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Pashmina Shawl: Testimony of the Travelers

April 14th, 2021 | 220 views
Pashmina Shawl: Testimony of the Travelers

While the grand display of draperies was common in the Mughal courts, it was the travelers who gave it the current status. The making of Pashmina Shawl flourished under the patronage of the nobility. However, its reputation abroad too substantiated its importance all over India and the globe.

Sometime around 596-664 AD, the famous traveler Hiuen Tsang visited India. During this expedition, he wrote extensively on Indian costumes, mostly on the ones produced with goat hair. He spoke so richly of the shawl that the word spread like wildfire and gained momentum thereafter. Subsequently, during the fourteenth century, Ibn Batuta made his way to India from Arabia. For him, the Kashmir shawl served as a symbol of gift exchange. Especially between Emperor Shun of the Yuan dynasty and Mohammad Bin Tughlaq, the then Sultanate of Delhi. The Chinese ruler had sent across some expensive and embellished garments. But the Indian ruler sent cotton garments and a costume made of fine goat fleece. This sparked interest among others who came all the way to India in search of this ‘diamond fibre’.

A 1605 painting of Ibn Batuta
A 1605 painting of Ibn Battuta

The coveted gift

The next important visitor was Francois Bernier, who was also Aurangzeb’s physician. He came to Kashmir sometime in 1655 and wrote a detailed account of how shawl manufacturing is done here. He spoke of two types of wool. Firstly the one procured from Tibetan goats and secondly from goats in Kashmir. Bernier also added about the presence of over a thousand looms that produce fine, soft shawls that are Kashmir’s prized possession. The mass production of shawls was prevalent, but it also indicated its popularity. In fact, it is believed that the Mughals were so much in awe of it that they formed the khi’lat, the robe of honour, which was then gifted to the ambassadors or royal people.

Love of Pashmina Shawls: From the Mughals to other nobility

During a royal ceremony in 1831, a young man was gifted at least four or five dresses of honour, which were these robes. Obviously, he was so enamored by its beauty and sheer opulence that the news of the quality of this piece spread all across. Apart from Kashmir, there were also other centres, including Patna, Agra, and Lahore. But Kashmir was also considered the hub, especially for its fine quality of Pashmina shawls.

Also read: The early history and literature of the Kashmiri Shawl

Forster's Love for Pashmina Shawls

In 1783, a French traveler, Forster came to India. He had the view that the wool came from Tibet and it was always woven with rich patterns. The floral shawl was undoubtedly way steeper than the regular ones. He considered it an important export item, so much so that he spoke in detail about its packaging and how it felt like. Following this, towards the end of the 18th century, Kashmir shawls were made in sizes such as long, narrow, and square. Square shawls were more popular in the Indian market. Long and narrow shawls were mainly worn in the Northern Asiatic market.

Tales by Moorcroft

Moorcroft, one of the most popular travelers, came to India in the early 19th century and spoke in detail about the shawl, both in Kashmir and Amritsar. He also observed that the red shawl yarn found in Amritsar came from Kashmir and he was mighty impressed. However, Moorcroft was a little disappointed, since its export was banned to discourage the foreign manufacture of shawls. Moorcroft gives a full account of cleaning, spinning, dyeing, weaving as well as the techniques used. It should be noted that he well understood the labour that went into creating a single piece of Pashmina shawl.

William Moorcroft's plauqe in Shalimar Gardens, Lahore, where Moorcorft stayed in May 1820 - Kashmir shawl and the paisley
William Moorcroft's plauqe in Shalimar Gardens, Lahore, where Moorcorft stayed in May 1820

Around the same time, even nobility from England and France visited the court of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh and appreciated the Kashmir shawl. At this time, a British visitor who was invited to the court said, “The floor was covered with rich shawl carpets and a gorgeous shawl canopy, embroidered with gold and precious stones and supported on golden pillars, covered three parts of the hall.”

In awe of the Pashmina

Madam Emily
Madam Emily, sister of Governor-General Lord Auckland

Sir Henry Fane, who was the British Commander-in-Chief, was completely besotted with the dresses and jewels found in one of the camps he stayed at in Kashmir. The camp was so well-furnished and had shawls all around. Madam Emily, sister of Governor-General Lord Auckland, wrote beautifully of the court, “It reduces European magnificence to a very low pitch.”

Later, when Kashmir was handed over to Gulab Singh of Jammu in 1846, embroidery flourished at this point. Woven and embroidered shawls were in particular doing the rounds and being marketed for both the European and the far-East market. As a result, the English and French weavers started to imitate these designs.

The Value of Antiquity

It becomes important to understand the glorious history of the Kashmir shawl through archaeological and literary evidence. It was since those days a highly-valued item. The rulers and travelers who spoke richly of this shawl have largely contributed to the development of shawl making as well.

Till today, it whispers secrets of its antiquity that the world is fascinated with! 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 realizing it.

Also read: Kashmiri Shawls - All you need to know

We, Pashmina.com, are the largest curators of pure and handcrafted Pashmina products in the online space. We 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 150 countries.

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