Mohammed Yaseen Bhat
Pashmina hasn't just been a source of income for the locals here in Kashmir. People consider it a religious activity and consider keeping this craft alive as a huge responsibility for the same reason. That is because Pashmina was introduced in the valley by a Sufi saint who came as a traveler from Persia. He spread the religion of Islam in the society and soon had thousands of devotees. Along with religion, the Saint trained locals in several crafts with the help of 700 craftsmen he had gotten along with him. Locals loved and revered him so much that even now, there are shrines made on his name with thousands visiting them every week. One of the crafts that the saint trained locals in was Pashmina making and its embroidery. And since then, the makers of Pashmina consider this craft as a part of the religion and want to keep it alive for as long as they can. One such craftsman, who is a master of Pashmina weaving is Mohammed Yaseen Bhat who has been associated with Pashmina weaving from the past 25 years. His work is no less than religion for him. His close associates say that Yaseen sometimes gets so overindulged with weaving that he forgets lunch and tea time breaks. And it has been so ever since he started working. "I started my day with Pashmina and ended with it. When I first started weaving shawls over a hand loom, I would sometimes wake in the middle of the night and weave a small portion, just because it was on my mind even when I slept, says Yaseen. "We have seen beautiful times together. Me and my father, and my uncle, all used to sit in one small room and weave shawls while a radio over a shelf would play folk Kashmiri music. But today we can do nothing but rue the demise of this connection we had with our past". With the advent of power looms, artisans who worked on hand looms were left ignored. Since power looms could produce more than hand looms, the high demand from the west could be catered easily by their owners. Hence hand artisans suffered as far as livelihoods were concerned. They suffered and with them this 600 year old industry suffered too to an almost declining stage. "We have woven Pashmina for more than 20 years now, with a religious devotion. It didn't pay us a fortune, but we considered it a part of our lives, a part of our religion. But this generation do have such inclination towards the craft, like we had. Hence it is leading towards decline and this fact kills us inside", says a rather hopeless Yaseen.
Yaseen and Pashmina.com
First a ban on shahtoos, then the introduction of power looms and then middlemen in the Pashmina supply chain who leave meager Rs 100 a month of them, Pashmina artisans' ordeal was a never ending one. Until our team visited them one by one in the valley and made them understand our working model. The artisans are happy to know about how ethically and honestly we work with them and us a s the last ray of hope that can bring the lost glory of handmade Pashmina back.