Namda – the hand felted rug from Kashmir

Imagine a material which is cool during summers and warm in the winters! The secret of the ‘Namda’ is one that Kashmiris have long kept to themselves.
Namda is a handmade felted rug used for furnishing. It is made of unspun wool or wool and cotton pressed and felted in specific proportions. The size varies from few to several feet in length.
The term Namda comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Namata’ which means “woolen stuff” and is used to describe felted wool floor coverings. Felting is one of the earliest uses of fibre that man discovered and adapted to use.
Wool from local sheep is used to make Namda which gives it the warmth as well as strength. Namda performs the role of an insulator, which is the reason it is warm in winters and cool in summers.
Even in the sub zero temperatures of Kashmir, Namda becomes a good source of warmth besides a Kangri. Namda is considered the common man’s carpet, because traditionally those who could not afford to buy costly ‘kaleen’ used this economical means of furnishing. The quality of Namda depends on the percentage of wool and use of dyes in the felt.
Yarkand is considered to be the place of origin of Namda. The rug came to Kashmir from Ladakh and the distant lands of Iran. Kashmir has served as a prominent market for Namda decoration and work in the past.
Namdas used to be brought in bulk from Central Asia to Kashmir for yarma work (embroidery). Yarma work is the ancient skill & source of earning to Kashmiris.
The practice of using wool as a felting material is also seen in other places where sheep rearing has been a significant livelihood of the local inhabitants; mainly Kutch area of Gujarat and western Rajasthan.
Las Khan, who according to his descendants was from Kabul used to come to Kashmir via Ladakh for Namda trade. In1850 Las Khan settled in Bhavdinpura, Srinagar and established his Namda workshop there.
Slowly, Namda work spread throughout a vast area of Srinagar and therefore this area is now known as Namdagari Muhallah. The permanent settlement of Las Khan in Srinagar paved way for the industrial development of Namda in Kashmir. After the death of Las Khan in 1886 his two sons followed suit & their descendants are still involved in the same trade.
Namda became very popular during the First World War. Namda workers became very busy and people started taking up the craft as a profession. Due to growing demand, Namdas started to be imported from Yarkand.
Thus Namda workers earned a lot and work bloomed. The wool merchants used to come from Ladakh, Kangra and other places of Kashmir and put up at Safakadel Sarai, which had become a market for Namda. This Sarai still exists.
During the Second World War, Namda work peaked to greater heights. By then Namdas were already exported to US and UK. Namda demand reached such an extent that few traders who had ensured quality control till then could not monitor it any longer. As a result many Namda makers started compromising on the quality.
Due to bulk orders and limited access to local wool, there was a dearth of raw materials and the rising demand from the market could not be met. So efforts were made to bring down the production costs and gain more profit. This opened up a new chapter in Namda making as makers started mixing cotton with wool.
Namda making faced rough weather on many occasions. Its production declined considerably by the end of World War Second. In 1947 considerable stock couldn’t be exported and was left in warehouses. This paved the way to the Namda Quality Control Act in1958, which made it mandatory for Namda exporters to register their products before exporting.
Process of Namda making needs to be refined. Innovation in this craft is the need of the hour, if we are to provide a sustainable product with a longer shelf life.

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