Qaleen Baafi: Diminutive Art

“I was ten years old when I started to learn this art, today I am a master weaver, but since 2014 the art is moving towards diminution’, said 55 year old, Abdul Majeed Bhat, an artisan who is weaving a hand knitted carpet locally known as Qaleen (Woven Carpet), from Selkhanen  Noorabad, a far flung area of Kulgam district of Jammu and Kashmir.

When asked the reason of rapid deterioration of the art, Bhat replied, “we artisan’s are being less paid though we are the sole makers of this luxurious carpet, sometimes it costs in Crores, we are not being paid in lakhs or thousand but we are receiving a handful amount that is why people are switching their profession and the children of the artists are pursuing their career in different fields”. According to government data there are 29,811 people depend on multi skills in district Kulgam out of which 17934 are men and 11868 are women. “In this block we have had seven to ten carpet loom workshops where people of the area regardless of age and gender were involved in hand knitting, but now only three remained. It seems that the art is vanishing with each passing day. Very few people are associated with this art now as compared to the total persons in  2008; there were more than four thousand  men and women only from Noorabad Kulgam but today the number is one among hundred! They are now doing manual jobs; some of them are working as assistants of carpenters and masons”. Bhat said in a very frustrating tone. “Those days, it was a craze to be in this profession as it would bring monetary benefits”. Bhat added proudly.

“You found it here in my village because it helps people to pass time in winters otherwise you can’t see it here too. The population of this area is mainly dependent on the labor; we don’t have orchards or government services, there was no other source of income but the art of Qaleen Baafi (hand knotted carpet weaving) was the remedy for unemployment and a perennial profession that provided a livelihood”. Weavers of Kashmir were like farmers of India who were or are solely dependent on the commission agents or middleman, Bhat narrates how this dependence became one among reasons for artisans to say goodbye to this profession. “We were exploited by the middleman who made luxuries out of our handwork, supposedly if they (middleman) were paid one thousand for us (artisans) by the businessman, they gave us one hundred and the rest nine hundred goes to the pockets of the middleman. They made us fool. We (artisans) were helpless as we had to feed our family. Pointing towards a girl who was combing the under process carpet with the beating comb, Bhat said, “How is she toiling hard and putting her efforts to make this carpet? But in the end she will receive little”.

Kashmir carpet is  famous throughout the world. Germany is the largest consumer of Kashmiri carpet, the country’s cold winters make it an ideal destination for the use of Kashmir Shawls, rugs and carpets. Kashmiri carpets are considered to be the finest carpets in the world second only to Persian carpets.

“Kashmiri Qaleen is different from other carpets, we are doing minute artwork. It took six months to complete twenty four wire (colored thread) carpet 6 feet wide and 9 feet in length. The thirty wire carpet of 6 feet and 9 feet in width and length respectively will take a complete year. Similarly an eighteen wire carpet of the same length and breadth took four months”.

 Qaleen Baafi requires a lot of material like warp and weft, knife, beating comb, shears, paper, iron chain, silk of different colors etc.“There are different kinds of Naqshas (design of carpet) written on a small but lengthy piece of paper in sign languages which only weavers can read. We have a design called GUM which requires only nine colors, but we are working on the carpet right now which needs sixteen colors and it costs eighteen lakh and we will receive two and half lakh including material.   

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