The journey of Kashmiri Shawl
Shawls have been a part of Indian textile history since ancient times. But the establishment of the shawl industry in Kashmir is dated to the era of Sultan zain ulabidin (1420_70 AD) of Kashmir (Pathak, 2003). Different groups ruled Kashmir in the subsequent centuries till the British occupation in 1857 namely; the Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs and Dogras. The social and economic changes brought about by these events impacted the nature of shawl manufacturing and design.
The word ‘shawl’ is derived from indo-Persian word ‘shal’ which means a fine woolen fabric used as a drape (Pathak, 2003). The word ‘shawl’ has also become synonymous with ‘Pashmina’ a Persian word meaning ‘made from wool. (“Pashmina” the oxford English dictionary).The wool derives its name from ‘pashmina goat’ or “changthangi” as it is called in Kashmir. These goats are native to Tibet, Nepal and neighboring areas of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, India. It is basically a clothing item worn about the shoulders or sometimes around the head or waist. It usually comes in rectangular or square shapes but sometimes may also be circular or oblong.
Mountain goats such as the Shapo, Argali, Bharal and the Himalayan Ibex are native to Kashmir so the wool required for shawl production was locally produced. However the wool was also imported from Nepal and regions as far as Tibet (Pathak, 2003). The wool is categorized into three main types namely Shah-tus (literally meaning king’s wool), Pashm and Raffle with Shah-tus being the finest. Shah-tus was obtained from goat specie called Chiru. High demand for this type of wool led to the killing and abuse of Chiru rendering it highly endangered species. This naturaly resulted in the ban on Shah-tus manufacturing (pathak A. , 2003). Pashm is obtained from pashm goats and Raffle is the low quality wool obtained from Merino sheep and is adulterated with other coarser hair obtained from camels, dogs and yaks.
On the basis of manufacturing process Kashmiri shawls can be divided into two types one is called ‘Kanikari’ (shawls made by weaving the pattern into its surface) and the other is known as ‘Amlikaari’ (embroidered shawls). Shawl industry in Kashmir was developed to the extent that several independent professionals were required to complete one shawl (mathur, Indian shawls, 2004).
Looking at the archeological evidence the history of shawl can be traced back to the Indus valley civilization, where the sandstone statuette of a priest king wearing a shawl is found at Mohenjo-Daro (An Indus valley site near Larkana Sind, Pakistan). Earliest references to woolen clothes are found in Hindu sacred texts such Ramayana and Mahabharata (mathur, 2004). Shawls made in Kashmir are also mentioned in Afghan texts between the 3rd century BC to 11th century AD (Encylopedia britanica, 2008). Although the shawl industry existed in India for a long time it is traditionally believed that it was Sultan Zain ulabidin (1420_70 AD) of Kashmir who gave it the shape of a proper industry and also introduced weavers from Central Asia (Sheraza number, 2004).
Not much is on the record of the turbulent years between zain ulabidin and the coming of Mughals, but when Mughals took over Kashmir in the 16th century. Mughal emperor Akbar was not only a great admirer of the shawls, but is credited with having started a new trend of wearing ‘dushala’ (two shawls sewn back to back so that it looks equally decorated on both sides) as mentioned in ‘Ain-e-Akbari’ written by Akbar’s court historian Abul fazal. After Akbar his descendents continued to patronize the shawl industry till Aurangzaib’s death in 1707. In the mid 18th century Afghans overthrew the Mughal rule in Kashmir, they, being aware of Kashmir shawl industry as a lucrative business took measures to develop it further. It was in this period that ‘Amlikar’ (embroiderd shawls) appeared, before only woven shawls, through the process of ‘kanikar’ were produced. This era particularly the early 19th century witnessed the export of shawls to western market at its high point. Sikhs were the next to rule Kashmir after Afghans and they remained in power from 1819 to 1846 this period saw the zenith of ‘Amlikari’. In 1846 Dogras came to power in Kashmir, it was in this period that both embroidery and weaving was employed to create designs. During the 5th and 6th decades of the 19th century western trade doubled. After that the shawl export industry died out and the factors responsible were; the Franco Prussian war, availability of cheaper shawls from looms set up in England and France and the change of style among the European clientele.
To document the evolution of shawl motifs and methods of construction starting from Mughal period in the 16th century to the point where this art almost died out after the Dogra period in the late 19th century.
Woolen clothes in India especially “Pashmina”(fabric made from the wool of ‘pashm goat’) can be traced back to Indus valley civilization as evidenced by archeological finds. A stone statue of a priest king wearing a shawl, impression of fabrics on pots and images 0f sheep and goats which they would have kept for wool all suggest the presence an advanced weaving industry. The tradition of woolens continued through later periods. Vedic literature, a Jain text ‘Nisithacurni’ the literature of Gupta period ‘the inscription of Vijayasen’ all contain refrences for woolen clothes. Though the tradition existed since pre historic times scholars such as John Irwin and Frank Ames are of the view that Sultan Zain ulabidin of Kashmir founded the industry in the 15th century.
Later after the establishment of Mughal rule, the Mughal Emperor Akbar took especial interest in the Kashmir shawl industry as mentioned in Ain-e-Akbari written by Abul fazal. His descendents continued this passion for the shawls. During the Mughal period, from Akbar’s time (1526) to Aurangzaib’s (1701) shawls mainly had floral motifs, narrow borders that illustrated floral creepers. As the kingdom matured designs became more complex and elaborate. Most of the time center field of the shawl was kept undecorated but sometimes the entire field was woven with floral patterns. During Mughal periods shawls were made through the process of ‘Kanikari’ (designs created through weaving)
In 1846 afghans arrived in Kashmir, they introduced checkered and striped designs. Center fields of the shawls often featured these patterns while the end panels retained the Mughal era floral designs. Noteable additions of this period are Moon shawls (squared shaped shawl decorated with a circular floral motif in the center and a quarter of that same motif on all four corners) and chevron (zigzag pattern). The most important trend that was initiated in this period was “Amlikari” (embroidered shawls) it was started by a turk trader yousaf khan. Afghan rule was followed by Sikhs in 1819 who ruled Kashmir until 1846. In this era the shawl designs became more elaborate and the colors grew brighter to include deep blues, reds, oranges and green. Human figures, birds and animals also began to appear on shawls. European trade reached its zenith in this period with Kashmir. European influence in designs is visible as the shawls became very popular among English and French elite in this period. After 1846, Dogras came to power in Kashmir who continued with ‘Amlikari’ only the designs became more complex. (pathak A. , 2003).
The word shawl has become synonymous with Kashmir. Matchless craftsmanship coupled with the fine quality wool has given Kashmir shawl worldwide fame. This tradition of woolen clothing in India goes back to pre historic times. Vedic literature also provides references for the presence of woolens. Shawls are also referred to in a text by Kshmendra (10-11th century A.D.). Although these references provide enough evidence for the presence of shawls making in Kashmir, scholars such as moor craft, John Irwin and bernier believed that it was started in Kashmir as a proper industry by sultan Zain al-abidin, a kashmiri ruler of the 15th century. According to Moor Crofts’ account of Kashmir shawls a 16th century monarch of Kashmir Mirza Dughlat Baig started the practice of ornamentation on shawls which were previously plain woven. But with the establishment of Mughal dynasty in the 15th century the shawl industry reached the heights, it never had before. Mughal emperor Akbar annexed Kashmir in 1526. His court historian Abul-fazal wrote in Ain-e-akbari that akbar was not only a great admirer of the Kashmir shawls but he started a new trend of wearing Doshala (two shawls sewn back to back so that it looked equally beautiful on both sides). The color pallet was enriched in this period and the size of the shawls increased. Akbar was especially fond of ‘Shahtoosh’, the finest of all wools. The shawls from this period featured narrow borders with floral creepers and narrow end pieces bouti (floral motif). The floral patterns used for ornamentation recall those found in Mughal miniature paintings or other artifacts, these include the parijata, rose and poopy. As the Mughal empire grew and flourished the nature of shawls design also changed, solitary flowers were replaced by variegated blooms and designs became more and more elaborate. Borders and end panels also broadened to accommodate the larger floral motifs.
In the mid 18th century, when afghans arrived the shawl design had to adapt to new tastes. The “Abmiya” (a decorated motif resembling the shape of a mango) motif famously known as paisley appeared in the form that it retains to this day). Over the next century the motif became ever more stylized. Its outline became more prominent and the surface was filled with richly colored patterns. Over time the paisley got an almost abstract form sweeping across entire end panels. The floral designs became even larger and more formalized. Afghans also started a new form of motif, that of flowers emerging in a radial manner. The most important innovation in shawl production was ‘Amlikari’ technique, initiated by a turk agent yousaf khan. From this time onwards ‘Amlikari’ dominated the shawl making. Sometimes both embroidery and woven design were combined to produce a single shawl. This resulted in the emergence of do-rukha (a shawl decorated on both sides with one side embroidered and other woven. Another innovation came about in the early 19th century which involved the skills of ‘Rafugar’ (a person who would sew the pieces of shawls together). In this new technique shawl was created in different parts which later would be sewn together. The Rafugars were so highly skilled that the stitches were barely visible. During the Sikh rule 1819-1846, export demands grew rapidly. Along with central Asian markets, another market opened up; the European one. In Europe it was the era of empire gowns which were long and narrow and a shawl complemented this silhouette. This led to European influences in design. The designs became grander with huge flowing lines and brilliant colors. Borders and floral patterns’ became larger. More and more of the surface of the shawl was patterned. This period also saw the depiction of human and other animal figures in shawl design, absent in earlier eras. (mathur, Indian shawls, 2004)
The methodology employed in this research is anthropology –a social science that studies the origins and social relationships of humans. What made this research possible was the structuralist assumption that there are unobservable social structures that generate observable social phenomenon. The data collection is based on publication research.
Although the woolen clothes have existed in India since pre-historic times and the tradition always continued through the later periods. The industry gained momentum during the rule of Sultan Zain ulabidin of Kashmir in the 15th century. In the subsequent periods Mughal, Afghans, Sikhs and Dogras ruled Kashmir. As the rulers changed so did the shawl designs adapting to newer tastes. Social, political and economic factors led to the evolution and final demise of the craft in the late 19th century.
? Pashmina, Anamika Pathak (2003)
? Indian shawls, Asharani Mathur (2004)
? Britanica.com (2008)
? The Kashmir shawl, John Irwin
? The Kashmir shawl and its Indo-French influence, Frank Ames