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1When we talk about Kashmir art, what comes to mind is delicate handwork, embroidery, wood carving and designing. One such delicate art that shows the artistic zeal of a craftsman is Papier-maché. Also called papier-maché (French for “chewed paper”), it is a composite material consisting of paper pieces or pulp, sometimes reinforced with textiles, bound with an adhesive, such as glue, starch, or wallpaper paste. In Kashmir, it has a long and rich tradition. Papier-maché was introduced in Kashmir in the 15th Century by a Kashmiri Prince who spent years in prison at Samarkand in Central Asia. The art born in Persia was a particular favourite of the Mughal Emperors.

To make Papier-maché, paper is first soaked in water till it disintegrates. It is then pounded, mixed with an adhesive solution, shaped over moulds, and allowed to dry and set before being printed and varnished. Paper that has been pounded to pulp has the smoothest finish in the final product. When the pounding has not been so thorough, the finish is less smooth.

Papier-maché has, over the years, become highly stylized and appealing by using real gold and silver paint and by adding intricate decorations. The designs and decorations of Kashmiri Papier-maché, usually in the form of flowers and birds, have a strong Persian flavour.
2Some items like bowls and vases are lined with brass, while on special orders, boxes and other items are jewelled with gold and silver leaves and depict beautiful landscapes and objects like a house boat, that form an inseparable part of Kashmiri lifestyle.

According to the encyclopaedia of Kashmir, Papier-maché is an art which started by making pen cases from mashed paper. It is mentioned that it was inherited from Sejluk, Iran, from where various craft got introduced in Kashmir.

Umaira Hassan