Paper Mache - An Incredible Art

Paper Mache - An Incredible Art

The amazing transformation of waste paper into beautiful artifacts done in the decorative beauty to outshine the very essence of colors is what Paper Mache is all about. Papier Mache or Paper Mache is derived from French meaning 'chewed paper'. Paper Mache is a composite material consisting of paper pulp reinforced with some adhesive which hardens upon drying and then is painted upon.

Paper Mache was introduced in Kashmir by the Persian Mystic Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, popularly known as Shah-i-Hamdan in Kashmir. It is believed that during his visit to Kashmir, the Shah was accompanied by a host of craftsmen who were favored by the local court of the Sultan of Kashmir, Zain-ul-Abidin. Gradually the art and craft that was ancestral to these artisans from Persia and Central Asia started to flourish in the vale of Kashmir. And with time the artisans of Kashmir gave this art their own touch which further gained them a lot of appreciation and admiration.

Making of Paper Mache:

The humble journey of any beautiful Paper Mache product involves two simple procedures- Sakhtsazi and Naqashi. Sakhtsazi involves fashioning the base product from the pulp of paper into the desired form while Naqashi is the painting process done over it.


The paper pulp is soaked into large tanks of water for three to four days and is then pounded in a stone mortar (Kanz) with a wooden pestle (Muhul) for a uniform consistency. This paper pulp is then left to sun-dry which is then mixed with a local adhesive known as 'Atij'-a kind of glue made from rice. This mixture is then left to sit in the desired mould made of clay or wood.The mould is first covered with thin strips of paper pasted with the help of “Atij” onto the mould and then covered with paper pulp. After this the pulp is removed from the mould when still slightly wet by cutting it along the centre with a saw and file (kath waav).The object so formed is known as 'kalib'.


The Kalib is then handed over to the womenfolk of the family to smoothen it. Pishlawun is the application of a light coat of Saresh (lacquer) on the object. This is followed by a second coat consisting of Saresh mixed with chalk powder and water. The Kalib is then left to dry. The Smoothening of the surface is then followed by rubbing the object with “Kirkut” which is either a small piece of over burnt brick or pumice stone (sangh-i-paaya). The kirkut is gently rubbed along the surface of object. The fourth coat consists of rubbing the object with hand.

Now the smoothened kalib is now handed over to the artisan, the Naqash.


The object when it first reaches the Naqash is covered with a thin paper strips of butter paper pasted on the object by means of glue. This thin layer acts as barrier between the plaster covering the object and the paintwork, ensuring that the painted surface does not crack. The surface so formed is then covered with a base coat of paint.

Naqashi is the art work that transforms the waste paper into the beauty that Paper Mache objects stand for. The design is mostly painted on free hand and the paint used may have a metallic quality which adds to the illuminated feel. Besides, shading is done so as to give a natural appearance to the motifs. Gold is mostly used to highlight certain designs which are applied with the help of pointed brushes and rubbed with a stone commonly called an ‘egged stone’ to impart a high gloss to it. After the design is complete the final step is adding a layer or more of varnish to give the item its characteristic shine.

Naqashi Colors : Most of the colors used in Paper Mache  Naqashi are mineral, organic or vegetable base. Traditionally white lead came from Russia and the body white from a local stone called Shall-a-noon. The source for clay was near Manasbal Lake in Srinagar and the verdigris (green) was derived from a mineral that came from Surat in Gujarat; Red was from Cochineal or the Kermis insect, and ultra  marine from Yarkand. Yellow, brown and orange colors came from local produce like turmeric, saffron and walnut shell or pomegranate. Nowadays, these traditional colors have been replaced by the modern day poster colors and paints.

Many a motifs find their charm on varied objects like boxes, vases, trays, frames among other variants. The latest trend in Kashmir Paper Mache is finding the Naqashi being done on the brass vases now.

Naqashi Designs and Motifs

• Gul-andar-Gul (Flower within flower): It is another version of pattern displaying flowers. Here flowers are shown in bunches in which flowers are displayed one behind the other.

• Gul-e-Wilayat (Foreign flower): is similar to hazara except that it includes foliage and stems also. Sometimes Gul-i-Wilayat also has birds in it, especially bulbul and kingfisher.

• Irani Gulab: is the floral motif used in the naqashi which is a dense rose flower in the spread form with numerous florets.

• Hazaara (Thousand flowers): A prevalent pattern traditionally evolved and most frequently featured is hazara (the thousand flowers) pattern. This flower attempts to display every conceivable flower that was a part of the local environment

• Bagal Daar: This is a common design used by many artists and is basically a set or a boxed pattern of flowers. Done in various shades and designs this design finds its place in many decorative boxes.

• Mughal Arts: Inspired by the Mughal Era, this design is the representation of the king's court, his Darbaar.

• Jungle Tarah (Design): This design is the abstract representation of a jungle and its animals.

• Chinar: Chinar, the five pointed leaf from the majestic tree of Kashmir is another such motif which frequents in most Kashmiri current ornamentation.

• Badam Tarah (Almond): The most popular design motif in Kashmir crafts is that of the mango shaped badam (almond) which is “the representative” motif of the famous Kani shawl industry as well as the Sozni craft.

The ultimate product that is inspired by all these efforts is truly a masterpiece with aesthetic beauty which brightens up the homes and adds a lovely aura to the place. Just a look at it, and you know how much effort, how much precision and how much of intensive artistic touch has been put into it.

At we display a vast collection of this beautiful art ranging from decorative boxes and bowls to  traditional vases and samovars to the latest trends that are building up in this creative art. Explore this incredible art of Kashmir Paper Mache!

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