Willow wicker craft locally called “kaeni keam” is the intricate art of basket weaving. It is an indigenous cottage industry of Kashmir that uses twigs of wicker as raw material. It is one of the oldest crafts of the valley. Sadly, the products of the craft, once seen in every home, are now vanishing from our life.
This craft is also known as Shaakhsaazi. The word “Shaakhsaazi” comprises two words, “shaakh” meaning slender pliable branches, and “saazi” meaning the art of weaving. The journey from raw wicker prunes to decorous creations is a very interesting one. The journey starts from harvesting the willow twigs. These twigs are then grouped according to the required length and breadth called “withe”. Withe is a strong flexible willow stem which is boiled and peeled subsequently. Withes are used as raw material for manufacturing different willow products.
Jammu and Kashmir enjoys a traditional monopoly over wicker craft. Wicker craft is a small-scale forest-based cottage industry. It plays an important role in the livelihood of many people involved in the manufacture and trade of wicker baskets, vases, chairs, trays, baskets swings, cradles, and the kangri. Willow products used to be gifted on occasions like weddings and set up in hotels, restaurants, showrooms, and official bungalows and buildings.
Wicker craft in Kashmir has been facing a number of challenges. Chinese products and plastic are trying to take the place of wicker willow products due to their durability and cheap prices. Kashmiri people opting for white-collar jobs rather than handicrafts and the indifferent attitude of the government towards supporting the craftspeople are among the reasons why the craft is losing its importance. However, artisans have made innovative changes to the old designs to keep up with the times. New designs include weaving in several directions and dyeing wicker willow to blue red or green (kangri) to make it more attractive.
The writer is a student at Faculty of Forestry, SKUAST-K. She wants to thank her teacher Dr Anup Raj for guidance. [email protected]