Experts say tourism players can save the trade
Srinagar: Traditional grass mats of Kashmir Valley have almost lost their market to more modern floorings leaving a specific chunk of population jobless.
Wagu – traditional Kashmiri mat – which was a few decades back used as home flooring, has lost its sheen. First it vanished from the urban areas and now is vanishing fast from rural Kashmir too.
Hundreds of families in the outskirts of Srinagar and other areas used to weave Wagu.
Wagu, a soft and spongy mat, is made of a typical grass growing in wetland and lakes commonly known as Peich.
This typical grass grows to a height of six feet and it takes four to five months to reach this height. Only after it reaches this height that it can be harvested to make these mats.
Wagu used to act as an excellent insulation material for beating cold during harsh winters.
A few decades back, Kashmiris would cover their mud floors with it. As the mud floors have become a tale of past as concrete structures bloom allover, Wagu too has vanished from scene.
Akhoon Mohallah in Hazratbal, Srinagar used to be the hub of Wagu weavers. All the 53 families residing there were related with Wagu weaving. But now the story is altogether different.
Bashir Ahmad, who still weaves Wagu, says that before some 25-30 years this entire locality would weave Wagu – young as well as old, men as well as women but now things have changed.
“As of now, only five families of the locality are in the business. Once the main source of our income, Wagu weaving is a closed chapter now,” Bashir informed.
According to the weavers the demand for the Wagu has come down drastically and they rarely get any customers.
“We buy the grass from Bandipora and transport the same to this place on Tongas (horse-driven carts). It consumes too much time and hard word to weave a Wagu and in return, we get just peanuts that too if some Showkeen (man of taste) wants to buy one,” said another weaver, Ghulam.
Zooni Begum who has been weaving Wagu from many years says that the grass (Peich) for one Wagu costs them something around Rs, 80 and they have to sell it just for Rs 100 or 120.
“It takes nearly three days of hard work to weave a Wagu and we hardly earn 20 to 30 rupees in one piece but are forced to sell it cheaper because there are rarely any takers,” Zooni said.
She said that most of the people have left the trade and “We too will be doing the same as there are no buyers.”
The male members of this community have to travel miles in rural areas to sell their products, cost of which varies from Rs 90 to Rs 600 while women folk do the weaving business back home.
However, with the demand even in rural areas fading, they have started abandoning the trade and are shifting to vegetable farming, paper machie and embroidery work.
“It is not the question of a few people loosing jobs but of a people loosing their heritage,” said a University teacher.
He said that the tourism department could do a lot to revive this trade.
“Wagu is part of our heritage; it is environmental friendly unlike the synthetic mats which we are using now,” said the teacher, adding the tourism department could take up it as eco-tourism project.
“Let all tourism department and tourism development corporation establishments have Wagu flooring. Tourists would love it,” he said, adding even private hoteliers and houseboat owners can help save this heritage.
“Wagu is not necessarily to be used as flooring by these players. They can use it as wall hangings etc.,” he suggested.