Kashmir Pashmina or ‘Cashmere wool’ is one of the finest most exquisite fabrics across the world. It has been derived from the Persian word ‘Pashm’ meaning ‘wool’. The art of Pashmina weaving is old and passed down as a legacy. It was introduced in Kashmir by a Sufi Saint, Mir Syed Ali Hamdani in the 13th century A.D.
In fabric and opulence, the World Trade Organization has accredited pashmina with the Geographical Indication Stamp. This aesthetically crafted fabric has captivated the world’s attention since time immemorial. It is a fabric handwoven from the under fleece of the exotic Himalayan mountain goat, Capra Hircus, found in Changthang extending from western and northern Tibet till southeastern Ladakh.
The pastoralists, known as ‘Changpas’, rear the herd on high plains. They collect the fleece of these goats known as ‘Pashm’ by combing them in late spring before they start to molt. It is sent to Leh by Ladakhi traders during summers. The raw Pashm is then distributed to a variety of merchants and brokers in Kashmir. Followed by cleaning and spinning of the Pashm. This is one of the most difficult processes as the coarse hair has to be separated from the Pashm, which is indeed a laborious job. It is mostly done by the women spinners and cleaners. The Pashm is then hand-spun and transformed into yarn with great care. This takes a lot of time. Different products of Pashmina require different amounts of time like a 2-meter long plain shawl takes a minimum of 3 days to weave. This is followed by the process of dyeing; There is a vast community of dyers locally known as ‘Rangrez’, who dye this Pashmina into different colors and shades. In the olden days, vegetable dyes were used but now chemical dyes are being used.
There are three communities involved in the other steps. The Naqqash- who embellishes it with beautiful embroidery, the Taragur who does the coloring, and the Talim gur, who writes the designs in the form of a code for the weavers. Finally, this is woven into a fabric of sheer finesse. After this, it is washed and sent to the required stores and places.
The products made from Pashmina are often gifted to excellencies and foreign dignitaries. Shawls made from Pashmina are considered to be exotic. Pashmina evolved in the 13th century and was used by the Mughals and Persians in the 16th century. It reached Britain in the 18th century and after that it reached France, where it was worn by Queen Victoria and Empress Joséphine, leaving the whole world intrigued. Pashmina had set global fashion on fire back in the 90s with its poise.
The curation of Pashmina must not be looked at through the lens of mere handloom but rather an art form. We are constantly moving towards a mechanized world where artisans are being replaced by machines for mass production and profit maximization. In such a scenario there is a dire need for business models that reward the artisans without having to compromise their artistic integrity. With each passing day, the world looms closer to the brink of transformation. That being said we must acknowledge their radical contribution to shaping the exclusivity of Kashmiri culture as well as its religious syncretism.
By Qunain, 11th