Handmade paper is a centuries-old tradition in India, dating back to the 3rd century BC when it was an important tool to communicate information. Because of the exceptional benefits of the product, papermaking processes were generally kept as secrets. In the following centuries, several places in India established themselves as centres for handmade paper production, catapulting the artisanal communities involved to its importance in society. Their papermaking skills were in high demand among merchants, record keepers and even imperial courts. Here's a look at a few of them
An ancient town that existed long before Jaipur, Sanganer in Rajasthan is a hub of traditional handicrafts such as textiles, hand block printing, and natural dyeing methods. It is also an important centre for papermaking. Sanganer is known for its Kagzis, or papermakers, and papermaking units, which have existed here since the days of Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq. Raja Man Singh took them under his wing in the 16th century, bringing them to Sanganer. The Kagzis use three types of raw materials to produce paper cotton rags, silk, and banana trunk fibre. The cotton-based paper makes up 90 per cent of their products, but despite the humble raw material, the final product comes in myriad attractive finishes. There&rsquos metallised paper, glazed to look like foil, and leatherised paper, deliberately creased to resemble leather. Then there&rsquos paper infused with flower petals and leaves, decorated with tinsel, or even block printed like cloth.
On your next visit to Sikkim, stop by the small handmade paper unit in Borong village, about 17 kilometres from Ravangla town. The Borong-Polok Handmade Paper Unit is a village collective founded in 2003, and they make exquisite, handcrafted paper products of various grades. The argeli or Edgeworthia gardneri, a locally occurring plant, is used in the Borung-Polok unit. Many argeli plants grow along the trail that connects the Ralong monastery to the Borong handmade paper business. Argeli paper is distinguished by its remarkable transparency. Paper made in this method was used for manuscripts and official documents due to its smoothness on both sides and its lightweight. The paper produced has various qualities and is exported to Singapore, Bangkok, and Thailand. Read more about it here.
Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh
The Monpas are one of the major tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. They are known for making fine-textured handmade paper known as mon shugu. This handmade paper is historically and religiously significant since it is used in monasteries to write Buddhist scriptures and chants. The paper is created from the bark of a native tree known as shugu sheng, which also has therapeutic properties. This handmade paper was once created in every Tawang household and was a major source of income for the inhabitants. However, the handmade paper industry nearly vanished in the last century, forcing the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) to launch a programme to revive this old skill.
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