Iqbal Ahmad

The beauty of Kashmiri hand-woven shawls 

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A few days ago, people celebrated ‘World Heritage Day’ with this year’s theme termed as ‘Heritage for Generations’. The day was also celebrated in the state of Jammu and Kashmir with the special official functions that were held at Jammu and Srinagar. The Department of Archives Archaeology and Museums on this occasion organized a special function at SPS Museum Lal Mandi holding exhibition of the traditional and exquisite Kashmiri shawls.

Since the  state  has  been  preserving  a rich legacy of Kashmir’s  olden arts and crafts, the most interesting  post- medieval period  craft  consisted of  a variety of shawls, which include ‘Shah Passand’  ‘Kani Shawls’, ‘Jamavers’,  embroidered  ‘Romals’   and  ‘Amlikiar  Shawls’. The earliest shawls housed in this museum date from Afghan period during late 17th century extending to 20th century.

Several rare shawls from the collections of the museum consisting of Kani and embroidery were put to display on the occasion. The extremely rare shawl in embroidery which depicts the map of Srinagar city, made by the famous shawl artist Ghlam Ahmad Kaloo  of  Amda  Kaddal  Srinagar during Maharaja period was also displayed  besides the classical  Shah Passand Shawls of the Afgan, Sikh and Dogra periods.

It is pertinent to mention here that the most widely known woven textiles of Kashmir are the famed shawls. The Kanikar and embroidered for instance, have intricately woven designs that are formalized imitations of nature. Yet another type of Kashmir shawl is the Jamiavr, which is a brocaded woolen fabric sometimes in pure wool and sometimes with a little cotton added.

Still another type of Kashmir shawl is the double-sided Dourukha, a woven shawl that is so done as to produce the same effect on both sides. This is a unique piece of craftsmanship, in which a multi-coloured   schematic pattern is woven all over the surface, and after the shawl is completed, the Rafugar (expert embroiderer) works the outlines of the motifs in darker shades to bring into relief the beauty of design. The most expensive shawls, called Shahtoosh, are made from under-fleece of the Tibetan antelope or Chiru. These shawls are so fine that even a very tightly woven shawl can be easily pulled through a small finger ring. Such shawls are locally known as ring shawls.

Thousands of visitors, which included the students of the reputed colleges and school of the Srinagar city attended the exhibition and took keen interest in knowing the details of the masterpieces. The museum administration had made elaborate arrangements for the event and all were extended free entry to the exhibition and also to the entire museum galleries.

Although the state museums have been housing a rich collection of Kashmiri shawls, but the arrangement to preserve them aren’t upto the date these and lack scientific preservation methods in vogue worldwide. With the result, the masterpieces are actually loosing the sheen and glare and are losing the pristine glory. The department should hire the services of trained Rofugars for any repairs needed.

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