The art of Khatamband and Panjrakari

A decorated Khatmband ceiling in Srinagar, Kashmir.

By Muheet ul Islam

Kashmiri cultural life exhibits a unique intermingling of traditions from the age of Buddha to the Mughal dynasty.  In an age where nothing ever remained the same, the Mughals came to the valley and started spreading their religion, culture and trade. This included their art and craft, which consisted of paper mache, new types of wood carving, chain stitching and food. After the Mughal rule came to an end in 1753 AD, the Kashmiris capitalized on Mughal art and craft, making it a part of their culture. The craft passed down one generation to the other in the valley.While some Kashmiri handicrafts are still practiced in great numbers, a few such as Khatamband (a ceiling made of wood work in a geometric pattern) and Panjrakari (a framework consisting of a crisscrossed pattern of strips of building material) are executed less nowadays.

On the origins of Kashmiri arts and craft, Kashmiri poet and scholar Zareef Ahmad Zareef says, “It is said that the crafts came from Iran, Arabia, and Egypt and were brought to Kashmir by Mirza Hyder Douglat in the sixteenth century.” In another theory, Zareef also states that “the founding of Khatamband and Panjrakari in Kashmir was during the fourteenth century by the famous saint Shah-e-Hamdaan who visited the valley along with many followers which included Khatamband and Panjrakari artists from Iran and Iraq.”

Khatamband is the art of constructing a ceiling by fitting small pieces of wood, preferably walnut or Deodar wood together in a geometrical pattern. All this is done with hands and without the use of nails. A 58-year-old craftsman of the trade Muhammad Maqbool told The Kashmir Walla, “The wood is cut into different shapes and designs and then fixed on the ceiling in various geometric patterns.”

Panjrakari is the making of doors and windows, ventilators by filling them with a netted lattice work. “Small wooden pieces are arranged in geometric forms to display their edges,” said Maqbool. In Panjrakari, the artifacts are “held in position by the pressure they exert upon each other by certain main lines being doweled together and by the frame of the panel within which they are fitted. These wooden pieces too made of either Deodar or walnut wood.”

Both Khatamband and Panjrakari take months to be completed and involve painful and tasking work. The specialty of these crafts is that they can be, Maqbool says, easily dissembled and re-assembled at another place.  According to Zareef, Khatamband “provided relief during the winter” and Panjra were created for the “women so they could look outside but no one from the outside would be able to see them.”

Panjrakari work on a window.

Khatamband and Panjrakari works were seen in the old towns of Srinagar city including the Habba Kadal, Saraf Kadal and Zaina Kadal areas. Numerous houses were decorated with lattice works and crafted ceilings. These crafts were also carried out in other parts of town such as Charari Sharef, Islamabad, Sopore.

“However, Safa Kadal was considered to be the hub of this craft as almost every craft man belonged to that area of the Srinagar city,” said Zareef. Some famous craftsmen of this work include Subhan Basmati, Ramzan and Amee. These craftsmen spend their life promoting the craft and passed on their knowledge to many Kashmiris.

On the steady decline of the crafts, in the past there were hundreds of designs of Khatamband and Panjrakari, but today only 10-30 designs are found. “As vast the craft was, no one knows it fully today,” said Maqbool, a craftsman. Every individual tries to show his own creativity in this field.

The art of Khatamband and Panjrakari almost perished during the nineties when no one was able to afford the huge amount of luxury on such things. “We (craftsmen) were going through a tough period during those days,” said Maqbool, adding, “Until 2005 we were in bad condition but after that people started showing interest in the craft once again.” Nowadays, people decorate the ceilings of their halls and balcony windows with this craft. The trend is of the old fashion and the demand for culture has returned.

Some famous designs of PanjraKari are Posh Kandur, Chaharkhana, Shashpahlu, Dwazdah Sar, Sheikh Sar, Jujjari, Shirin and Tota Shesh Tez. The popular designs of Khatamband are Panchh muarrabba, Chaar phool, Dawaza girid and Hashtan choot. Nowadays Khatamband and Panjrakari work is being done by machines also and is not only restricted to Kashmir but has reached the Western countries, Australia and many other European countries too. Khatamband and Panjrakari are being used in the hotels, restaurants and houses. Zareef concludes, “Our craftsmen are working outside the state and India. The day is not far when Kashmiri culture will spread to the entire world.”

Photographs by Zuhaib Mohammad

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