The Dying Craft of Kashmiri Turquoise
In the brightly lit chamber where he puts up, we came across this young artisan, Ubaid, who has been into the revival of a legendary Kashmiri craft called “Turquoise” which is spectacular in sight, yet forgotten in the fold of time. “The craft of turquoise is almost extinct.It is dying and there are only 5 artisan families left in the entire valley who opt to work for its revival”, he grimaces. His family has been into the skilled craftsmanship of making Turquoise studded beauties for generations altogether and the fact that they haven't lost hope makes his eyes sparkle with pride.
About the Craft:
The craft of Turquoise or Ferozi derives its name from the breathtaking oceanic shade of blue. This is because the stones that go into its making have been traditionally painted blue by all artisans associated with it. The prominence of the color has lent it this beautiful name. Going a bit further, Ubaid says that the craft typically involves embedding a special type of Ladhaki stone called “Pashm” or “Hakkih” over a fiery hot base of copper or bronze and then painting these studs blue. Besides the Hakkihstone, many a times, real rubies and sapphires are used in the craft to create masterpieces that linger on in the memories of those who set their eyes on them. The process of crafting Turquoise is elaborate and each piece has to go through a tremendous amount of heat for the actual beauty to come out and manifest itself. Jewelry, artifacts, decorative vases and bowls and ashtrays are typically conjured out of it.
Looking around, one could notice that he has been working on a decorative blue vase and a bowl while talking to me. “These pieces are still incomplete. Once done, I will give them away to the museum”, he declares. He then pauses, recalling all the effort which he and his father together put into this craft every single day and then proceeds to narrate it to visitors as inquisitive as us.
In The Making
Moulding the base
The process of crafting turquoise beauties starts at the workshop of a silver or copper-smith, who creates moulds of jewelry, vases, ashtrays, bowls and much more. The base, therefore, is made of silver, bronze or copper, either of the three! This bland mould is then passed onto turquoise artisans - in our case, Ubaid.
Coating it with Laach
Ubaid begins by brewing up a thick black viscous substance called laach by mixing a portion of sand which he regularly collects from banks of river Jhelum with some Kashmiri mustard oil. He then heats this mixture over a stove or fire pot till it turns into a stark viscous black liquid. He has even made a plate of lac and solidified it, which he proudly shows us, an air of achievement evident about his face. He then spreads the hotlac evenly onto the equally hot mould with the help of a “Hindish” (Tweezers). The resulting black tar – like vasedoesn’t look quite appealing as yet. Ubaid reads our apprehensions and ensures that the end product will mesmerize us beyond words. We believe him. And rightly so.
Shaping the Pashm Stones
And so we proceed to the next step. Ubaid goes on to say that the most important of all components in the elaborate crafting of Turquoise is the stone which beautifies it. The stones are procured from the mountainous regions of Ladakh and are popularly known as Pashm or Hakkih. The raw form of these stones is a creamish green. However, when Ubaid heats it, it turns into a brilliant white. This white stone is then hammered into little pieces, which will now be embedded onto our laach coated mould.
Embedding the stones into the hot base
He carefully chooses the best shaped hot pashm stones and places it over the equally hot lac coated mould with the help of tweezers which he calls “Hindish” . The two fuse into each other so easily, it actually amazes the eyes.“It is all about the right amount of heat”,says a proud Ubaid.
Painting the Pashm Blue
“Because blue is the very essence ofthis craft. It is where it derives its name from”, answers Ubaid after repeated “WhyBlue”. So that’s how it goes. Each stone is painted a brilliant shade ofturquoise. Sometimes a little lighter, sometimes a little darker. And we have to say, the shades of blue he conjures makes one forget every other color in theuniverse! The still unfinished blue vase looks spectacular now!
Waxing and smoothening
He then proceeds to apply molten wax over these stones to remove any inconsistencies from them. This is followed by smoothing out the blue Pashms in little stroke like motions with the help of a tool called “Khahrin”. “We have to be very careful while smoothening out the stones. A little extra pressure on our part can make the stones fall out at this stage”, comments Ubaid, his face focused over the strokes which he is casting over the Pashmstones. This process takes him a lot of time and effort.
The last step, of course, is to varnish the final piece. Sometimes, these stones are repainted to reinforce the aura of blue about the stones. But this does not happen always. The varnished piece of course is going to come out as beautiful as Ubaid promised.
After we are done here, he shows us a 60 year old Turquoise CraftedAsh tray, which he was given to repair. It gives off the most resplendent look we have ever seen in any art form! And yet, this craft is almost extinct. There are barely 5 artisans left in the entire valley of Kashmir who work on this craft today. Why? Ubaid feels that the earnings these artisans used to get were very less to sustain a decent livelihood. Hence, artisans opted for other professions. However, Ubaid hasn’t lost hope. He works meticulously to make each piece a masterpiece and hopes to revive this craft someday!