It requires a great deal of menial work to wade through the placid waters of Dal Lake in a battered Shikara, to bring forth the grass forms required to weave Waguv mats.
Ecofriendly grass mats made from Dal Lake reed is harvested after reaching a height of 6 feet and then interwoven with paddy straws to make waguv (also waguw or wagoo), eco-friendly mats which once kept every Kashmiri household warm during winters and cool during summer.
Weavers like Yameer Hussain Bhat in the Dal locality laboriously gather their raw material from this half land – half water and take them to their own homes where they will be transformed into the coziest and breathtaking mats ever.
Those who are completely ignorant of the term, Waguv is an ancient Kashmiri craft of mat making which dates back to the 18thcentury. The 300 year old craft involves entwining reed and rice straw together in perfect harmony to create a piece of flooring that provides warmth in winters and a cooling effect in summers. The unique matting is known to have a cooling effect during summers and a warming effect in winters.
These mats once used to provide a livelihood to Bhat and a handful of other families in his mohalla but unfortunately, the craft is on the brink of extinction as the number of such weavers has shrunk from 500 to merely 15. Bhat’s Malik Mohalla has been making these grass mats for almost 300 years now.
These families are among the last custodians of waguv grass mat weaving, the Kashmiri craft which almost stands defeated by modern machines.
At that time, every Kashmiri house had waguv mats, which are eco-friendly as they don’t use any synthetic materials and are biodegradable. Because of the use of natural materials – reed and paddy straw — waguv mats are also said to be good for health and especially beneficial in relieving body ache, improving blood flow, and relaxing the muscles.
There were times when wooden flooring and cheap synthetic carpets were not so ubiquitous in the market as they are now. Back then, there were many weaver colonies in and around Dal’s wetlands like the Aakhoon Mohalla, Chak Bagh, Ganderbal, and Aanchar and there were over 500 families engaged in the sustainable craft.
The Handicrafts Department is taking the initiative to revive this centuries-old craft by holding workshops and seminars for the weavers regarding schemes and loans to familiarize them with the various incentives now available for craftspeople.
As we are on the cusp of climate emergency, it is high time designers and stores turned to the sustainable furnishing trends and nothing can serve the interest better than indigenous crafts. Urban households that first gave up the use of waguv mats should embrace the eco-friendly crafts.