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Discuss the history of Kashmiri weaves and shawls

“The heaven on Earth”, a title which the top most state on the maps of India has been relishing for years now is endowed with a spectacle of natural beauty in all its magnificence.

The concept of shawls originated 700 years ago. Kashmir and its traditions are so rich and beautiful that it has garnered a special status in the world. Its glorious history is incomplete without its century old speciality product – Kashmiri Shawls. As we know, Kashmir is well known for its weaves and ancient craft and traditional artisans. The designs are classic and valuable because they are known to be handmade. The artisan and skilled weaver community of Kashmir and their novel craft is world renowned with many people having a passion for buying quality weaves of pure pashmina.

Silk and cotton thread is used for the original embroidery of a pashmina shawl. The artisan has to twist the raw silk until it fits the eye of the needle. The workmanship is so intricate and time consuming that some embroidered shawls take 2 to 4 years’ time to complete. This is the reason why these shawls are exclusive and quite expensive too!

The basic fabric of a Pashmina is of the three types – Shah Tush, Pashmina and Raffal. Shah Tush is the king of wool, the shawl can pass through a ring and is also known as Ring shawl. World over known as cashmere wool, it comes from a special goat (Capra hircus) living at an altitude of 12000 to 14000 feet reared by shepherd nomads around famous Pangong Lake in close vicinity of western Tibet. Raffal is a popular type of shawl made out of marino wool.

It was Zain-Ul-Ahadin in mid-14th century who introduced the art of weaving in the Kashmir valley. Be it the Kani shawls or the Amlikar needle work, even today the hand-woven textile products are a specialty of the many Kashmiri skilled weavers.
Mughal emperor Akbar admired the shawls of Kashmir and started the fashion of wearing them in duplicate, sewn back to back, so that the under surfaces of the shawls were never seen (Do-shalla). Shawls with gold and silver threads or shawls with border ornamented with fringes of gold, silver and silk thread were most desired during that time.
In the mid-1800s the Kashmiri shawls became popular among the European, mainly the French elite. During the late 18th century, when the industrial age appeared it bestowed a certain global acknowledgement to this ancient art-form.
The earliest records of tapestry designs in Kashmir go back as far as the seventh century. In the 16th century Mughal period, however the popularity of Kashmiri shawls was in boom in the country. Primarily worn by Kings and royal courtiers, the uniquely gifted work of many weavers found its ways beyond South Asia in this period.
The art and skill of these Kashmiri shawl weavers is not new. It has passed on through countless generations among the shawl makers who have become masters in this art. Initially it was the women who used to carry out every part of shawl-making process, from cleaning of raw fleece to the entire needle work. Weavers have passed on this amazing talent to their children and the art has survived through years mainly through safe-keeping by the new generation.
India being the leading producer of handloom textile, there are around thirty thousand rural workers working on the weave and embroidered Kashmiri shawls. Another forty thousand weavers produce hand-woven fabrics, and the total output is what makes Kashmir the leading producer. These shawls are liked by the tourists because of the vibrant colour, design and the variety of stitching.
The popularity as well as the importance of Kashmiri Shawls in the handicraft market of Jammu and Kashmir is very old. These shawls are delicate and soft yet very comfortable to use and has a great demand in the international market.
The Kashmiri history says a lot about its art and textile. The talented weavers who are able to produce such exquisite shawls for centuries but now are in a risk as the craft is dying out because of the cheap foreign imports and the coming generation are uninterested in learning the skill.
There is an artistic beauty of shawl-making. There is a combination of beauty and comfort which is offered. Kashmiri shawls are one of the most luxurious, attractive and appreciated shawls in the world. Explore Ahujasons’ magnificent collection online and learn more about the royal Pashmina shawls, wraps and stoles.

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