Volume 60 Numbers 3 and 4, March 2009
Pashmina: The Kashmir Shawl and Beyond (Second Edition, Revised 2017)
|Specifications:||336 pages, 220 illustrations|
|Dimensions:||305 x 241 mm|
The classic Kashmir shawl is among the most exquisite textiles ever woven, the product of consummate skill and artistry applied to one of the world’s most delicate fibres. This authoritative study introduces the Kashmir shawl as a cultural artefact with a known history spanning four centuries. Lavishly illustrated and accessibly written, this book has much to offer textile scholars, and those interested in the history of Kashmir.
Combining first-rate scholarship with a firm grasp of the practical aspects of shawl manufacture…this addition to the corpus of Kashmir shawl books deserves to become the standard text — Steven Cohen in Hali, about the first edition.
This updated edition documents a decade’s developments in the pashmina and cashmere industries. An important new feature is a chart tabulating the evolution of shawl design according to period.
Janet Rizvi, freelance writer and researcher, was brought up in Scotland and graduated with a Ph.D. in history from Cambridge. Married to an Indian Government officer, she spent many years in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Her book Ladakh, Crossroads of High Asia (3rd edn. 2012) has been continuously in print for nearly 35 years. She is also author of the highly praised Trans-Himalayan Caravans: Merchant Princes and Peasant Traders in Ladakh (1999). As well as writing the chapter “Woven Textiles” in The Crafts of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh (1989), she has contributed articles on the Kashmir shawl to several authoritative reference works.
Monisha Ahmed is an independent researcher who has been visiting and writing about Ladakh since 1987. Many of those years have been spent among the nomadic herdspeople of Changthang, researching their life with special reference to their textiles and trade in pashmina. Her doctoral research for Oxford developed into the book Living Fabric – Weaving Among the Nomads of Ladakh Himalaya (2002), and received the Textile Society of America’s R.L. Shep award in 2003. Since then she has co-edited Ladakh: Culture at the Crossroads (Marg, 2005) and published articles on textile arts of Ladakh, as well as other parts of the Himalayan world. She has also written on textiles in other areas of India for The Arts and Interiors of Rashtrapati Bhavan – Lutyens and Beyond (2016) and the catalogue Woven Treasures – Textiles from the Jasleen Dhamija Collection (2016). Formerly Associate Editor of Marg, she is co-founder and Executive Director of the Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation (LAMO), Leh.
Preface and Acknowledgements
Introduction “A Felicitous Conjunction”
Part 1 THE FIBRE
Chapter 1 Pashm and Other Animal Fibres
Toosh and the Tibetan Antelope
Chapter 2 Changra and Changpa: The Goats and Their Herders
Chapter 3 From Changthang to Srinagar: The Pashm Trade
The Trade in History
The Contemporary Trade
Part 2 THE TEXTILE
Chapter 4 Spinners, Weavers, and Needleworkers
Assembled and Recycled Shawls
Chapter 5 Design and Designers
Part 3 THE HISTORY
Chapter 6 Early History: Conjecture and Speculation
Chapter 7 The Mughal Period
Chapter 8 The Iran Connection: The Termeh
Chapter 9 The Business in the 19th Century
Shawls in the Punjab
Part 4 BY LAND AND SEA
Chapter 10 The Kashmir Shawl in India
Chapter 11 The Kashmir Shawl in Iran, West Asia, and Russia
Chapter 12 Shawls in the West
Part 5 CASHMERE AND KASHMIR
Chapter 13 Beyond the Shawl: Pashmina Becomes Cashmere
The West Discovers the Fibre
Cashmere: A Global Product
Never out of Fashion: Cashmere Worldwide
Chapter 14 Meanwhile, Back in the Valley
Appendix I Update 2008–2017
Appendix II Myths, Misconceptions, and Oddities
Appendix III Terminology and Glossary
Appendix IV Styles, Designs and Dates
Notes and References
It was because pashmina first reached the West as the raw material of the Kashmir shawl that, appropriated by the modern textile industry, fine goat-fleece has become known worldwide as "cashmere". Similarly, "shawl" lost its earlier meaning of twill-woven pashmina fabric, and became restricted to the shoulder-mantle in vogue in the West. Kashmir's rich literary and artistic culture, documented for two millennia, suggests that the technique of the pashmina shawl, one of the most exquisite textiles ever woven, may well have been an indigenous achievement. The shawl industry, and the trade in shawls, together constituted an economic enterprise of enormous complexity, centred on Srinagar, but stretching from Tibet, where the pashm was sourced, to the élite circles of India, Iran, West Asia, Europe, and America, where the shawl was valued for its beauty and delicacy. In the latter part of the 19th century, such was the dependence of the industry on Western demand that the collapse of the latter in the 1880s led to a drastic decline. Happily, the industry survived, and the last decade of the 20th century saw a revival of almost extinct skills.
Many animals living in climates of severe cold grow undercoats of soft warm down in winter. Humans can harvest this superfine down in summer when the animal has no further use for it. Pashm, the down of the changra, or Tibetan goat, is the raw material of the Kashmir shawl; and today "cashmere", the fleece from any breed of goat, is used worldwide for luxury textiles. Quality varies, but for premium fabrics, cashmere fibres are no more than 16 microns in diameter for knitwear, and 18-19 microns for woven materials. Staple length is not less than 3.5 cm; and white is preferred. The finest fibre ever woven, the material of the most recherch' shawls, was toosh, the pashm of the Tibetan antelope, obtained only by killing the animal. Skyrocketing demand for toosh shawls in the latter half of the 20th century, from the West as well as India, led to an explosion in production, and the near-extinction of the species. Today, it is afforded the highest degree of protection in India and internationally; it is illegal to make or possess a toosh shawl, and the animal's numbers are believed to be recovering.
The changra, the goats which have for centuries supplied the Kashmir shawl industry, are reared on the high-altitude pastures of western Tibet and southeastern Ladakh by nomadic herdspeople known as Changpa, who also keep sheep and yak. The Changpa are Buddhists, and their livestock are intrinsically sacred to them, a few animals being specially consecrated. For many reasons, over the last 50 years the numbers of livestock per family of the Ladakhi Changpa has fallen; at the same time growing demand for pashm has led to an increase in the number of goats compared to sheep.
The Changpa move from one campsite to another in a fixed rotation according to the availability of grass and water. Kids are born in early spring, and the goats’ pashm is harvested, by combing it out, between June and August. Each animal gives about 200 to 400 gm of pashm, the males having a higher yield than the females. Some Changpa families have taken up a sedentary life in Leh, but enough remain in the pastures to ensure the supply of pashm to the Kashmir shawl industry for the foreseeable future.
The movement of pashm from the high-altitude pastures of western Tibet and Ladakh to Srinagar has been documented since the 17th century; the Treaty of Tingmosgang gave Kashmir the monopoly of the entire production. It was to lay hands on this lucrative trade that the Dogra Raja Gulab Singh undertook the conquest of Ladakh in 1834, leading to its eventual incorporation into the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Some pashm was also imported from Central Asia. In the 20th century peasant traders from lower Ladakh travelled deep into western Tibet to barter foodgrains against pashm, which they resold in Leh to Kashmiri merchants. Since the Indo-Tibet border closed after the war of 1962, Kashmir has had to rely on pashm produced in Ladakh. The state government abandoned all attempts to regulate the trade in the 1980s, and today the controlling body is the All Changthang Pashmina Growers Cooperative Marketing Society. Individual traders deal with middlemen from Leh within the framework of prices set by the Cooperative. Prices have risen exponentially from about Rs 30/kg in 1962 to Rs 1200-1500/kg in 2008.
To transform pashm into a fabric of gossamer fineness, and with patterns as delicate as the flowers they evoke, takes all the artistry and skill of Kashmir’s spinners, dyers, designers, weavers, and embroiderers, together with a host of ancillary workers.The basic processes of manufacturing shawls have changed little since they were documented by William Moorcroft in 1823 but the techniques that have evolved and the canons of design have combined to make the Kashmir shawl a unique product.The vital role of the rafugar is discussed in the context of the recycling of shawls.
Although design is one of the main criteria for estimating a shawl's date of manufacture, individual motifs could persist for decades or even centuries, often making accurate dating impossible. A few extant shawls and fragments whose designs are far from the mainstream are probably early, but impossible to date with precision. The principal design elements are the buta, or composite floral motif, the smaller buti, and the border. The buta, originating from the Mughal-style single semi-naturalistic flower, was quintessentially a pallav-ornament. During the 18th century it evolved into different types of variegated bouquet, a constant defining characteristic being its asymmetry, till by about 1820 it had become the classic multifloral tip-tilted buta, itself the basis for further development. Jamawar was woven in all-over patterns; and the majority of surviving square shawls are in the chand-dar format, with a central "moon", and quarter-moons in the corners. Long shawls and waist-sashes shared the same format of an initially unpatterned centre field, with long borders down the sides, and a patterned pallav at each end. After about 1830, designs became more complex and less formal, the buta often running wild; at the same time more and more of the shawl's area was patterned, eventually leaving only a vestigial centre field. Towards the end of the 19th century a new style arose, prettier and more rococo, associated with the dorukha technique.
Fragments of pashmina cloth have been recovered from archaeological sites in Egypt and Syria. They were probably woven in Syria or Iran, but the origin of the raw material is unknown. Apparent references to pashmina material occur in Sanskrit, Farsi, and Arabic texts from the ancient and medieval periods, but none which points to Kashmir as their source; nor does there seem to be any unambiguous reference to a textile industry in Kashmir's own medieval literature. Kashmir first figures as the source of export-quality textiles in stock-lists in Gujarat in the 14th and 15th centuries, and the earliest known juxtaposition of the words "Kashmir" and "shawl" seems to occur in Delhi around 1320. Local tradition associates the origin of the industry with the great king Zain-ul-Abidin (r. 1420-69), who may or may not have imported craftsmen from Central Asia to introduce new techniques. Fragments presumed to be from the 17th century have a sophistication that must indicate a mature industry, perhaps of some centuries' standing.
The emperor Akbar had a great liking for Kashmir shawl material, and the Ain-i-Akbari devotes a whole chapter to it, as both shoulder-mantle and jamawar. It may have been after Akbar's conquest of Kashmir in 1586 that the Kashmir shawl came to be part of the khilat, the ceremonial presentation from a ruler to anyone he wanted to favour. Several such references also occur in the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. The pictorial record shows shoulder-mantles in wear from the early 17th century, both in north India and in the courts of the Deccan, especially Bijapur. Apart from some plain khudrang pieces, however, it is not till the latter part of ther 17th century that Mughal and Deccani paintings show shoulder-mantles that bear an unambiguous resemblance to actual extant shawls.
The only other textile with any resemblance to the Kashmir shawl is the termeh of Iran, woven in the Kirman province from locally sourced materials, either fine sheep's wool or goat-fleece with a slightly higher micron-count than that from the changra. The designs were similar to those of Kashmir, but much less varied, making considerable use of the buta. Little research seems to have been done on the termeh, or its relationship with the Kashmir shawl; and documentation of the termeh industry is scanty. Iran was an important export destination for the Kashmir shawl, perhaps as early as the 1540s, and in the 18th and 19th centuries, despite attempts to restrict its use, it was favoured by Iranian élites over the local product. They used it not as shoulder-mantles, but as jamawar, to be made up into garments and as waist-sashes, while women wore it as garments, including trousers, sashes, and veils.
The complexity of the manufacturing process of the shawl was mirrored by a correspondingly intricate commercial set-up, first documented in 1823. The raw pashm, imported by dealers known as Tibet Baqal, was sold to wholesalers, who resold it in small lots to the spinning-women. These in turn sold the yarn to yet another middleman, who finally disposed of it to the ustad or karkhanadar, head of the weaving establishment. His project might be bankrolled by a wafurosh or financier; and major transactions were facilitated by the mokim, or broker. All these, as well as the designers, dyers, rafugars, and other ancillary workers, were self-employed, as were the weavers of plain pashmina; but the kani weavers were employed at miserable wages. The state taxed the industry via an agency called the Daghshal; the Daghshal's exactions grew progressively more onerous, which was one reason why the karkhanadars kept their weavers in a state of semi-serfdom. Around 1885, when demand from the West declined, the Daghshal was abolished, but it was too late. Kani production went into apparently terminal decline, and the industry was kept alive by the production of embroidered shawls. Meanwhile some weavers emigrated to the Punjab, where Kashmir-style shawls were produced till nearly the end of the 19th century.
The Mughal ceremonial style, of which the Kashmir shawl was an important element, survived the decline of the Mughal empire in the 18th century. It was adopted by the darbars of the successor states as part of their claim to legitimacy; indeed such was the demand from the the Maratha and other courts, that shawls remained one of the most important trade items in north India till about 1820. The trade-routes varied from period to period according to political conditions. For much of the 18th century Banaras was the principal centre for the trade; later it was overtaken by Amritsar. Ranjit Singh added Kashmir to his empire in 1819, and took a large part of the province's revenue in shawls. Visitors to his court in Lahore were amazed by the profusion of shawls as tents, hangings, horse-cloths, and bedding as well as apparel. By the middle of the 19th century, political and social changes associated with British rule had rendered the shawl's ceremonial function obsolete, and to a large extent it retreated into the zenana, to emerge in public again in the 20th century.
Although shawls were exported from Kashmir to Iran and the Ottoman Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries, it is not till the late 18th century that the trade starts to be documented. Merchants from those areas and Central Asia residing in Srinagar commissioned shawls according to the nature of the demand in their own markets. Some shawls were carried by the overland caravan routes via Kabul, Bokhara, Herat and Kandahar; but the bulk of the export was by sea, and the trade was in the hands of first the banias of Gujarat, and later the Marwaris. In Russia, where they were available at least from the 1790s, as elsewhere in Europe, shawls were an accessory to women's wear. In Iran and the Ottoman empire they were worn by women as sashes, veils and garments, including trousers; and by men as garments and sashes. By the mid-19th century, creeping westernization, together with competition from the British industry in "imitation" shawls, had largely killed demand in West Asia, though there was a trickle of export to Iran till the early 20th century.
The fashion for Kashmir shawls caught on in Britain from the 1770s, and from about 1800 in France, where it was encouraged by the patronage of Empress Josephine. The Kashmir product was affordable only by the super-rich, and entrepreneurs in both France and Great Britain developed techniques of manufacturing imitations in inferior materials. The French industrialist Guillaume Ternaux may have been the first to produce shawls on a mass scale, even before the Jacquard loom was applied to shawl-weaving. The Jacquard technique revolutionized the industry, and Paisley in Scotland emerged as the main centre for mass-produced shawls till the fashion ended around the 1880s; at the same time in France a few manufacturers using Jacquard looms produced superfine-quality pashmina shawls for the high end of the market. The Europeans developed a taste for the sweeping designs that were characteristic of the Jacquard product; and French importers of Kashmir shawls demanded that Jacquard-style designs be reproduced in kani work, for which they were entirely unsuited. Meanwhile, the buta became the hallmark of the European industry, and identified in the English-speaking world as the paisley.
By the mid-19th century, the European textile industry, having discovered pashmina via the Kashmir shawl, was experimenting with it as "cashmere" - sourced from different breeds of goat, not necessarily the changra - for items other than shawls, and had even developed mechanical means of cleaning and dehairing the fibre. Used for knitwear from about 1870, cashmere entered the realm of high fashion from the 1920s; but it was not till after World War II that increasing Western demand provoked an explosion in production, especially in China. Today, China accounts for approximately 75% of the raw cashmere produced worldwide every year. It also imports from Mongolia and Central Asia. It exports yarn, but also has a huge knitwear industry, practising economies of scale that enable it to produce sweaters for a fraction of the cost of those made in the West, thus affecting Scotland and Italy, producers of the highest-quality cashmere knitwear. Nepal's invention of the "pashmina", a stole in pashmina-silk blend, reintroduced the concept of the unstitched wrap into Western fashion, but has been so widely imitated in inferior materials that the word "pashmina" has become meaningless. In India, some designers make innovative use of the material, but on the whole India remains faithful to the pashmina shawl.
For most of the 20th century, the Kashmir shawl industry concentrated almost exclusively on embroidered shawls. Following India's economic reforms of the 1990s, however, some spirited weavers, among whom the skill of kani work had been kept alive, investigated the possibility of a market for kani shawls, finding it among north India's super-affluent business class. This has led to a remarkable revival of a product previously believed to be dead and buried. Apart from the fact that much of the cleaning and dehairing of the fibre is now done mechanically, the basic manufacturing process hasn't changed, though the organization is somewhat streamlined. Nevertheless, kani remains only a small proportion of the production in Kashmir, compared to embroidered shawls. Design in both segments uses a largely traditional idiom, but is evolving in response to demands of the market. Most of the product sells in India, but it has a small customer-base overseas. The scale of demand in India seems to guarantee the future of the industry.
This section documents a decade’s developments in the pashmina and cashmere industries.
The Kashmir shawl contributed to 19th-century orientalist discourse, which attributed to it properties and a history that bore no relation to the truth. 20th-century shawl scholars have tended to rely uncritically on 19th-century accounts by casual observers, and this has resulted in the perpetuation of a number of myths, recycled in several supposedly authoritative texts. Some of these relate to the origin of the industry and its supposed extreme antiquity; others to the nature of the raw material, said to be shed naturally by a variety of animals, and harvested by the local people from rocks and bushes. The third category of myth relates to the origin of the buta; fanciful theories are legion, the most pervasive being that it derives from the Tree of Life motif prevalent in ancient Babylon.
There is no universally accepted terminology among shawl scholars.The author explains the reasons for her personal preferences. The Glossary includes words from Farsi, French, Hindi, Kashmiri, Tibetan and Urdu.
This section includes a chart tabulating the evolution of shawl design according to period.