By Jalal-ud-din Shah
Paper seems to have been manufactured in Kashmir at the start of Zain ul Abideen rule and before that the liber or inner bark of a species of birch was used instead, birch was commonly found in Kashmir on 10 to 15000feet above the sea level, Foster has mentioned paper manufactured in Kashmir in his time as an article of extensive commerce up to 1880 afterwards, it still maintained elegance and reputation. In the exhibition held at Lahore in the year 1864 the Kashmiri produced paper, was declared best among all native specimen and its grace and graze was attractive. Kashmiri paper was in huge demand for making manuscript copies of all the more valued authors. It was also used for writing complimentary letters and public correspondence amongst the natives generally. It is distinguished by its fine gloss and polish, its evenness and freedom from flaws, and also white wax like color and appearance.
In 1830, there were about 32 paper manufacturing karkhanas only in suburb of Nowshera which used to be the centre of the trade, where hundreds of men were employed. One factory of paper manufacturing used to be in Hari parbhat fort as well where convict labors would work in it. These paper factories would function only in summer months due to technical reasons. There used to be several mills which would prepare pulp (khumir) for paper factories, some were located near Shalimar garden and Arat in lar pargana necessarily close to running waters would rest. This pulp was composed of mixture of cotton rags and hemp. Rags were collected in old city and well washed and cleaned from all impurities. Finest materials were selected for superior quality of papers. This material was pounded for 24 hours without any intermission in an ordinary lever mill worked by feet (called mondun in Kashmir). The mass was then dried and, after which it was enclosed in a long strong sheet. The pulps, or rang and hemps, were then mixed in equal proportion and again pounded, and to the mass slanked lime and impure castic soda (sazzi) were added to whitten it. This was repeated from 5 to 20 times according to the quality of paper desired. When ready, the pulp was conveyed to paper factories, where it was kept in a store receptacle close to the large wooden tank (houza or bath) which was low sized and high ends, it was filled with water, in which small portion of pulp was mixed.
Houzwoul (the artisan) would sit by the side of this tub with a frame or tray in his hand which was made of strips of light wood, on which blind screen of reeds and availability of raw material. This frame he dipped deftly into the mixture before him, allowing it to float on the surface, thin film or layer of pulp settled and the water strained throw the screen In case he would notice any speck or impurity in the film, he would remove it with a pair of wooden tweezers. The dipping process was then repeated, and the frame raised and rested on a pole, supported in a notch cut in the ends of the bath. The reed screen was then carefully detached from the frame, and the Houzwoul with much dexterity separated. The sheet of pulp from it and deposited it on a heap at his side. The screen would then be reattached with the frame and the process repeated. At the end of the days work, the heap of sheets of pulp was submitted to slight pressure and left to dry for the night. In the morning it was removed and sheets separated into layers of about a half a dozen, which were hung on the walls of the surrounding buildings or laid upon the grass to bleach in the sun. When dry, each sheet was separated and defective ones removed. The reminders were then collected in clusters or quires of twenty four sheets (called Dusta) edges would be cut smoothly to required size. Each sheet was then rubbed by hand with a pumice stone (stone of volcanic dust) called kurcutlu. Then it would be dumped and again rubbed with stone of conglomerate (boulder round rock fragments) called sungmohra(stone polisher). The sheet was then passed to another artisan called karashwoul, that would rub it with his hand, encased in a rough glove of flamed or goats hair which he dipped in a bowl of rice paste (called Maia). The sheets were then hung separately on strings suspended from the roof to dry. The process was repeated for four successive days, the sheets were passed to another rubber called moharkagh who polished each with small smooth agate stone which was embedded in a small cylinder or handle of wood, to effect this the sheets of paper were laid on narrow smooth slopping board before which Moharkagh would kneel and hold mohar with his both hands, he would rub the paper with much force persistency until the required polish was produced if any little flaw occurred, he would tear a morsel of paper from a sheet by his side and insert it in the holes, rubbing it until the scar was obliterated. As each duster (24page) or quire was completed it would be folded in the middle and rolled into cylinder encased in cover of colored papers.
The whole of the process which has been described was carried out by hand and was consequently exceedingly slow and laborious. The best in quality paper was called Farmaishy (on demand) which was consumed in Govt. affairs and exported even. There were three qualities of ordered papers viz Aala, the best which would cost 6 chilki rupee a dusta(24 pages for half a british rupee) second quality was somewhat cheaper, Adna was third quality sold at 3 rupees quire(dusta). Then there was general quality paper usually used by common people and students for 4 anas a quire. The Houzwoul is said received 2 ana a dusta and his earning depended upon his skill, a good workman could, turn out about four quires of Farmaish and six quires of inferior sorts of paper per day. The Moharkas(rubber) received 4 to 8 annus a duster, their work was very laborious and they were consequently unable to exceed a quire a day. The karshwal who spreaded the rice paste received half the above rates. Those engaged in drying the sheets of paper received 2 annas a day. These rates are as per sources and chronicles 1860 around. The durability of paper produced in Kashmir was remarkable, contrasting favorably in this respect with much more than what was made in Europe, where practice of mixing some chemical substances with the pulp is said to have caused a great deterioration into the quality. For Ladakh paper was imported from Turkistan, Kashmir and India and of course prepared at Changthung, earlier Ladakh used to make its own paper from the roots of astragraber stiricius (the roots of this plant), the inner portion of the bark appeared good material for the manufacture of paper while as outer ring was disadvantageous as source of dust and coarseness. Most preferred one was from Ganderbal factory of Kashmir. This paper industry came to closure when modern machine made quality paper which was introduced at the start of twentieth Century and there are no traces or remnants of once leading craft of Kashmir except that a locality in the suburb of Srinagar is called Kagazgar Mohalla.
Author is retired Geo scientist and experienced Folklore and sports historian of Jammu and Kashmir.