Kashmir is well-known for crafts like Pashmina shawl and Sozni embroidery. The scenic beauty and the climate have also inspired other wool crafts like Namda, now on its way out.
Though these traditional crafts have been sustainable sources of livelihoods for artisans from many regions in Kashmir, today, both the craft and the crafts persons are going through tough times! Especially, the Namda craft which has caught the attention of the government and the exporters to ensure its revival and restore its potential to empower people and develop local economy.
In case you had visited any stall of Kashmiri handicrafts in an exhibition or tried buying a souvenir from Kashmir, few decades ago, Namda rug or a Namda jacket would have been on your list. Today, it’s hard to find them being displayed in stores and exhibitions, with hardly a few craftsmen practicing it, signally the decline of the craft!
Materials and process
The process starts with gathering, cleaning and laying of thick wool on a grass or jute mat within a defined border. This is followed by many steps till the final piece of Namda unfolds:
- White/dyed wool is spread evenly on a jute or grass mat and sprinkled with soap.
- The mat is then rolled tightly and tied up with a rope and rolled to and fro on the floor using hands and feet. This allows fusing of the fiber technically known as ‘fiber to fiber’ fusion.
- The rope is then untied and the mat is unrolled to the well-shaped Namda. This plain Namda is then embroidered with the beautiful Kashmiri Aari
- For making a patterned Namda, a pattern is laid on the grass or jute mat which is then surfaced with wool spread evenly with the help of a broom locally called ‘manzyen’. Then, the same process of sprinkling soap water and rolling of the mat is carried out.
- On untying, it reveals a beautiful Namda with colourful Aari
Current status of the craft and challenges
Despite the richness of unique designs and being a cultural artifact, there are few existential challenges faced by the artisans while felting, such as limited availability of wool carding machines, lack of human resources, low marketing and demand for new designs.
In addition, the dwindling number of artisans are forced to take up other activities and forms of employment to supplement their earnings , leaving Namda craft as a part-time activity among a handful of them. Further, they lack exposure to latest technologies that could help them save time, intense laborious effort and innovate to blend with modern sensibility and taste.
Though Namda craft dates back to centuries and has exquisite designs, artisans need to upskill and re-skill themselves according to changing times. They should learn new designs, marketing techniques, modern technologies which will help them to sustain the Namda craft in the country keeping the authenticity alive.
Efforts to revive the craft through RPL, upskilling and other forms of support
Despite encouragement and patronage from connoisseurs, Namda craft has not been able to get sustainable support and appropriate linkages to connect with the market.
In a recent development to promote and propagate the craft, the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) has announced a pilot project with an increase of financial outlay.
To boost this traditional craft of Kashmir and upskill the local artisans, Hon’ble Minister of State (MSDE), Shri. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, launched a pilot Special Project under Skill India Mission for the artisans working on the traditional an heritage crafts clusters.
This pilot project will benefit 2,250 artisans of 30 Namda clusters from six districts of Kashmir. There will be an industry-based training programme and exposure to the international markets. (https://hcssc.in/2021/11/29/honble-minister-of-state-shri-rajeev-chandrasekhar-visits-the-traditional-crafts-cluster-of-baramulla/)
How skill-based training can help in realizing the market potential
To save the craft from extinction and rebuild livelihoods of the artisans who have depended on it for ages, promotional efforts should be preceded with upskilling and creating entrepreneurship support systems.
- Like many other artisans who practice traditional crafts, Namda craft person would resist any ‘modern’ intervention that interferes with the traditional material or the process. We need to educate them about using suitable technology that can make it less laborious and apply similar techniques from other countries to make the craft more sustainable. This necessitates designing of formal training programs to upskill the artisans and empower them with right knowledge and skills.
- Technology can also be used to innovate and explore new designs that can be used to decorate functional items to expand the market potential. Rather than being confined to its identity as a woolen rug or carpet or a jacket meant for colder climates, a small piece of Namda can be patched up on other functional and furnishing items to transform it into a piece of splendid art!
- Youth from Kashmir can be inspired to take up the craft through orientation programs and demonstrations conducted by the Namda artisans. By addressing issues like availability of raw material (sheep wool) through regular transport, the craft can spread beyond its present location or a family.
- Most importantly, the practicing artisans need to see the potential both in the domestic and export markets when they re-visit their craft and align it with modern times. Concerted efforts from different stakeholders like the government, the artisans, industry bodies and the educational and training institutions are needed to implement the plans and programs designed to save the craft from extinction.
For ages, Kashmiri handicrafts have been integral to the development of the local economy and a source of income for thousands of artisans from different clusters. While few crafts have been able to withstand the challenges of dynamic markets, others are not so lucky to survive on their own. Though Namda appears in the list of dying crafts, the measures taken for its revival bring in new hope and aspirations to reinstate its fading glory.