An epitaph may be the last tribute from a family to their loved ones but for some it also means a source of livelihood and craft which is now changing.
Since the early eighties, Mehrajuddin of Malkah locality of Srinagar has been sitting in the graveyard silence to write last tributes to the dead.
Operating from his forefathers’ workshop, he talks about the symbolism of epitaph on someone’s grave and why the engraved stone remains an address of the dead in Kashmir.
“Not only it identifies the dead person, but also helps the family to claim ever-shrinking graveyard space in the city,” the epitaphist says.
“Dead has an address in the valley, which is now changing with time.”
The tradition of tombstones is claimed to be as old as the advent of Islam in Kashmir but earlier it was confined to using rock stone only.
However, after polished stones, now marble and granite—cheap and easier to inscribe on—have dominated the Kashmiri market.
“We were earlier confined to the traditional ‘peur’, which was time-consuming but was giving us a hefty sum of money,” Mehrajuddin, the ‘seventh-generation’ epitaphist in his family, says.
“But now people prefer these marble and granite ones, which cost them peanuts as compared to the traditional tombstones.”
Apart from the verses from the holy Quran and relevant Urdu couplets, it’s the name of the dead person, his or her expiry and birth date, which is being inscribed on the stone.
“We buy marble and granite from the market, which mostly comes from Rajasthan,” Mehrajuddin says. “After that, it’s being polished and painted so as to keep it ready for an epitaph.”
It takes one full day in carving one marble epitaph, and five days for making a ‘peur’.
Price of the epitaph depends on the quality of the marble and the message to be used on it.
If the granite is used, then the price may go up to Rs 2500.
A normal epitaph of size 12 to 18 inches may cost normally Rs 800.
The traditional ‘peur’ which as per Mehrajuddin is “durable and everlasting” costs anything between Rs 5000 and Rs 25,000, depending on size, order and decoration to be done on the stone.
However, the kind of stone used for the tombstone is not available everywhere. It’s to be brought from Ladov village of Pampore area only.
In past, says Abdul Aziz, another epitaphist of Malkhah area, the verses were mostly written in Persian couplets only.
“But later it was changed to Urdu,” Aziz says. “And now, we’re getting orders to write epitaphs in the English language.”
Apart from gravestone writing, these epitaphists are getting orders for engraving messages on the foundation stones.
The prices on the foundation stones also vary. English, which is nowadays preferred, costs more—and the rate is as per words engraved on the stone.
“We’re associated with this job since Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (RA) came to Kashmir,” epitaphist Mehrajuddin says. “This craft should stay, at least for the sake of dead in Kashmir!”