'Kashmir, Kaschmir, Cashmere, Qashmir, Cashmir, Cashmire, Kashmere, Cachemire, Cushmeer, Cachmiere,
Casmir, Or Cauchemar in a sea of stories? Or: Kacmir, Kaschemir, Kasmere, Kachmire, Kasmir. Kerseymere?’
- Agha Shahid Ali
Border, Handloomed Kani Shawl, 18th century
The tradition of the Kashmir Scarf is one of the premier textile traditions of the Indian sub-continent. Traditionally known as the shawl, derived from the Indo-Persian word ‘shal', meaning a fine woven woolen fabric used as a drape. Historical research indicates that this textile tradition existed as far as 3000 years back. Many foreign travelers to the Indian subcontinent wrote about the Kashmir shawl tradition including the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang who visited India from 596 to 664 A.D, followed by Ibn-i-Batuta from Arabia and the Italian Pietro Della Valle several centuries later.
References to the Kashmir shawl are made in Vedic texts, epics, Buddhist, Jain and other religious traditions that existed in this part of the world. However, the art of scarf making reached its height under the royal patronage of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin (1420-70) when workshops of artisans benefited from the rulers personal interest in this art. Famously gifted by Napoleon to Josephine, a Kashmir scarf is still considered the best in luxury.
Border, Handloomed Kani Shawl, 19th century
Despite the tremendous depth of the shawl tradition of Kashmir, historians also note its dark sociopolitical past. Under Maharaja rule, virtually all of Kashmir served as a workshop for creating luxuries including shawls to be presented at the British Durbar. However, artisans themselves lived in penury and were taken for bonded labor, a practice known as begaar. In 1865, the historic shawl weavers or shawlbaf protest took place, in one of the first movements for political and economic justice in the Indian sub-continent. 28 artisans lost their lives while protesting against the harsh Dag-Shawl Tax imposed by the Directorate of Shawl on the production of the craft under Maharaja Gulab Singh's rule
To read about how Crafted in Kashmir approaches the art of scarf making in a contemporary Kashmir please see Our Motifs .