Copper’s Tradition

Copper works are a major metal craft in the arts and crafts category of culture. Eastern Europe used copper approximately 5000 BC, whereas Northern Iraq, China, Southeast Asia, and India used it around 3500–2300 BCE. Between 3000 and 1900 BCE (India’s Bronze/Harappan/Indus Valley Civilizational Age), it was mixed with tin to make durable bronze for farming, architecture, and other uses.

We’re dubious of its singular or multi-purpose use in Kashmir (including Pakistan Administered Kashmir) in the same period, although copper plates were likely used to record the third Buddhist Conference in Kashmir during Kanishka’s reign (3rd century BCE). Copper mines exist in Kashmir’s Baramulla district, although no copper plate has been examined for this purpose. Numismatic evidence shows the Indo-Greeks, Shakas, Indo-Parthians, Kushanas, Kidaras, and Hunas used copper for coinage.

Multilayered copper use began during Sultan Zainulabidin’s tenure in Kashmir in the 15th century. His connections with Western Turkistan (formerly Soviet Central Asia), including modern Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, etc., and his unprecedented patronage led Uzbek artisans and craftsmen to settle in Kashmir—a trend that was reinforced by the arrival of hundreds of Central Asian craftsmen who accompanied Sayyid Ali Hamdani to Kashmir for the pursuit. During their settlement, they taught copper production to local convicts. Kashmiris learned how to detect, extract, combine, and shape copper metals into residential, agricultural, and industrial tools, ornaments, and weaponry over time. Copper is the most common home vessel in Kashmir.

Copper industry

The effect of Western Turkistan’s on Kashmiri arts and crafts is well-established, but Eastern Turkistan (Chinese Central Asia or Xinjiang) is less-emphasized despite Kashmir’s proximity and deep historical ties to the region. Buddhist/Chinese chronicles and European travelogues confirm two-way trade, transportation, transport, and cultural absorption and transmission. Foreign archaeological surveys in ‘frozen’ Xinjiang, China, support these ties.

During my empirical research in Xinjiang, including Khotan, Yarkand, Kashghar, Aksu, Alchi, and other cities, I found a lot of cultural similarities between Kashmir and Xinjiang, despite their different physical frames, ethnic descents, and histories. Xinjiang sometimes reminded me of Kashmir, not Western Turkistan. Copper work is similar.

Copper ores were locally available in Kashmir at Baramulla and Srinagar and in Xinjiang at Kashghar, Khotan, Yarkand, etc. In traditional Karkhana workshops, these ores were dug up, distilled, and poured into ingots for copperware.

Hundreds of workshops are spread throughout downtown Srinagar and the Kashmir districts of Baramulla (Kreeri Pattan), Anantnag, and Budgam (J&K State). Old Kashghar and Yarkand cities in Xinjiang have many workshops that make copper cookware. These workshops were equipped with coal-powered furnaces, paved sinks, and traditional tools such as hammers, chisels, anvils, compass, punches, and files.

These workshops were/are group-organized based on cottage size, workforce, raw materials, tools, etc. The cottage’s master craftsman missed them. He taught his skills to future generations.

A few cottages were/are individually run by craftsmen with or without family support.

Young and old craftsmen hammer, heat, re-hammer, and reheat hard, inductile metal until it is durable. Soldering copper objects uses brass, copper, zinc, tin, and borax. Before usage, copper artifacts are coated with tin and polished with rice husk. Uncoated, gilded, and engraved ones are for ornament, dowry, and export (as antiques).

A product usually passes through many hands before finalization. Mine, cast, design, manufacture, finish, and market it. The Misgara’n are the largest group, followed by engravers, gilders, cleaners, etc. In Kashmir and Xinjiang, each group has its own way of doing things like molding, making, gilding, cleaning, and engraving.

This establishes a close relationship between the two regions in terms of cottage structure, work force, raw material, tool typology, work style, and make, size, shape, finish, and value of decorative and ceremonial copper objects like Kashmiri basins, trays, glasses, soap cases, ornamented plates, containers, cooking pots, cups, tea kettles, eating pots, buckets, vases, jars, boxes, bowls, roasters, incense burners, ink, and pencils Copper vessels for domestic use, weddings, and funerals are all different.

The COVID-19, however brutal, helped copper miners. For social distance, wedding dinners changed. Meals are served individually in little copper plates covered by the associated lids, rather than in trami (group meals of four people sitting on a large copper plate).It shows Kashmiris’ adaptability to time and space.

Several dowry and export goods are engraved with chin’ar, lotus, lilac, floral, geometric, and calligraphic designs. Engravers and embossers blacken them with coal to distinguish them from the vessel’s surface. Their job is intricate and time-consuming, yet they’re paid more than basic manufacturers.

These ceremonial and decorative copper pieces are typical of Kashmir and Xinjiang. The most coveted tea kettle is the Russian Samovar, burned on coal. Despite differences in design and manufacture, both regions use it.

In Xinjiang, China, the samovar is made of several metals, but in Kashmir it’s mostly copper. Given its effectiveness, every Kashmiri peasant family drinks it. They hope the tea will revive them after a day of exhausting farm work. Changing lifestyles have reduced its use in urban and rural Kashmir and Kashghar. Even though the time changed, Kyrgyz and Tajik people in mountainous Xinjiang keep boiling tea in Samovars.

The machine age monster threatens the Kashmir or Xinjiang copper industry. Many traditional copper workers in the Kashmir Valley (J&K State) are losing their jobs as machines replace handicrafts. Many rely on occupational mobility. The state ‘fails’ to balance hand-made and machine-made industries.

The Chinese government favors cottage manufacturing alongside industrialization and mechanization in Xinjiang. Its laws protect artisans and craftsmen. Copper workers in Xinjiang may change jobs, but not because of official indifference.

J&K did pass acts, ordinances, and orders. These lack implementation, maybe for state security objectives. In 2006, it enacted a law to protect this age-old craft from extinction and aid its generations-long practitioners. Specified machine-made commodities were immediately outlawed in the state. In 2008, rules mandated auctioning of confiscated machine-made items. Local businesses were encouraged to set up factories in HMT Naribal and other city areas to turn copper ingots into sheets and circles. Before, the raw materials had to be brought in.

Copper decoration industry

Too little, too late. These measures failed. In Kashmir, their impact faded quickly. Since 2008, the number of machines and machine-made products has soared. 28,000 copper employees in 6,000 registered karkhanas will lose their jobs due to the deluging machine mentality, institutional apathy, or lack of policymaking and policy execution coordination. The Kashmir Copper Workers Union constantly protests and threatens It’s requesting state help for the Kashmir copper industry.

The state has its own priorities for Kashmir. But it can’t afford to lay off thousands of copper workers. Like China, it must put its instructions into practice to protect the jobs of tens, hundreds, and thousands of copper workers. It’s better than quitting for security and other reasons.

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