Iqbal Ahmad

Pharan and Kanger

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With the change in the social fabric of the society with as many modern influences hovering over it as ever, people of Kashmir stick to the tradition when it comes to Pheran (typical Kashmiri gown for winters) and Kangri (traditional fire pot). Give credit to the lack of basic facilities like electricity and heat technology that mar the winters here, the two traditional assets have survived till now.

With times changing, we have lost several olden arts and crafts, but still there are certain old traditions and fashions which continue to remain favorites here.

Pharan and Kangri are very few such traditional aspects that continue to be used across the breadth and length of the valley.  In fact the fashion of Pheran and Kangri which was once limited within this mountain walled valley has now advanced  to other lands and societies.  We do see some people wearing Pheran in other parts of the state as well as the country. For instance, in Delhi we do see, these days, people, particularly Kashmiri, wearing Pheran during the cold December and January days.

Pharan, it must be remembered accounts among such traditional garments that are sought by the tourists, both local as well as foreign, who love to wear this gown, if only for momentarily taste.  Pheran and Kangiri are intensely favorite among the village people who will always keep their date with these features of tradition during winters and look typically different from the rest of the world.

Historically speaking, Pheran had an enhancing presence in the wardrobe of Kashmiri men and woman. The oldest records of the land have people wearing Pheran and using Kangri during winters. Even in summers people would usually wear non woolen Pherans here and enjoyed the kind of privacy that this gown ensures.

This Kashmiri garment has a long history as scholars are tracing the origin of Pheran to early centuries of Christian era. They believe Kushan (Khohistani people) people introduced this loose garment. Few sculptures and coins dated to Kushan era which are often found here have also carried similar dress features. Most of the scholars view it as a later development.

Discussion on its evolution apart, the tradition of wearing Pheran in this land is centuries old. In earlier periods it was used in winters but later it became the fashion of the day for entire year, particularly for women. Pheran made of wool were used in winter while as summer Pherans were made of cotton and other material. Although men hardly wear it in summer, Kashmiri women had the tradition of wearing this garment throughout the year. The looseness of the garment went well with the orthodox culture of the valley. They used to wear the Pherans covered their heads sometimes by Pochi and sometimes by Kasaba. (Kasaba was usually for elderly women) when they had to go outside their houses.

With the onslaught of western and Punjabi culture, Pheran took a backseat. Women became fashion conscious and backed by newly acquired wealth the Pheran once seemed to lose its appeal. The ultra modern fashion show promoted women to follow the order of the day and in this race, they began to forget the very own Pheran and started opting for dresses that rarely suited them.

Fortunately, for last few years there is a revival of traditional Kashmiri culture. People, particularly young, have chosen to wear Pheran, though a lot of alteration and modernization of the garment is evident. Nowadays people seem to think over the basic design of this traditional dress and come up with some very interesting alterations that add to the beauty of it. Although, being a historian I may never approve of fiddling with the basic design, but given the changing trends, it is always good to see people wearing Pheran of a slightly different style. After all cultures are always evolving and adapt to the changing environs for vibrancy.

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