We’ve been exploring new ground with the craft technique of Namda – traditional hand felted wool rugs from Kashmir.
Traditional Bakarwal Embroidery
It is a very laborious and smelly process. For the uninitiated, it is a series of sneezes and a cold that lasts the week! But the “namda” families carry on regardless. They are some of the most underpaid artisans in the valley, the rug itself costs a pittance while the embroiderers, who belong to a different sect earn three times as much. The middleman and the retailer earn the most and even then, you can buy a 4′ x 6′ piece for as little at 3000 rupees!!
at the namda maker’s
It takes days to sort the smelly wool freshly sheared off sheep, wash it several times with soap and oil, beat it out to dry, wash it again, spread it in layers with wet sacking in between and then roll, unroll, roll, unroll, while on one’s knees, putting your whole body to work, often in synch with a fellow roller kneeling alongside.
After a few days of drying and washing and drying again, this rug is trimmed and beaten flat. It is then embroidered and given a final finishing. A long and laborious process indeed but the rugs are beautiful and keep you extremely warm in winter.
The Bakarwal women at Shepherdcrafts embroider free form designs during winter when they are safe and warm in their homes south of Jammu in the districts of Rajouri and Poonch. To keep the shepherd women’s embroidery traditions alive, these women have been encouraged to apply their art to locally made cotton too. It takes a woman a month to embroider a rug covering the entire surface with her stitches. The design and colours are entirely of their own choice. They take home to their campsites plain rugs and wool and appear in a month with marvels that can brighten up a dull day!
Here are some of the rugs they’ve embroidered.
The mountains and meadows through which the river Lidder flows are camping grounds for the Gujjar and Bakarwal communities. These vistas are spectacular all year round with each season distinctly different from the next.
Here is a small collection of handwoven Pashminas we have developed celebrating the various hues each season brings to the landscape around the river Lidder.
Spring brings with it bright blue skies and a sea of white clouds, endless mustard fields and snow capped mountains.
The deep blue skies in summer with the evergreen pine and gray river. People camp in bright tents all along the river bed, enjoying the short lived warm days.
Autumn comes with its rusts, flaming oranges, ochre and olive; as if the land is celebrating the last burst of sunshine before the cold, grey winter sets in.
The cold, snow clad landscape with grey skies and a dark, sluggish river where even the evergreens seem black lasts all winter
We were fortunate to witness an early migration this year. The Bakarwal usually migrate southwards from their camps high up near the Kolahoi glacier with the first fall of snow. That’s usually early in October. But this year was an exception. When we asked some of them why they were leaving and where were they headed, they replied the weather was sure to change in the coming week and they are not heading towards their winter homes near Rajouri but to camp elsewhere till the weather improves.
It was bright and sunny so we wondered what they were talking about, hardly expecting snow as Pahalgam was seeing 30 degrees Celsius and it was unbearable hot.
By the 31st of August, the last of the herds with the men guiding them left the high mountains near Pahalgam and it started to rain that afternoon onwards. It rained continuously for the next week and Kashmir witnessed the worst floods in living history barely a week later.
Could it be just a coincidence that these shepherds migrated away from the floods? Would they have known? Were there natural signs that our technology dependent senses failed to notice?
Many conversations with the Bakarwal families and many photographs later, we still have no clue. But what was palpable in every tent was their joy at greeting visitors (us) and their happy lives inside tents. We shared many stories, many laughs and not one rue about anything. Unlike conversations with most others in the valley, there was no mention of politics or terror or strife.
Here are some images of the people on the move. The ruggedly handsome men, the beautiful women and the adorable children were really happy to show off their decked up ponies, share their tents with us, their meals and tea too!
Multi utility zippered Sleeves. The free form embroidery remains the star of the show in this circus of sleeves fresh off our Gujjar Kotha! They are padded and fit an IPad perfectly.
As a tribute to the Lidder river, around whose valley we work, our new range of products reflect the beauty of this part of Kashmir.
These collections are being made by Kashmiri artisans in crafts that Kashmir is famous for – Pashmina, Papier Mache, wood carving to name a few. They are based on reflections of the river, the landscape through different seasons and the beautiful flowers and trees that grow wild in the river valley.
Here is our first attempt – hand painted wooden beads by an award-winning papier-mache painter, Maqbool Jan, strung together (with semi precious stone and glass beads) by our women. Could this be a new link between two communities that live side by side but have little interaction with each other? We hope so!There’s more to come – the first blossoms of daffodils when the snow starts to melt, apple blossoms in spring time, the daisy covered fields that go on for miles when spring strides into summer, the bright yellow poplar leaves and fallen pine cones in Autumn, the red twigs of apple trees in winter….. so much more….
Spring is slowly inching towards summer. The snow has melted except on high peaks. Apple blossoms, mustard fields, wild little flowers on green meadows….
Our Bakarwal women are back from their winter spent south of Kashmir. The studio is now buzzing with banter, babies and busy hands.
Here are some of the lovely pieces of large, free form embroidery the women did in their winter months. These are now being refashioned into rugs and throws. There are tassels and trims, beads and braids to be added to make them as lively as the saddles our ponies sport!
Busy times ahead with loads of sunshine and warm weather.