry. It supplied handmade papers to the writers of other Indian states. The two units of the industry existed one at Ganderbal and another at Nowshehra, area of Srinagar district and these units are said to have been functional till late Dogra period. The locality of Nowshera where the units of this industry had been setup  still has preserved its name and is called Kazgari pur or Kazgari Mohalla.”

The Advent of the Industry:

“The industry is said to have been introduced by Sultan Zain-ul Abiden in 14th century AD. He is believed to have invited paper masters from Samarkand and provided them large jagirs (land entitlements) to settle in Kashmir and encouraged them to cultivate proper production industry. George Forester who arrived here during Afghan rule says, “Kashmir fabricated the best writing paper of the land and that it was an article of extensive traffic.”

The manufacturing of the paper suggested that the handmade paper was produced of pulp which was a mixture of rugs and hemps. It was obtained by pounding those materials under a lever mill worked by a water power lime and some kind of soda was used to whiten the pulp. Walter Lawrence provides a brief description of that paper making method. He writes; the pulp is placed in stone troughs, baths and mixed with water.

From this mixture this layer of the pulp is extracted on a light and dried in sun, then it is polished with pumice stone and then its surface is glazed with rice water. A final polishing with stone is given and the paper is then ready for use. The Kashmiri paper was durable. It was in great demand in Punjab plains and in other hilly principalities of the north western region. By the early 20th century AD the mill industry paper had expanded and Kashmiri handmade paper lost its market. A stage reached when the local handmade paper became an out-dated object.

The machine made paper destroyed the glorious hands. No traces of that industry were left and even the equipment used in preparation of such paper making culture are not preserved anywhere. There are some ancient manuscripts and documents written on that handmade paper which provide the lost evidence of handmade paper industry”.

 

[Courtesy: daily Kashmir Images, Srinagar, Kashmir, November 25, 2018].

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