The ban on Pashmina label for import by US has once again put Kashmir’s Handicraft Industry in global focus. The move might have unsettled many in the valley, but GI-tagged products continue to be a matter of pride and hallmark of artistic integrity of Kashmir and its finesse par excellence.
Complying with the Wool Products Labeling Act, the Federal Trade Commission of America recently notified (under the Cachet of Cashmere) that the products of Pashmina including the intricate handmade Pashmina shawls from Kashmir will be labelled as “Cashmere” but not as Pashmina.
The ban on Pashmina label for import by US fast shifted focus on the GI tag.
A Geographical Indication (GI) is a nominal affixed to certain products which corresponds to a specific geographical location or origin, typically one historically reputed for a salient quality product. The denominator denotes geographical genuineness and ensures native sourcing of the product. India, as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), enacted the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 enforced with effect from 15 September 2003.
The GI-tag officially and legally guarantees that none other than those registered as authorised users (or at least those residing inside the geographic territory) are allowed to use the popular product name (generic descriptor).
All of Kashmiri’s GI tags are Handicrafts, a testimony to the traditionalist and grassroots, manual nature and organic texture of its craft. A number of them are Persian-inspired.
Pashmina (Persian for Woollen) is a fine type of cashmere wool, an anglicisation of Kashmir. The textiles made from it were first woven in Kashmir, hence the name.
The wool is obtained from various breeds of the cashmere goat; such as the changthangi or Kashmir Pashmina goat, the Malra from the Kargil region, the Chegu from Himachal Pradesh, and the Chyangara or Nepalese Pashmina goat from Nepal, but only the former most has exclusive right to the moniker of “Kashmiri Pashmina”.
Shawls called Shahmina are fabricated from this material in Kashmir and Nepal; hand spun and woven from the very fine cashmere fibre. Pashmina accessories are known for their softness and warmth.
Woolen shawls made in Kashmir are mentioned in Afghan texts as early as the 3rd century BC. However, the founder of the Pashmina industry is traditionally contended to be the 15th century ruler of Kashmir, Zayn-ul-Abidin, who introduced weavers from Central Asia. Other sources mete the credit for introduction of Pashmina crafts to Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani (RA) who, is held to have arrived to Kashmir from Persia, along with a guild troupe of 700 craftsmen.
One salient distinction between Pashmina and usual, normal, cashmere is the vital parameter of fibre-diameter. Pashmina fibres are finer and thinner (12–15 microns) than generic cashmere fibre (15–19 microns). This diameter of fibre characterises Pashmina, while a ring test may be employed to ascertain the finished piece of fabric’s virtue of being Pashmina, by passing it through a minuscule hoop, roughly the size of a finger ring.
Kashmiri Sozani Craft
Sozani (alternatively spelt Sozni) or Suzani ornamentation is a distinctive Kashmiri folk form of fabric embroidery. The traditional motifs are created in satin stitch, and are worked identically on both sides of the cloth, but sometimes in different (usually complementary) colours, one dominant. This ambivalence well-typifies and characterises this traditional form.
The most popular motifs consist of abstract geometric designs, stylised flowers, as well as paisley patterns. It’s often employed to decorate shawls, especially for the panels along the side of the cloth.
In this context, it’s often said that Sozni is the sole suitable form of embellishment for Pashmina.
Kani is a type of shawl originating from the Kanihama area of valley. Being one of the oldest handicrafts of Kashmir, it has been a part of the valley since the time of Mughals. They’re woven from Pashmina yarn. Vide J&K government’s provision of the GI Tag, it’s now illegal to sell shawls made outside of the Kanihama area as Kani shawls.
Certain historians theorize Persian and saintly partial influences on origination of Kani, a Sufi poet and prominent Muslim scholar Shah-e-Hamdan (RA), to be precise.
As a symbol of Kashmiri craftsmanship, Kani shawl is housed in the world’s finest museums, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and the department of Islamic art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Musée du Louvre in Paris has portraits of 19th century French empress Joséphine draped in a Kani.
This handicraft of Kashmir was also brought by Muslim mystic-saint Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani (RA) from Persia in the 14th century. It’s based on paper pulp, and is a richly ornamental, colourful artifact; generally in the form of vases or utensils, boxes, trays, bases of lamps, and many other small objects, at times fitted with frames fashioned out of heterogenous materials.
These are made in homes, and workshops, in Srinagar, and other parts of the Kashmir Valley, and are marketed predominantly in India, as well as abroad, being popular with tourists as well. The skilled artisans involved with this painstaking process are called sakht makers.
A motley of discards as farm refuse, bagasse, rice husk, straw, wastepaper, etc is utilised as raw material, mixed with Neel Thoth (Copper Sulphate) and mashed to a visceral pulp. Upon immersion in water for several days, and gaining a quasi-doughy consistency, it is dried, pulverised, mixed with rice-starch solution and subsequently moulded and thus sculpted.
The economic viability of the intricate and time-consuming craft, has taken a hit due to advent and prevalence of machine carving and artisans preferring other jobs. Incidences of hereditary guilds’ abandonment of family-practice are increasingly common, a worrisome sign for the traditional art-form.
Kashmir Walnut Carving
Kashmir abounds with the Juglans regia—walnut tree, its timber serving as the medium for wood carving. Walnut wood is used to make tables, jewelry boxes, trays, and other furnishings.
The timber is tough and durable, its close knit hard-wound grain and even-texture facilitating fine and detailed craftsmanship.
Tracing the etymological roots of the craft, the term ‘Khatam-bandh’, literally means closure of an ending or culmination in an enclosure.
‘Khatm’ means finish, end, culmination, or termination. It can more appropriately be explained as ‘an enclosure’ or ‘coming full circle’, which makes ‘Khatam’ not representative of a line that has come to an end but more as a polygon that has come to an enclosure. ‘Bandh’ means to close. Joining the two – Khatam-Bandh means polygons closed or stuck together (here, with the help of wooden beading). The ceiling part of Kashmir heritage lately made a comeback after a long hiatus.
Behind it’s revival are Old City’s woodworkers.
Kashmiri Hand Knotted Carpet
Locally known “Kal baff”, carpet making dates back to 14th century after which it was progressively perfected. It’s said that Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin brought carpet weavers from Persia and Central Asia in to Kashmir to train the localities in the ways of fine-knot carpentry. There’re a variety of kinds of knots: The Faarasee baff system and Sehna or Sinneh knot is originally practised in Kashmir.
The difference between a carpet and other hand woven rugs lies in the fact that short lengths of the thread or yarn are tied to wrap chains to form the pile of the carpet. These are commonly called knots though it is a loop rather than an actual knot.
But now, the 700-year-old Kashmiri carpet industry is spinning into decline because of the international economic crisis, machine-made cheap copies and low tourist influx.
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