Two prominent crafts, on display at the ‘Dastkari Mela’ reflect the shifting dynamics of the country’s ever evolving craft scenario. While the walnut craft of Kashmir, brought to the state by Badshah Zainuddin in the 15th century, shows signs of decline both in the quality of products and the number of artisans practising the craft, the block printing crafts of Sanganer, which is equally ancient, is on the upsurge, full of vitality.

Ghulam Mohammad Butt sits on a walnut jhoola carved by him and talks about his ‘Pushataine’ craft, which he has practised for 35 years. “It is a 600-year-old craft which was at its height of perfection during the Raj era. We created furniture in European style and did intricate carving of lotus and chinar on walnut wood. Did you know that the precursor of walnut carving was the intricate Khatumband carving, which covered the entire roof of mosques? I too have done bareek work on walnut. I once worked with a team of 15 artisans to do the interiors and walls of a houseboat, which took 1 1/2 years to complete. The process is entirely handmade and I use tools like ‘Pakashwal’ to do the most complex carving. While motifs such as chinar, lotus, flower and vine are the hallmarks of walnut wood carving, we also make high-backed chairs in Rajasthani style. I made the jhoola, inspired by the South Indian idiom in two months, doing the entire carving on walnut wood myself. The Government allows us to cut specified trees. We store the wood from four to five years for drying before starting work on it. After polishing we rub with a moonstone piece to get that special sheen which our products possess.”

When asked about passing on this craft to his next generation, Butt says “No,” “I haven’t taught my children as there is not much future in it. Unless the Government makes walnut wood more accessible and the marketing opportunities improve the exodus from the craft will continue. Today only a few areas in Srinagar are a hub of this craft and the numbers have come down from lakhs, some 30 years ago, to a mere 30,000 today.

Block patterning

Manoj Nama, paramparik chippa or handblock printer from Sanganer makes the most beautiful hand block printed quilts, bed spreads and yardage with a touch of hand stitching. The quilts have more traditional block patterning as well as a range of exceptional block prints in yardage, dupattas and ready-mades. Done in vegetable dyes, the motifs have exceptional “amri”, “kairi” and delicate floral shapes. “The craft,” says Manoj, “is very popular and flourishing with the whole village practising it”. Manoj’s work is on the high fashion and couture map today.

The Dasktari Mela has a range of products that include the walnut craft of Kashmir, Odisha Pattachitra, Sambhalpuri ikat saris, Jaipur’s embroidered juttis, Varanasi’s wall hangings and attractive Khurja pottery.

The Dastkari Mela, on at Valluvarkottam, Nungambakkam, till May 13, has been organised by the Pushpanjali Khadi Gramodyog Sansthan, an NGO based in U.P., which interacts with craft NGOs and individual artisans across India.