Kashikari - The Traditional Art of Handpainted Ceramics in Hala
Kashikari is a decorative handcraft, which dates back to the Mesopotamian civilisation, and is an important element of the Islamic architecture.
The name, kashikari, can be roughly translated to ceramics (Kashi) and work (kari). It is also called blue pottery, as most artisans hand paint ceramic wares in stunning shades of blue and turquoise. They use the said colours to draw and paint geometrical patterns, including stars, crosses, lozenges meanders, pentagons, hexagons and isometric tessellation, as well as floriated patterns include shamsa, scrolls, tendril, circle and rosettes, on different wares, including tiles and pots.
Kashikari used to be one of the most prominent crafts in olden days for beautifying architectural elements, mosques, temples, shrines, palaces and pots in the Mughal era. Today, it has been reduced to household items and a very few religious sites as custodians of the craft struggle to make ends meet.
The concept of the using ceramics for wall covering and decoration extends to ancient Egypt as early as 400 BC. Interestingly, cities that developed on the banks of great rivers like the Nile, Euphrates, Tigris and Indus prospered in this handmade craft. This is not a coincidence because water and clay were readily available, which led to advancement in this craft over the years.
Kashikari, which focused mainly on decorative patterns on glazed vessels and tiles, was developed in Kashan (Iran), and drew influences from Egyptian and later Chinese ceramics. From Iran, craftspeople travelled to other parts of the world including areas that are now part of Pakistan, settling in Sindh and Punjab to continue their craft practices.
KASHIKARI IN PAKISTAN
In Sindh, Kashi gained prominence in the fifteenth century; facades of buildings were embellished with terracotta and glazed tiles to give a luminous appearance. The oldest pieces have been excavated from Mohenjo Daro, which included painted earthen toys and vessels. The Mughals took this art to greater heights and employed it to adorn tombs and palaces. Over time, it became synonymous with Islamic art as Kashigars don’t work with pictorial representations. The influence of Persian culture can be seen from the style of motifs and the almost exclusive use of blue.
Today, one can find many architectural marvels graced with this particular mosaic art in Pakistan. It is also an interesting fact that in Pakistan, Kashikari is mostly done on buildings with a religious significance like mosques and mausoleums - for example the shrines of Sachal Sarmast and Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai in Sindh; Hala, Nasserpur and Multan are considered main centres of kashikari in Pakistan.
Over the years the number of kashigars has steadily declined and the quality of their craft has also suffered, due to the lack of patronage for the continuation and preservation of the craft. There are about 8-10 operating karkhanas of kashigars in Sindh and Multan.
THE KASHIKARI PROCESS
Kashikari has developed over the centuries, and is distinguishable in its processes, materials and patterns from other traditions of painted ceramics.
To produce kashikari wares, local terracotta clay is used to shape the ware, which is then dried and covered with a white engobe or slip, astar. Decorative patterns are then traced on the surface by dabbing graphite on perforated paper. The resulting marks are outlined using a brush and dark blue metallic pigment. Light and dark blue colours from cobalt and copper oxides are filled inside the outlined areas, leaving a white background.
After painting, the surface of the ware is covered with a transparent glossy glaze and baked at about 900ºC in a traditional wood fired kiln.
The floral and geometric patterns used in kashikari have been preserved over the centuries mainly because it is an ancestral craft and the patterns are documented in the form of tracing paper. Some kashigars have deviated and use new colours, designs and imagery to breath fresh life into their centuries old craft, primarily as a result of design interventions initiated by government and private organisations.
Like many other indigenous crafts, Kashikari is also on the verge of fading away if proper support is not directed towards it from the government and NGOs. Among the many challenges faced by the artisan community, the most grave one includes:
- declining demand as people now prefer to buy ornaments with computerised designs instead of handmade items
- Earthenware containers are not used as widely anymore, as plastic has taken over the domestic use
- It is difficult to find unadulterated raw materials in markets, and using substandard material reduces the quality of Kashikari products
- Artisans struggle to deliver because of lack of regular supply of gas required to power kilns
- The doers are not appreciated and the craftspeople often find it difficult to continue production as it is not financially viable
Kashi Kari requires time, creativity and enthusiasm, and it is unfortunate that many people have forgotten its worth and importance. But we are still hopeful, and happy to make kashikari wares available for you in Europe.