When Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s eye caught an intricately crafted samovar at Srinagar’s Kashmir Haat, she unknowingly brought this traditional Kashmiri copper utensil and the culture it symbolises into focus. Mehbooba had gone to inaugurate National Khadi Exhibition on May 8, when she saw the utensil and became the first buyer at the event. Ghulam Nabi Sheikh, who runs stall number 11 and 12, was the lucky seller.
“When all the Kashmiri handcrafts are struggling to survive in the market, copper utensils are still in a good demand in the local market,” says Sheikh, who originally is a trader from old city’s Khanyar area. Among the copperware items used in Kashmir, this copper kettle is most famous and sought of. It is mostly engraved with designs of the leaves of chinar (maple) trees that are native to Kashmir and depict the rich culture.
Besides being beautifully designed, the samovar is a part of culture of the valley. It is considered a must for every bride to take to her in-law’s home. The girl fills a samovar with almonds and covers it with a layer of dry fruits. No wonder, the samovars for wedding gifts come in different designs at high costs. “This is a wedding season so the demand for samovars is huge. To make a designer samovar, it usually takes 20 days. The engraving and designs are very difficult and need a good finish which almost takes a coppersmith 10 days,” says Sheikh, who has been in the business for 40 years.
The design on the samovars is known as ‘’naqashi’’, it determines the price of the object, as does the weight. There are a variety of designs engraved on these copper objects like the floral, stylised, geometric, leaf designs. Sometimes even the calligraphic motifs are engraved or embossed on copper and occasionally silver, to cover the entire surface with intricate designs which are then oxidised, so as to stand out better from the background.
People in Kashmir believe that tea prepared in a samovar is good for health. “Without a samovar, every occasion is incomplete in Kashmir. This helps us to prepare the beverage of our choice and gives everything a traditional touch,” says 60-year-old Ali Muhammad, a resident of downtown Srinagar. Khan too reaping rich dividends due to the tradition. “I am going to the United States for an exhibition with the help of the government. I am happy that I will be able to popularise Kashmir through my art,” says Sheikh, who has involved his children in the art unlike others who discourage it due to a bleak future.
What is a samovar
A samovar is a traditional Kashmiri kettle used to brew, boil and serve Kashmiri salted tea (‘noon chai’) and ‘kahwa.’ Kashmiri samovars are made of copper with engraved or embossed calligraphic motifs. Inside a samovar there is a fire-container in which charcoal and coals are placed. Around the fire-container, there is a space for water to boil. Tea leaves, sugar, cardamom and cinnamon are put into the water for preparation of the beverage.
Kashmir’s culture and a samovar