An heirloom means a valuable object that has belonged and has been passed down through the generations. One such example is the Changthangi goats’ fleece. It is known as Pashmina and is used to make shawls for centuries.
Where It All Began
In the 15th century by Syed Ali Hamdani, a Persian saint had come to visit Kashmir and discovered Pashmina. He trained the locals in handicrafts, one of which was Pashmina making. This was the art that most people chose. Kashmiris admired Pashmina, and the world respected those artists.
It was something of a family custom in that valley. While the women would clean or spin Pashmina, men would weave and embroider shawls. Hence a Pashmina shawl would be an identity belonging to one or the other family who revered this heritage. When the economy fell, women would sell pieces of their Pashmina to make some money. Hence Pashmina has an emotional connection with the families connected to this traditional art to this very day.
Along with the life of Artisans and karigars of previous generations, the art also fades away. The new generation of artisans is unable to replicate what was done by the previous generation. As a result, Pashmina Shawl is a dying art. The previous generations are pieces of a different level of perfection. Hence it is something to be preserved by the family which has bought it, as essentially it is a rare piece of art owned by them.
The Rise of Pashmina
This art has existed for hundreds of years. But, Pashmina art gained its prominence and spotlight during the days of the Mughal Empire in the 1500s. With its finesse and uniqueness of style and quality, it became an entity of nobility. Khilat – giving’ robes of honor’, was a tradition established by Babur to the members of his court for their achievements. In 1568, Akbar found that a pair of pashmina shawls were integral to a khilat ceremony. Other emperors also wore and gifted pashmina shawls within their circles. It also became a part of courtroom decor.
Soon enough, Pashmina became an indicator of wealth and part of a rich woman’s dowry in India, Nepal, and Pakistan. These shawls acquired the status of heirlooms that would be inherited instead of purchased as they were too expensive to buy and hence considered investments. Therefore, people treat Pashmina Shawl as family silver and preserve it delicately.
The Global Appeal
The French monarch, Napoleon Bonaparte gifted his wife Josephine a Pashmina shawl. She loved it so much that she came to own hundreds of them. This helped the Pashmina shawl to gain the title of a fashion icon. It stood out in French society in the 19th century because of its warmth, expensive look, and beauty.
And so, this traditional art of India went global.
The Challenge to the Original
In the 1990s, there was high demand for pashmina shawls. It exceeded the supply due to its limited natural source of once a year. As a result, few clothing companies began to falsely market their products like pashmina shawls. This resulted in the loss of revenue for the traditional makers of the pashmina shawls. Soon, there was a noticeable difference in the material and the originality. This fraud was brought to notice. The Bureau of Indian Standards stepped in by granting an Indian Standard certification. It discourages such unfair practices and protects the livelihoods of the traditional artisans. They produce the centuries-old original pashmina shawl.
Pashmina is a Culture
A Pashmina Shawl evokes nostalgic memories of the previous generation. A generation would pass it down to the next as an expensive object and a memory. A daughter would remember her mother or grandmother wearing it during certain seasons, occasions, and festivals.
Kashmiri culture considers Pashmina shawls significant. As a part of this culture, the Pashmina shawls are gifted to a bride when she is about to be married, The pashmina shawl is used as a veil when she leaves for the groom’s house. Her mother-in-law takes the shawl off and gifts the bride again. The name of this ceremony is ‘Muhar’ in the Kashmiri language.
For years, the traditional artisans have been weaving these shawls using traditions handed down from father to son.
Heirlooms essentially are objects which stand the test of time. And that is how premium, fine, durable Pashmina Shawls are. They last over generations, just like family gold and ornaments. Starting in the valleys of Kashmir this hundred years old, Pashmina art took its form and made its way through. Families after families have respected the art of Pashmina and have carried it the original way to date.