The Kashmiri shawls has been famed since time immemorial, owing to its quality as well as design sensibilities. The picturesque vales of this region have produced some of the most stunning masterpieces in the form of richly embroidered shawls that are known the world over. It may come as a surprise though that there is not much documentation of the shawl in the early 18th century, especially around foreign trade. Abul Fazal in his Ain-i-Akbari writes,
“many kinds of Pashmina are beautifully produced, especially the shawl that is exported as a rare and luxury trade item to many countries.”
He added, “Under the sway of his Imperial Majesty … is the secure and happy abode of many nationalities, including natives of Iran and Turkestan as well as Kashmir.” If we analyse the two statements, it comes across that some if not everyone from Iran and Turkestan were in Kashmir in the 1580s, primarily to commission and buy shawls. Besides, later in the 1630s, Portuguese missionary and traveller, Manrique, wrote,
“Great trade is done in Cassimir and Laor with the kingdoms of Kandahar, Corazane and Iran,”
and 30 years later, Bernier asserts the same thing that the shawl industry “particularly promotes the trade of the country and fills it with wealth.”
These texts do suggest that in the 18th century, the Kashmiris were involved in mercantile activity, just like Armenians and Jews. In the 1720s, there were Kashmiri colonies in Tibet and also in Kathmandu in Nepal. It all drives home the point that Kashmir shawls are a part and parcel of their enterprising nature.
Previously, caravans spearheaded by horses and camels made their way through the dusty terrains to reach Bokhara, Meshed, Isfahan, Baghdad and Allepo, finally entering Istanbul. At this stage, the quantities were limited and the trade sporadic. It was sometime in the mid-18th century, when there are evidences to show. A French adventurer who went by the name of Count de Modave and spent several years between 1757 and 1777 seems to have been India at that time, but could not visit Kashmir, though he was really taken up by the beauty of the Kashmir shawls being sold at Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. The finest shawl was available somewhere between Rs 150 and Rs 200 and were unmatched in luxury and finesse. He added that the most expensive Kashmir shawls were made for Turkey and Arabia.
Checkout the Kani pashmina shawl price.
The prices mentioned by Modave are later validated by George Foster, who visited Kashmir from 1782-83. He said, “Ordinary shawls in Kashmir came for Rs 8, while the better ones for Rs 40 and the finest ones a little over Rs 100.” With the rising demand for Kashmir shawls in Europe, the trend continued. According to a Kashmiri merchant in Bokhara in 1820-21, a total manufacture of 100,000 pieces were produced, out of which 80,000 were exported, 60,000 to India. The remaining were exported by way of Kabul and of these 5,000 might have remained in Afghanistan, 12,000 went to Iran and 2,000 to Russia. The total value of shawls sold in Kashmir, according to Moorcroft, was nearly Rs 35 lakh.
In the first quarter of the 19th century, the trade was dominated by Iranian and Central Asian merchants, and hardly from Kashmir, as Moorcroft puts it. In 1831, a French botanist and geologist, Jacquemont, who was known for his travels, asserted, “ most of the shawls manufactured in Kashmir are purchased by a very small number of rich and respectable Iranian merchants.” The visiting merchants spent months in Kashmir, since they had to wait for long periods to get their commissioned goods. According to an observer in the 19th century, since the return journey from Kashmir to Iran was arduous, and there was much time spent on negotiating and commissioning their purchase, it took as long as three years for these shawl dealers to get a return on investment. The merchants commissioned “Shawl goods differing as to quality and pattern in conformity to the taste of the markets for which they are intended in a degree probably not suspected by the shawl manufacturers in Europe.”
Just like the Banarasi brocades and fine muslin that were exported, Kashmir pashmina shawl goods were purchased only by the elites. The square rumal was designed especially for women and womenfolk from Iran to Egypt folded it in a diagonal manner round their waist or shoulders or sometimes, draped it as a veil over their heads.” Jamawar was also made into women’s clothes in winter.
In Asia, unlike Europe, the shawl was worn by men as much as women. In India, specifically, it was worn as a shoulder mantle, while in other countries, the nobility wore it as a turban. Apart from its functional use as apparel, shawls were always given as religious offerings as well as tomb covers. When the shrine at Karbala was plundered, the losses included 4,000 pieces of Kashmir shawl. The shawls were also a part of court ceremonies, especially on Navroz, the Iranian New Year.
In Russia, shawls were popular as early as 1795, when artist Elisabeth Viglee Le Brun decorated her house with cashmere shawls, of which there was no shortage in St. Petersburg. Russia was considered a crucial market for shawls of expensive variety. The transit duty in Russia was calculated on the number of shawls, not on their value.
In today’s contemporary world, the Kashmir shawls are reputed for their timeless nature and the classiness they possess. With a rich tradition that spans centuries, this fascinating textile art has captured the minds and hearts of people across the world, who have an interest in art and antiquity. While its value may be high, it is also lost in the market of imitation shawls that are doing the rounds everywhere. Due to lack of knowledge and sometimes the affordability aspect, many buyers get sucked into this trap without realising. We, Pashmina.com, are the largest curators of pure and handcrafted Pashmina products in the online space and are on a mission to revive this dying art by spreading our wings throughout the world by way of our online platform. Our website serves as a window to our range of products that are luxurious and have the highest quality. We offer the widest range, certified quality, luxurious packaging and free shipping to over 250 countries.