Wicker willow, locally known as Veer Kani in Kashmir is one of the most significant crafts of Kashmiri Handicraft Industry. There must not be anyone who visited Kashmir and could ignore the presence of this earthy craft spread across the heavenly picturesque of the Vale of Kashmir. These creative and delicately crafted masterpieces of art are a wonderful sight while taking a tour of the rich Kashmiri handicraft markets.
Wicker is the name commonly given to the one year old sticks that result from the willow prune. Generally, Wicker is grown in cool lands requiring large quantities of water. The long branches of wicker willow are then cut after one year of growth and processed with boiling water for at least three days to ensure water resistance and durability. The upper layer of the bark is dried and peeled-off under the sun. The willow is then retted until the skin comes out and the inner exposed skin forms the raw material for making beautiful crafty wonderments which are loved all across the globe. Some of the most commonly crafted items are baskets, flower vases, room dividers, lamp shades, curtain rings, trays, cycle baskets, chairs , racks, holders, swings and not to forget the traditional Kashmiri Kangri!
History goes to say that a loadful of seeds and some fine artisans were imported from the European lands by Maharaja Hari Singh during his reign to establish an organized Willow industry in Kashmir. Before that, willow work in Kashmir used to be rough made of random wild willow varieties. Ganderbal district in Kashmir provides the best land and climate conditions for the plant to grow. A one kilometer travel from the main Ganderbal town in central Kashmir takes one to the Shalabugh village which is home to the willow artisans of Kashmir valley. Around 90 percent of the population of Shalabugh has been associated with the willow craft for nearly 50 years.
The wicker willow industry in Kashmir has witnessed a number of ups and downs. With the arrival of cheap Chinese products in Kashmir, with their attractive finish and alluring polish and the fake plastic substitutes trying to take the place of genuine original wicker willow products, the industry saw a plunge in the business. However the fake plastics were soon exposed while the cheaper Chinese willow was lesser durable and non-resistant to water and the Kashmiri willow soon regained its charm due to its durability and water resistance. Kashmiri Wicker products are natural and possess an aura and essence which can’t be met by plastic products.
Over the decades, Willow market sees a splurge in various market segments like hospitality and special occasions like weddings (decorative items, baskets and trays). There are world class resorts and hotels that love to serve their customers using Kashmiri Willow baskets, trays and furniture.
From wood carving to Paper Mache, from the exquisite carpet knitting to exotic Pashmina weaving, Kashmir is rich in the rarest and best of crafts and Willow is another significant ingenuity of the handicraft industry of Kashmir. The journey of willow from raw wicker to decorous creations that charm our homes, is an interesting one, one that inspires an earthy look in the urban homes and awe for the originality of the ingenious Valley.