The dying art of wood pinjrakari from Kashmir had once wrapped homes, mosques, and shrines in its star-spangled beauty. Creating wood lattice in intricate Islamic geometric designs is a craft unique to the land of Kashmir.
Locally known as pinjrakari, it is a labour-intensive, time-consuming, patience-testing, and expensive craft. It is similar to the other wood-based craft, the khatamband, which requires carved wood pieces to be joined/slotted together without using other elements such as glue, nails, etc.
It is reported that the tradecraft of pinjrakari arrived in Kashmir with the coming of islam and the saint Mir Syed Ali Hamdani. He was accompanied by artisans who settled in the region. The high point of the craft came when the Dogras ruled Kashmir, but after their reign, due to a lack of patronage, the craft began its decline.
Nowadays, pinjrakari has been relegated to being used only for screens, railings, partitions, et al., when earlier, entire facades used to be of the wood latticework. The best samples of pinjrakari can now be seen easily only in shrines and mosques. Most artisans have given up the tradecraft as it is expensive to get good wood, and this expense gets transferred to the customer. Plus, it is also challenging to find apprentices to train, as most people do not want to pursue it.
The art of advanced geometry was used to achieve the level of beauty and perfection that people still gush over. There are more than 100 patterns apart from the gul aftab and the doule kondure. There was a time when exotically named in Persian, and painstakingly created designs such as chingus khani, shashtez, mouje, mouje Haider, kandoure, kripe koundere, dawazae gird, dawaza panjak, panch muraba, deh tez, dawazah deh, sehashpehlu, etc., were in vogue. Pinjrakari has a close cousin in the craft of meshrabiya from the Persian region.
Traditionally, Himalayan Silver fir, Blue pine, walnut, and cedar (deodar) wood, all indigenous to the region, were used for pinjrakari. The pinjra used to be constructed in a geometrical pattern using the using bridle and tenon, and mortise joints. However, nowadays, craftsmen have resorted to using wood bonding agents such as resins. It is said that traditional artisans do not hold regard for those using glue to join the wood. They consider their work highly inferior and lacking the use of simple science to create complex patterns. The designer, Sandeep Sangaru, has been a shot in the arm in the fight for the revival of pinjrakari. He has created innovative designs using pinjrakari and its artisans, and his series Trees of Life has been well-received. And his efforts for the revival of crafts are aimed at many other Indian tradecrafts, which are on the precipice of downfall.
Additionally, the Craft Development Institute (CDI) has long been making strong attempts to revive pinjrakari, and is also trying to get the craft registered for a Geographical Indication (GI) tag.