What is Pashmina?
The most cherished acquisition in the world. Kashmir Shawl is one of the most cherished acquisitions in the world. It is believed to be indigenous to Kashmir. Experts opine for it being as old as 3,000 years B.C the period which is attributed to Neolithic age. It adorned the Ceaser’s court and was looked upon by Mughals and later by Nawabs as a mark of novelty. Pashmina is the name of the finest handmade woolen fabric made from the soft, downy undercoat that grows primarily on the neck and belly of the Himalayan mountain goat, capra hiraccus. In the opinion of some oriental scholars the word pashmina is of either Turkish or Persian origin. Pashmina has a special luster due to its long fine fibers which are as thin as 12 microns, by contrast, the fibers from premium sheep’s wool such as Merino is 23 microns thick and human hair ranges up to 200 microns thickness. Thus pashmina is exceptionally light, soft and warm and feels luxurious.Shawls made in Kashmir have found mention in Afghan texts around 3rd century BC and the 11th century AD. The founder of the Pashmina industry is known to be the 15th century ruler of Kashmir, Zayn-ul-Abidin, who introduced weavers from Central Asia. there are also sources that claim that Pashmina was brought in by Ameer Kabir Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadan who arrived in Kashmir from Persia with about 700 craftsmen accompanying him.Hazrat Amir e Kabir Syed Mir Ali Hamdani is at the top of the list of those religious scholars and spiritual guides who spent their entire lives spreading the Message of Allah (swt) in the green valleys of Kashmir. He was not only sincere but also one of the most active propagators of Islam. He was a great crusader and a man of piety, purity, courage and determination. He did a lot to promote education in the valley and aimed at bringing local Kashmiris back to the righteous path. He brought about a manifest revolution in the world of Kashmiri culture, civilisation, society and religion. With his tireless efforts, Islam penetrated deep into the hearts of Kashmiris and gained firm ground.
Shah Hamdani’s life was not only limited to religious activities and spiritual exercise; he was a man of action and lived his life thus. He toured Muslim countries three times over and surveyed the individual Islamic mission of each place within their boundaries.
According to various sources it has been noted that he was born in Hamdan in 1313 C.E. His lineage derived from Hazrat Imam Zainul Abideen. His father was Syed Shahabuddin. Some sources relate that he was the leader of Hamdan and therefore had a close relationship with the nobility and elite of society. Shah Hamdani’s mother, Seyyida Fatima, was a very virtuous lady.
Syed Ali Hamdani not only belonged to a noble family, he was very intelligent and sagacious too. He showed signs of truth and guidance from early age. He began his education under the supervision of his maternal uncle, Hazrat Alauddaula Samnani, and took his initial lessons from him. It was under his guidance that he memorised the holy Quran in addition to learning other Islamic sciences. He received spiritual training, too.
At a later date he was entrusted to saint Shaikh Taqiuddin Abul Barkat Ali Dosti. He infused in Syed Ali Hamdani a deep sense of human divinity and human service in purity and sincerity. Since Syed Ali Hamdani was a son of a ruler, it was necessary to restrain any sense of arrogance so that it may not have overpowered him in any way. Factors such as wealth, luxuries, alongside comforts and pleasures of life can lead to many evils of life. These factors can only be controlled by putting oneself into disgrace. Hence his mentor entrusted him the job of collecting the shoes of visitors. A later duty involved sweeping the khanqah. All such duties were accepted gracefully and cheerfully.
Syed Ali Hamdani returned to Ali Dosti once again after six others. After the death of his spiritual guide and mentor, he began undertaking long journeys where he made calling people to Islam the mission of his life. These journeys were very hard and tedious and he suffered untold miseries and hardships in Allah’s path. He did all this with undaunted courage. He never compromised on principles nor bowed before any power of the day. His plain talking drew many opponents around him but did not care for opposition. Scholars and rulers opposed him alike but he still called a spade a spade. He remained unchanged throughout his life because he never developed any desire for wealth and comfort.
It has been said that once Taimur had called him for a meeting. He had heard that Syed Ali Hamdani never sat with his back towards the Kaaba. The sitting arrangement was deliberately contrived so that the Kaaba would be towards his back. Taimur said to him, “I have heard that you never sit with your back towards the Kaaba, but today you seem to be sitting against your normal discipline.”
Syed Ali Hamadani replied: “Certainly one who faces you turns the Kaaba down. I have heard that you are making efforts to build your empire. About the empire I have once seen in a dream that a lame dog came and took it away.”
He then added the axiom of Hazrat Ali: “The world is a dead corpse and the desirous are like dogs”.
Taimur became highly impressed with his fearlessness and requested that he stay with him. The Syed declined the request and remarked that he was appointed for Kashmir and his duty was to spread Islam there.
There he found no trace of Islam; the place was covered by idol-worship instead of mosques. Even the ruler of Kashmir had dreamt that the sun was appearing from the south. Interpreting the dream, a Buddhist monk had said that a saint from Mawara’un nahar would come and illuminate all by the light of Islam. Some sources say that the Syed arrived in Kashmir with a big band of seven-hundred men including his relatives. After illuminating the valley with the light of spiritual power, he breathed his last on January 14 in 1385.
Having arrived in Kashmir, Shah e Hamdan settled at Allauddinpura and set up a centre at the bank of river Jhelum. It was here that he lighted a can which kept the valley illuminated for a long period. People of all classes from various parts of the land would come to the centre to quench their spiritual thirst.
Although the Kashmiris knew something about Islam before the advent of Syed Ali Hamdani, but they were quite unaware of the creed of Tauheed (oneness of Allah). They knew nothing about the purity of faith and the spirit of Islam. Some of the Muslims used to go to the places of idol worship. The masses and the ruler of Kashmir had been keeping Hindu creeds. They bowed before idols and adorned Brahmins. Shah Hamdan raised the slogan of truth and taught the oneness of God with the sound of ‘Laillaha illallaha Muhammad-ur-Rasoolullah.’ He established a pure system of propagating Islam.
Shah Hamdan was also a great moralist. Moral values of Islam were very dear to him. His moral precepts are very valuable and need to be followed because they emerge out of his Islamic sense and practice. It is the lust of luxuries and worldly power that lead men to the valley of sins and crimes. Hence all the religious guides and saints have stressed detachments from the worldly life with its luxuries and comforts. Too much attachment with the worldly life leads to moral decadence and depravity.
Besides this, they also taught his disciples and men at large to renounce the worldly life and work more towards the next life which is eternal. They explained that this world is a prison for those on the spiritual path, where the feet of the delicate spirit is fettered and chained. But in spite of this confinement, the soul is free.Hazrat Amir-e-Kabir Syed Mir Ali Hamdani was also referred to as "Ali-un-Sani," which translates to "the second Hazrat Ali." This title signifies a high level of respect and honor, associating him with the esteemed Hazrat Ali, who holds a significant place in Islamic history as the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The title "Ali-un-Sani" reflects the recognition of Hazrat Mir Ali Hamdani's spiritual stature and the qualities reminiscent of Hazrat Ali.
How the hand-embroidered shawl was first developed?
In the 18th century, the rising demand for kani shawls led to an increase in design intricacy. Crafting an intricate kani shawl became a labor-intensive process, taking two weavers over three years and tying up significant capital for an extended period. Explore more about Kani Shawls.
To address this challenge, kani shawls were woven in panel designs, and skilled "rafugars" meticulously stitched these panels together, seamlessly concealing the seams. This innovation reduced the time required for intricate kani shawls from three years to 6-8 months, albeit increasing the number of looms and weavers.
Read about the most famous embroideries on Kashmiri Shawls.
The introduction of embroidered shawls marked a departure from twill tapestry replication, offering a more efficient alternative. Embroidered shawls, taking only a quarter of the time to complete compared to kani shawls with a similar body of work, were priced lower. Despite the lower cost, embroidered shawls boasted spectacular looks, leading to decreased taxation compared to their kani counterparts.
As elaborate designs in kani shawls raised their cost, the comparatively affordable embroidered shawls gained popularity. Originating in the 18th century, these embroidered shawls, known as "amlikar shawls," captured the market.
For the embroidery process, a traced design with perforated lines was imprinted onto the shawl using fine powder through the perforations. The visible outlines guided the embroiderer, with contemporary methods involving wooden blocks for tracing.
Embroidery reached its zenith in the mid-19th century with the development of a technique producing "do-runga" shawls, featuring two different colors on either side. This technique mimicked the kani weave on the wrong side, achieved by interlacing different-colored threads along the motif. While the making of do runga shawls endures, do runga embroideries with Cashmere yarn ceased in Kashmir after the mid-19th century and are not recognized in the region today.
What all types of motifs were used on the pashmina shawls?
Numerous intricate designs and patterns adorned Pashmina shawls, with the most popular ones outlined below:
- Buti: A small, singular flower design, sometimes featuring a root structure.
- Buta: A larger, multi-floral motif compared to buti.
- Buta-buti: An intermediary size between buta and buti, often incorporating double, triple, or quadruple flower heads, remaining smaller than a buta.
- Khat-rast: A striped pattern running along the length of the shawl, occasionally incorporating buti within the stripes.
- Badam/Ambi/Kairi (Paisley): A globally recognized motif dominating the majority of shawls.
- Lahariya: A zig-zag pattern typically used to depict water.
- Shikargah: Meaning "hunting," this motif portrays jungle scenes with numerous animal and human figures.
- Zanjeer: A horizontal border design enclosing main motifs like buta and paisley.
- Hashiya: A vertical border woven along the length of the shawl.
- Cypress: Characterized by a cluster of flowers and leaves emerging from a single stem, sometimes featuring a tilted head for a barely asymmetric motif.
- Bouquets: An elaborate cluster of flowers, often centered around a larger flower motif, lacking a root structure. The stem may emerge from a proportionately tiny vase or dish.
In embroidered shawls, similar patterns and designs are replicated. The flexibility provided by embroidery techniques allowed artisans to explore a wider range of motifs and designs, a freedom somewhat restricted by the traditional kani technique.
What all types of Pashmina shawls can we see from the previous era?
A significant number of shawls that have endured through centuries fall into four distinct categories: doshalas, patkas, rumals, and jamawars.
Doshalas (Shoulder Mantles): These shawls, also known as shoulder mantles, serve a unique purpose in traditional attire.
Patkas (Sashes): Recognized as sashes, patkas are longer and narrower than doshalas, showcasing distinct patterns.
Rumals (Square Shawls): Referred to as square shawls, rumals offer a classic square shape and styling.
Jamawars (All-Over Designed Garment Pieces): These shawls, also known as all-over designed garment pieces, boast intricate patterns throughout.
Despite differing dimensions, patkas and doshalas share similar patterns, with each featuring prominent pallas. The vertical border of patkas is typically 1.5 times broader than the horizontal borders. Pallas are characterized by decorative floral motifs repeated along the fabric's width, enclosed within two or more horizontal and vertical borders.From the late 17th to the late 18th century, the shawl body remained plain, with only the vertical border running along its length.However, as time progressed, designs evolved, filling the shawl body with intricate floral motifs and diverse patterns.In contrast, jamawar pieces and various shawl varieties lack pallas. Instead, they feature four-sided borders adorned with decorative patterns across the shawl's body. This distinction sets them apart from the doshalas and patkas in terms of design composition.
Were all the pashmina shawls displayed in the museums designed like that originally?
While some Pashmina shawls remain preserved in their original state, many of these exquisite and expensive garments have undergone wear and tear over time, prompting a practice of recycling.
The rafugars, skilled craftsmen specializing in Pashmina, salvaged usable parts from worn-out shawls. These salvaged components were ingeniously integrated into other shawls, resulting in entirely new and rejuvenated designs. The recycling process allowed for the preservation of the Pashmina's luxurious quality and the creation of unique patterns.
In instances where clients expressed dissatisfaction with specific design elements in newly crafted shawls, the rejected portions were skillfully removed. The rafugars seamlessly replaced these sections with alternative designs or patterns, giving rise to entirely fresh and captivating designs. This innovative technique not only contributed to the sustainability of Pashmina shawls but also fostered the emergence of numerous new patterns and shapes.
One noteworthy design born out of this recycling practice is the "chand-dar" or moon pattern. Characterized by a square piece of Pashmina featuring circular patches in the center and on the corners, the chand-dar pattern exemplifies the creativity and adaptability inherent in the art of Pashmina craftsmanship. Explore more about Pashmina and its intricate designs.
What kind of dyes are used to color pashminas?
From the 17th century to the mid-19th century, Pashmina shawls were dyed using organic dyestuffs, showcasing an impressive array of colors achieved through the skillful use of five to six different substances, producing a remarkable spectrum of 64 colors.
The organic dyestuffs employed included indigo, lac, kermes, logwood, safflower, and saffron, yielding shades of blue, red, dull red, and yellow, respectively. The extensive color palette was believed to result from adjusting the dye strengths and combining different dyes in varying ratios.
Modern analysis confirmed that all reds and pinks were derived from lac, while purple shades were obtained by combining lac with indigo in different proportions. The sole inorganic color, black, was achieved using ferrous sulfate, a chemical compound.
During the 17th century, dyers were highly secretive about their craft, guarding the various processes and techniques within family circles, passed down through generations. Their skills were awe-inspiring, enabling the creation of 64 colors through permutations and combinations of a limited number of substances.
However, in the latter half of the 19th century, the advent of aniline dyes marked a shift in dyeing practices. Some shawl manufacturers adopted these synthetic dyes, but they fell out of favor due to their inability to retain the softness and durability of Cashmere fiber. Foreign buyers, discerning the negative impact of harsh chemicals on the shawls, rejected products dyed with aniline dyes. This led to a resurgence in the appreciation of traditional organic dyeing techniques for Pashmina shawls. Explore more about the history and dyeing techniques of Pashmina.
Why does a shawl require wool from 3 goats?
The extraction of the highest-grade Pashmina fiber typically yields approximately 35% of the total wool weight. For instance, if a goat produces 100 grams of pashm wool, only 35 grams of it can be utilized for spinning the exceptionally fine-quality yarn.
The shorter fibers, constituting roughly 50% of the total weight of the original wool, are categorized as second quality. These shorter fibers are employed in spinning slightly coarser yarns, which are subsequently dyed and utilized in the creation of intricate patterns on the shawls. This meticulous utilization of different fiber qualities contributes to the diverse textures and patterns found in exquisite Pashmina shawls. Explore more about Pashmina fiber and its processing for crafting luxurious textiles.
What is pashmina way to process fibre?
The Changpa tribes of Ladakh, responsible for herding the Changthangi goat and harvesting raw Pashm, do not possess the necessary skills to process this delicate fiber and transform it into the expensive fabric we recognize today. This absence of expertise and the inability to refine raw Pashm have been a source of regret for the Changpa tribe.
The intricate transformation begins when Kashmiri weavers acquire the raw Pashm from intermediaries who act as the vital link between the Changpa tribe and the Kashmiri craftsmen. These skilled artisans take on the task of cleaning the raw and somewhat untidy Pashm fiber. Subsequently, they meticulously comb the fiber, categorizing it based on its fineness. The refined Pashm is then hand-spun, set up into warps, and carefully arranged on handlooms. The yarn undergoes a handwoven process, ultimately culminating in the creation of the beautifully luxurious Pashmina shawls that have gained global renown. This intricate craftsmanship showcases the collaboration between the Changpa tribe and Kashmiri weavers in producing these exquisite textiles. Explore more about the craftsmanship behind Pashmina shawls and the journey from raw material to the final product.