Kashmir is the only region in India bestowed with the presence of the majestic Walnut Trees. A fully grown walnut tree reaches a height of about 50 feet. The walnuts from Kashmir are rich and famous worldwide for their taste. Another dimension of a walnut tree is the beautiful carving it hosts. The walnut wood product is a bestowed consequence of the specific geographical nature of Jammu and Kashmir State and is unique to our region.
Walnut Wood Tree
The walnut wood tree is locally known as ‘doon kul’ wherein doon means walnut and kul means a tree. The wood is hard and durable; it is close grained and even textured which facilitates fine and detailed carving work. Walnut wood has an inherent sheen which comes on its own when polished with wax. The wood from the root of the tree is almost black and the braches have the lightest color. The cost of the wood differs from each part, with the wood from the root being the most expensive.
There are four varieties of Walnut Trees categorized on the basis of the type of fruit it tree bears.
• Khanak or Wild Walnut: This type of walnut tree is diminutive is size. Khanak is usually found in the wilderness of higher regions of Kashmir.
• Wantu or Vont Dun: The fruit of this tree has a very hard shell.
• Dunu Khakazi or Burzol: This variety of walnut tree is considered to bear the best type of fruit with lightest shell.
Origin of Wood Carving
Wood carving reached Kashmir from Central Asia some 600-700 years ago, through a saint Shah Hamdan RA. The art reached its pinnacle in the era of Zain-ul-Abidin, famously known as “BUDSHAH” [1420- 1470].Walnut wood in natural form as well as in carved form has been used for making elegant furniture and home décor since its inception.
From Raw Material to the Finished Masterpiece
From being procured from local wood depots to being carved with an elegant skill, the story of each walnut wood carved piece of art is the same. The whole process is a very elaborate one, but for you, my dear reader, I have a summarized version of the same, to save you on some time while infusing you with the important know-how, in an easy informative way.
Manufacturing: The walnut wood logs to be used for carving are cut into planks of desired thickness with the help of machines; the saw mill locally known as “Band saws” and the process is locally known as “Laker Chiren” or simply “Chirin”.
Seasoning: Planks are then cut and stacked to dry naturally allowing air to pass through. The first stage in this process is to keep the planks in an erect standing position so that the sap in the plank descends; this process takes about 4-6 months.
As a rule of thumb wood is never allowed to dry completely but is generally seasoned in a manner that ensures that the planks retain 12% of its moisture. Wood that is dried completely is liable to splinter or crack during the process of carving.
Carpentering: The seasoned wood is then sent to the carpenter who makes the required object from it which may be a box, window or a piece of furniture like table, chair etc. These planks are cut in the required size and then are planed with the help of planar, and this process is called “Randh dunn” to make them uniformly thickened planks of regular size.
Finishing: The final planks so done are now given the finishing touches using various local tools. The sandpaper is used to smoothing the rough edges, while the pullet and varnish are used to make the surface smooth and polished.
Carving: From the carpenter who is generally referred to as ‘Chaan’ the object is then passed onto the wood carver, our hero of this story locally known as Naqash who with his skills turns the bland plank of wood into a cherished form of art.
From the moment a plank of wood reaches the Naqash, our master craftsman; a beautiful inspiration of skill and beauty breathes its soul into the wood and inspires a new beautiful life into it. That journey is amazing with so many varied procedures and styles, which requires another blog to unfold.We will continue on carving, styles, tools and patterns used in traditional Kashmir Walnut Wood carving in the second and last part of this blog.