FARID AHMED ZARGAR
DODA, FEB, 25: With flooding of markets with factory finished aluminium, glass, plastic and steel products, the space for traditional handcrafts has shrunk to an extent where the traditional folk craftsmen are under duress to seek other avenues of employment. The traditional folk crafts of Chenab region such as blanket weaving, wicker work, wheat straw work, pottery have gradually been pushed to remote and inaccessible pockets of the mountainous region where the onslaught of factory finished products is yet to be felt.
Amid such a transforming situation, in a nondescript workshop, darkened with soot, located in not too busy old bazaar in Doda town, a middle aged silversmith can be seen always engrossed in his work hammering brass alloy in different shapes.
Ghulam Hussain Misgar aged 68 is perhaps the only artisan in Chenab region undauntedly perpetuating the art of making folk music instruments, cups and tridents and also spires for mosques. He hammers brass sheets (brass is an alloy of Copper and zinc) and with deft strokes and makes the large S” shaped Narsingha, the straight Karnal, a variant of Kashmiri Shahnai, Nag Feni, Trishuls and brass cups and tramra.
The traditional music instruments are used by local folk music performers on religious occasions and marriages of Hindu community. The brass cups , polished and sparkled by the master artisan, are an essential part of a Hindu kitchen. Taking tea in brass cups is thought to be auspicious and a sort of aristocratic by the folk in rural areas of Chenab valley. The cups are a prized possession of a Hindu household. Tramra, bowl, is a brass utensil held in high religious esteem by the Hindus especially the shepherds and cowherds. “Lord Shiva is said to have drank milk from Tramra, as such this bowl is generally used by shepherds and cowherds. These people invariably carry Tramra with them even when they tend their cattle and sheep in the pasture lands up in the mountains,’ said Hem Raj Thakur who is a regular visitor to Hussain’s shop.
The clientele of Hussain is not confined only to Chenab region, but people from Kathua, Samba and Reasi districts also visit his workshop to place orders or to collect the finished product from him. Folk instrumentalists of Chamba (Himachal Pradesh) also purchase musical instruments from Hussain.
Narsingha, the “S” shaped eight feet long musical instrument finds its use in marriages and religious ceremonies of Hindus. Obviously, the buyers of Narsinghas, brass cups, Tridents, Nag Feni and Sangal are all Hindus. Deep brass plates called “Chein” and spires for Masjids are supplied to the Muslim clientele. Hussain’s workplace is not only a selling outlet but a symbol of communal harmony where people from two communities enjoy moments of mutual respect and understanding which otherwise has come under tremendous pressure due to varied reasons.
Hussain has learnt the art of making brass products from his father late Ghulam Rasool Misgar. ” The art of making traditional music instruments and other brass products has been practiced by our forefathers since centuries,” said Hussain and added my sons are reluctant to take it up as the clientele is on the downslide and there is no institutional support to keep going this folk art. “It is after much persuasion that one among my three sons is working with me. Had there been some government support for keeping this folk art flourishing it would have been seen as profitable by all my sons,” complained the artisan Hussain who has given prime years of his age to the profession. “The industries department is oblivious of my enterprise, so are the other government agencies claiming to patronise the folk art and artisans,” complained Hussain.
While Hussain was talking about the challenges that he faces while continuing the trade of his forefathers, a young couple arrived at his workshop to take the delivery of Nag Feni, the bugle like music instrument used in religious rituals. The man, Naresh Kumar of Shamthi village in the hills on the right side of Chenab sat down and his wife stood outside the shop eyeing the finished Nag Feni with genuine approbation. Speaking to Greater Jammu, Naresh Kumar stated that he had been told by village elders that Hussain of Doda is the only artisan who can make Nag Feni. “It is my good fortune to buy Nag Feni,” said Kumar.
Hammering brass to form replicas of serpents for Nag Temples is yet another task performed by Hussain. Scores of Nag temples are found in Chenab valley where replicas of serpents are hung on the walls.
While blanket weaving, wheat straw work and wicker work along with wood work have in Chenab valley declined greatly, the art of making traditional musical instruments and other items of utility has been kept alive by Hussain in the hope that someday a connoisseur will recognize the real worth of his art.
FARID AHMED ZARGAR