The magnificence of Kashmir’s art and craft is remarkably evident in a unique cultural and traditional legacy that has been preserved for centuries. From embroidery to carpets and rugs, from architecture to papier-mache, the region's art present a perfect and complete blend of diverse cultures, traditions and faiths.
This uniqueness of Kashmiri arts is related to different features of the region, including the geographical location, distinctive flora and fauna, cold climate and different topography. I want to talk about woodcarving, which is an art form shaped around the distinct climate of Kashmir, this time.
In Kashmir, people prefer building concrete houses insulated with wooden interiors to preserve internal warmth during severe winter. The decor of the house is also created and maintained in such a manner that it provides comfort and harmonizes with the ambiance. In line with the decorations, the room interiors are organized into three steps as wooden flooring (the lower flooring of room), wooden paneling (the sidewalls of the room) and khatamband (the ceiling decoration). Furthermore, the detailed carving is done on doors and windows.
While people were benefitting from the wood due to its insulating features, they enhanced its beauty over time by carving it with the help of sharp hand tools, and the artwork came to be known as wooden carving. Like many other handicrafts, wood carving, along with pinjrakari – the art of making screens of entwined wooden strips shaping perplexing geometric designs – and khatamband – the art of intricately carved ceilings – were introduced in the Kashmiri valley by Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, who arrived from Persia with skilled craftsmen in the 14th century. Named honorifically “Shah-e-Hamadan,” meaning “King of Hamadan,” this Sufi Muslim was instrumental in both spreading Islam and introducing many crafts and industries to Kashmir. With the help of his skilled artisans, Shah-e-Hamadan imparted the knowledge of wood carving to local people, and this art is now based on the set of a traditional body of knowledge. Nonetheless, the State Handicraft Department acts as an overarching institution that reflects Kashmiri handicrafts' artistic representation and traditions.
Kashmir and Turkey have many important common points in terms of cultural aspect. From handwoven carpets to embroidery, many artistic traditions and heritage are similarly sustained in both regions. Woodcarving also manifests considerable historical importance in Turkey along with Kashmir.
The art of woodcarving gained popularity among Turks, especially after the adoption of Islam.
Woodcarving, which is observed both in architecture and on decorative objects, produced some of its most beautiful examples in the Seljuk and Ottoman periods. In the Seljuk period, a rich decorative style, consisting of floral and geometric designs and inscriptions, is observed in woodworks. In the Ottoman period, woodworks ornamented not only decorative objects but also architecture. The best examples of woodcarving were observed in architecture in columns and beams, as decorative elements on doors and shutters, pulpits, mosque niches, ceiling ornaments and balcony railings along with on furniture. In Kashmir, the woodcarving technique is also used to decorate home interiors, especially doors and windows, facades of mosques, Muslim shrines, palaces, houseboats, and more recently inside offices and hotel rooms.
While searching for the details of Turkish woodcarving, I have learned some interesting things related to this art. For example, Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II appreciated woodcarving the most and he was a master woodcarver. His precious carved works were sent as gifts to foreign politicians. Secondly, the similarity between a Turkish technique called “kündekari” and Kashmiri “khatamband” drew my attention. In this technique, pieces of wood of various geometric shapes decorated with vegetal motifs are placed side by side with utmost dexterity. Khatamband is another similar technique of adjusting or fitting small, decorated pieces of worked wood together into a ceiling. In both khatamband and kündekari, the joining of pieces is done without the use of nails or glue. Dating back to 1873, kündenkari embroidered rooms are still present in Turkey’s northeastern province of Gümüşhane. This ingenious wood art is considered a masterpiece of Turkish folk art.
As one more common point, artists from both Kashmir and Turkey face similar challenges of seeing their traditional handwork potentially replaced by machine work. Handwork is a time-consuming, delicate and hectic process, while machine work can be finished within a few days without getting exhausted. Since hand-worked artifacts are expensive, many people prefer machine-made objects over them.
Due to increased deforestation, artists face a tremendous shortage of timber required to make furniture. Nonetheless, while the art form has not lost its glory, younger generations feel discouraged working as traditional artists. Besides the socio-economic drawbacks of the profession, lack of governmental support has further made this artistic choice worrisome, and the associated artists remain the poorest of the communities in Kashmir. Despite multiple challenges, various people still find fun and passion in woodcarving.