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Kashmiri shawl , also spelled Cashmere shawl , type of woollen shawl woven in Kashmir. The shawl, or shoulder mantle, has been in existence in India in a variety of forms since ancient times, serving the rich and poor as a protective warm garment against the biting cold.
The basic fabric from which the Kashmiri shawls are made is of the three types - Shah Tush, Pashmina and Raffal. Shah Tush (King of wool) is famous for its lightness, softness and warmth; passes through a ring and is also known as Ring shawl. It comes from a rare Tibetan antelope living at a height of over 14000 ft in the wilds of the Himalayas. Pashmina is known world over as cashmere wool and for its softness, it comes from a special goat (Capra hircus) living at an altitude of 12000 to 14000 ft reared by shephered nomads around famous pong Kong lake in close vicinity of western Tibet. Pure Pashmina is expensive but mixed Pashmina with wool is less expensive. Raffal is spun out of marino wool tops and is a popular type of shawl. A variety of blends of Kashmiri wool with pashmina, and silk with pashmina are also used to weave our semi-pashmina shawls and stoles.
Shawls are produced by two techniques, loom woven or kani shawls and the needle embroidered or sozni shawls. The shawls are embroidered in floral motifs, various designs available range from Neemdoor, Doordaar, Paladaar, Baildaar, Jaalis and Jammas, with the help of needle. Kani shawls are woven on looms with the help of kanis. Kanis are small eyeless bobbins used instead of the shuttle.
Many of the weavers moved to friendlier lands, like Punjab, where time and again attempts had been made to establish a successful shawl industry, all in vain. Following the Afghan harassment and the great famine in Kashmir the centre of shawl making shifted to Amritsar. Other towns in Punjab too developed their own ‘Kashmiri’ shawl industry due to the migration of the Kashmiri workers. Ludhiana developed as a major shawl weaving centre. The wool for all this was brought all the way from Kashmir, but somehow, the shawls woven outside that state were not a patch on the original masterpieces from Kashmir.
It is said that the shawls were famous from Kashmir even in the times of emperor Ashok (3rd C BC) but many writers credited Sultan Zain-Ul-Abidin (1420-1470 A.D) (Mughals period) as the initiator of Shawl industry in Kashmir. By the 16th Century the Kashmir shawl industry was an old and well-established one. King Akbar encouraged and promoted the manufacture of shawls in Kashmir. He also presented a gift of Kashmir jamawar shawl to the Queen of England. Fabrics Bernier description of shawls in the late 17th Century, leaves us in no doubt that he is referring to the same pashmina shawls that became famous as Kashmir (Cashmere) Shawls. It became a highly fashionable and stylish garment when Empress Josephine famously received Kashmiri shawls as gifts from Napoleon.
The Industry suffered through the reign of Afghan and then Sikh rule. This was a period in Kashmir history where there was a marked decline in crafts. However, in the late 18th Century during the reign of Maharaja Ranbir Singh, the trade picked up. In the early 19th Century the shawl exhibitions in the European market helped to create awareness and promote Kashmir shawls again throughout the world.