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Kashmir-made papier mache bells, Santa Claus missing at European homes this Christmas

Christian devotees assemble at a Catholic church to celebrate Christmas in Srinagar on Wednesday.

Christian devotees assemble at a Catholic church to celebrate Christmas in Srinagar on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: PTI

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The four-month-long security and communications lockdown post revocation of J&K’s special status resulted in the absence of foreign orders this year, according to traders.

This Christmas, Kashmir-made papier mache decorative bells and miniatures of Santa Claus will not jingle and shimmer in European homes. The four-month-long security and communications lockdown post revocation of J&K’s special status resulted in the absence of foreign orders this year, according to traders.

Niyaz Ahmad Rizvi from the old city’s Zadibal area, a hub of papier mache artisans, decided in August to continue working on dozens of miniature Christmas trees and emblazon Santa Claus motifs on small bells even as the Valley witnessed a shut down and curfew outside. But there were no takers for his products this year.

“Last year, I prepared 600 jingles (the small bells) and chains of X-mas trees,” said Mr. Rizvi, whose family has been in the trade for many generations. “Our exporters in New Delhi usually place orders between September and October. The shipping would be completed by November and [products] hit the European markets in December. It’s lightweight and the exquisite art work is preferred to decorate homes on Christmas. However, this year all means to communicate and place orders were lost,” he added.

The process of manufacturing these Christmas-specific products would engage hundreds of men and women, especially from old city where the art of papier mache has been mastered over the centuries. The goods, including the famed decorative bells, would even be exported to the U.S. on the occasion of Christmas.

Fayaz Ahmad, another artisan, said the art work had brought the two communities together. “Muslims consider Jesus as their prophet,” said Mr. Ahmad. “The Quran repeatedly refers to Bible as god’s word. The two communities trace their roots to the same religious figures. The art work was a testimony of the relationship,” he added.

Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) president Sheikh Ashiq estimated that the region’s manufacturing industry, including handicrafts, had suffered a loss of ₹2,466 crore between August 5 and December 3. “Most means of communications to place orders were snapped,” said Mr. Ashiq. “Artisans also remained clueless about the orders. These items are season specific and the traders would not risk manufacturing them without pre-orders,” he added.

Besides the papier mache bells, Santa Claus carved out of local walnut wood was also a big hit during the festive season and would usually adorn shops and houses in Europe.

The Valley’s papier mache art work, which improvised to produce the Christmas-specific goods in recent decades, was in the 15th century by a Kashmiri prince who was sent to a jail in Samarkand in Central Asia.

“In the prison, he acquired the fine art of papier mache, which is the epitome of patience and endurance,”said Javed Jaffer, a local writer. “Muslim rulers of India, particularly Mughal kings, have been fond of this art and promoted it during their reign,” he added.

The making of an object is called Sakhtsazi and painting the surface is described as Naqashi. “‘Arabesque’, a rare design, is done in gold against a brown or red background to show sprays of rose blossoms in fine lines,” said Mr. Jaffer. “‘Yarkand’ is an elaborate design built up in spirals with gold rosettes radiating from various centres and white flowers laid over gold scroll work remain the mainstay of the art,” he added.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu on Tuesday greeted people on the auspicious occasion.

“The message of Lord Christ is perhaps of great relevance in our great nation, which espouses the philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ and ‘Ahimsa Paramo Dharma’,” said Mr. Murmu. He also prayed for preserving the ‘pluralistic ethos’ of Jammu and Kashmir.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 10:06:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kashmir-made-papier-mache-bells-santa-claus-missing-at-european-homes-this-christmas/article30398174.ece

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