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OPINION

Kashmir’s dying crafts

Kraals struggle to survive as pottery loses sheen
Malik Nisar
Srinagar | Posted : Apr 17 2018 1:22AM | Updated: Apr 16 2018 11:30PM
Kashmir’s dying crafts
GK Photo

Due to changing lifestyle, affluence and abundance of cheap plastic and aluminium utensils in the market, the use of earthenware has almost vanished from Kashmir homes, taking away with it the pottery making, one of the primitive crafts, which was existing in Kashmir perhaps from prehistoric times.

Kraal, as the potter or the earthenware maker is called in Kashmiri, was considered one of the five primary taifdaars (professionals), besides the carpenter, barber, blacksmith and weaver, who would make the basis of Kashmir’s barter-based rural agrarian economy alongside a farmer. This structure of the Kashmir’s rural setup was existing even upto half a century ago. 

Besides cities and towns, kraals would be present in Kashmir’s every cluster of villages and would provide a wide-range of utensils and some related services on barter, where he would receive grains and other food items instead of providing necessary pottery to the people.

However, within time as the economic structure of Kashmir changed, and aluminium, steel and plastic utensils became available easily in the markets, as cheap as the breakable pottery, people gave up use of the earthenware almost completely.

As the use of these utensils dwindled, majority of kraals became workless leaving a very few people associated with this craft.

Abdul Rehman Kumar, a 60-year-old from Sharakwara, a village Baramulla’s Sangrama area, is one such potter, who is still making earthenware in his village. Wearing a traditional Kashmir skullcap, white bearded Rehman is sitting calmly in his workshop moving the kraal chrit (potter’s wheel) and shaping a utensil from clay. After giving perfect shape to the utensil, he brings out a thread, called kraal pun in Kashmiri, with it detaches the utensil from the wheel, and keeps it aside for drying.

“This is what, our family has been doing from generations. Our ancestors did it and my farther passed on this craft of pottery making to me. But I am not sure that my children will go for it,” says Rehman, while sitting in front of the wheel again. 

“This is the only source of my income. But I am not able to make the ends meet. The demand for plastic and aluminium products has snatched our livelihood.”

Majority of the potters, according to Rehman, in the Kumar clan of Sharakwara do not make the pottery. They prefer rather labour as they earn better wages from doing menial jobs.  Kumars being taifdaars traditionally do not own any land, therefore labour remains only option for them.

Bashir Kumar, who is a distant relative of Rehman and is engaged with the pottery making, claims hundreds of people left the profession, as there are little returns now.

“Pottery making is not an easy job. It takes a month to complete one kund (various kinds of pots), and then it takes another ten to fifteen days to visit villages and sell our products,” says Bashir. “We hardly earn Rs 200 to Rs 300 a day in this way. The amount is not enough when you are feeding a family of seven people. However, it I go for the labour, I will earn Rs 500 to Rs 600 a day,” said Bashir Ahmad Kumar.

Rehman and Bashir do not make the basic utensils, which they were doing many years before. Rather they make the fire parts for Kangris, piggy banks, gardening pots and some water tumblers as well. However, the demand for these items is not that huge and is going down day-by-day.

“Pottery making has been our family profession, but now this craft has lost its charm. Soon, it will be nothing more than the part of curriculum restricted to the art schools,” says Sajad Ahmad Kumar, 35, a potter from Hygam village.

Experts say that the craft can survive only if it is modernised and there are innovations to bring new products that people can use as the objects of art.

Some of the potters have already started doing that and are making different decoration items but at a very limited level.

There is no government intervention, to make any positive change in the craft. Though there are some schemes for the artisans but these kraals do not know whether they are eligible for it or not.

Despite all the hardships that Rahman is facing, he is still hopeful that things may change if the government shows some attention. But that is not the case with younger Bashir. He says new techniques and modern times with changing living stands has left little scope for the survival of this traditional art.

Handicrafts training officer, Sopore, Abdul Majeed Sofi says these potters never approach the officials. “Otherwise there are number of schemes, which they can benefit from,” he adds.