Wood Carving: A Wonderful Art Form from Kashmir and Turkey

The magnificence of Kashmiri art and craftsmanship is remarkably evident in a unique cultural and traditional heritage that has been preserved for centuries. From embroidery to rugs and rugs, from architecture to papier-mâché, the art of the region presents a perfect and comprehensive blend of diverse cultures, traditions and beliefs.

This uniqueness of the Kashmir arts is related to the different characteristics of the region, including the geographical location, the distinctive flora and fauna, the cold climate and the different topography. I’m talking about wood carving, which is an art form shaped around Kashmir’s distinct climate this time around.

In Kashmir, people prefer to build insulated concrete houses with wooden interiors to preserve internal heat during the harsh winter. The decor of the house is also created and maintained in such a way as to offer comfort and harmony with the ambience. In accordance with the decorations, the interiors of the rooms are organized in three stages: parquet (the lower floor of the room), woodwork (the side walls of the room) and khatamband (the decoration of the ceiling). In addition, detailed carving is made on the doors and windows.

Craftsman Ghulam Nabi Dar shows off a hand-carved wooden box in Kashmir, March 14, 2021. (AA)

While people benefited from wood because of its insulating characteristics, they enhanced its beauty over time by carving it with sharp hand tools, and the artwork became known as wood carving. Like many other handicrafts, woodcarving, as well as pinjrakari – the art of making screens of intertwined strips of wood forming confusing geometric patterns – and khatamband – the art of intricately carved ceilings – were introduced to the Kashmir Valley by Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, who arrived from Persia with skilled artisans in the 14th century. Named honorably “Shah-e-Hamadan”, which means “King of Hamadan”, this Sufi Muslim played a decisive role both in the spread of Islam and in the introduction of many trades and industries to Kashmir. With the help of his skilled artisans, Shah-e-Hamadan passed on the knowledge of wood carving to the local people, and this art is now based on a body of traditional knowledge. Nonetheless, the State Department of Handicrafts acts as a comprehensive institution that reflects the artistic representation and traditions of Kashmiri handicrafts.

Artistic sensation from Kashmir to Turkey

Kashmir and Turkey have many important cultural commonalities. From hand-woven rugs to embroidery, many traditions and artistic heritages are also maintained in both regions. Wood carving is also of considerable historical importance in Turkey as well as in Kashmir.

The art of wood carving gained popularity among Turks, especially after the adoption of Islam.


An old teak wood carving from Turkey.  (Shutterstock)
An old teak wood carving from Turkey. (Shutterstock)

Wood carving, seen both in architecture and on decorative objects, produced some of its finest examples in the Seljuk and Ottoman periods. In the Seljuk period, a rich decorative style, consisting of floral and geometric patterns and inscriptions, is observed in the woodwork. In Ottoman times, woodwork adorned not only decorative objects but also architecture. The best examples of wood carving have been observed in architecture in columns and beams, as decorative elements on doors and shutters, pulpits, niches of mosques, ceiling ornaments and balustrades of balcony as well as on the furniture. In Kashmir, the technique of wood carving is also used to decorate the interiors of houses, especially doors and windows, facades of mosques, Muslim shrines, palaces, barges and more recently offices and bedrooms. hotel.

While researching the details of Turkish wood carving, I learned some interesting things related to this art. For example, the Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II valued woodcarving the most and he was a master woodcarver. His precious sculpted works were sent as gifts to foreign politicians. Second, the similarity between a Turkish technique called “kündekari” and Kashmiri “khatamband” caught my attention. In this technique, pieces of wood of various geometric shapes decorated with plant motifs are placed side by side with the greatest dexterity. Khatamband is another similar technique of fitting or joining small pieces of ornate worked wood into a ceiling. In both khatamband and kündekari, the parts are assembled without the use of nails or glue. Dating back to 1873, the Kündenkari embroidered rooms can still be found in the province of Gümüşhane in northeastern Turkey. This ingenious woodworking art is considered a masterpiece of Turkish folk art.


Craftsman Ghulam Nabi Dar carves wood in Kashmir, March 14, 2021. (AA)
Craftsman Ghulam Nabi Dar carves wood in Kashmir, March 14, 2021. (AA)

Challenges

Another thing in common is that artists from Kashmir and Turkey face the same challenges of seeing their traditional manual work potentially replaced by machine work. Manual work is a long, delicate and hectic process, while machine work can be completed in a matter of days without becoming exhausted. Since handcrafted artifacts are expensive, many people prefer machine-made items to them.

Due to increased deforestation, artists face a huge shortage of wood needed to make furniture. Nonetheless, while the art form has not lost its fame, the younger generations feel discouraged from working as traditional artists. Besides the socio-economic disadvantages of the profession, the lack of government support has further made this artistic choice worrying, and the associated artists remain the poorest of the communities of Kashmir. Despite multiple challenges, various people still find pleasure and passion in woodcarving.

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Christopher S. Washington