The amazing life purpose and dying art of Kashmir Stone Carvers


Story and photos by Mudabbir Ahmad Tak

Man is tough. Some men are anyway — strong and resilient and stubborn and with the will to break the hardest of stones and carve them into different shapes. It is fascinating how with a few simple tools, Stone Carvers can break down a mountain into tiny irrelevant pieces — mountains turned to mortars and pestles.

These pictures try to speak to that confounding mystery — the will of man, which may sometimes be stronger than a mountain, and sometimes more capricious than dust.

I am from Kashmir, the Indian administered part of the picturesque Himalayas where there is a lot more to see than mountains and valleys and meadows and rivers and lakes and ancient gardens.There are people to see and cultures that fascinate.

Endless toil on stone has wrinkled his hands, but his grip remains solid.

Kashmiris have a special affinity for stones: We build our homes on plinths made of stones, our gardens are decorated with fountains made out of stone and we bury our dead and remember them by carving their names on tombstones.While stones surround us so intimately, through my pictures I have tried to document, to a small extent, the lives and routines of the people who work with them all day. 

At work. Ali Mohammad, a 35-year old stone carver from Zewan, has been giving shapes to rocks since he was a kid. “My father was also a Sang Taraash. I used to go with him to his workshop and with his mallet and chisel, I would bang at stones. I love this work.”
Unfinished. Ali Mohammad has taken a loan from a bank to get his son admitted in an engineering college. “He didn’t want to do this. So I thought he should become an engineer. I would carve stones and he would use them in the structures he builds,” he says, with a spark in his eyes.

The pictures capture both the work and life of the stone carvers, which might actually be the same thing — and also focus on the different types of carving work that these men do in their shabby workshops.

Many of us pass these workshops each day, listening to the cling-clang of mallets hitting chisels, but never imagined the pain and the sweat that goes on behind that monotonous, yet sweet sound.

The master, the tamer of rocks.
Carving tools include mallet, chisels and metal straight edge (for making flat surfaces) Chisels are of various types depending upon their use: They all need to be sharp though. 
Mohammad Shabaan specializes in making millstones. He has no complaints against anyone. “Allah tala Karin saarni raham, (may Allah bless all.)”
IN HEART- Epitaphs carved on tombstones.
SANG TARAASH — master mason. The stone and Kashmir Stone-carving has been an important part of life in Kashmir, whether it be the veneering technique used in building Kashmiri homes, the curbstones used in pathways or the use of stones in gardens, fountains or other such special structures. Stone has always been there.
Although the sales are going down, stone still is a very important part of our lives, and the Sang Taraash is the master of the stone.

Set up on the roadside at a place called Sempora, Pampore along the highway that connects Srinagar (the summer capital of this region) to the rest of India, there are workshops where banker masons (stonemasons who specialize in working on stones) aesthetically create amazing artifacts by their hard work. These people are sawyers and carvers too, they are master masons. 

These stone carvers are called Sang Taraash in the Kashmiri language, and they are a dying breed.

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