Published on December 17, 2008
Origin of Pashmina dates back to ancient civilization. The weaving of tapestry shawls was first introduced into the valley from Turkistan by Zain - ul-Abdin, the ruler of Kashmir, in the 15th century. Production benefitted from the patronage of the Mughal rulers like Akbar and his successors, who wore these shawls, and also because of patronage of local government. Pashmina became the rage in France after Napoleon presented a rare shawl to Empress Josephine and led to enormous increase in demand from Europe, where the shawls became popular in the latter part of the 18th century. This precious fabric was known as fibre for kings . Now this royal luxury is being offered in wide variety of shawls, stoles, scarves and sweaters. These luxurious pashmina shawls are hand spun and woven by traditional artisans whose families have been in the occupation since ages and they inherit this art from their ancestors, and tradition of this art continues from one generation to another generation. Lately, the American market has opened to Pashmina as Americans discovered its plush, soft texture. Fashion gurus now pronounce it as essential to the wardrobe as the ubiquitous little black dress
The production of Pashmina shawls in Kashmir is more or less concentrated in Srinagar. Even the raw material traders, small and big manufacturers are situated in Srinagar. The handspun Pashmina yarn goes through various stages of dyeing, sizing, warp preparation and finally the actual weaving before the wondrous transformation from the unruly mass of fibre to a textile of unique softness, warmth and beauty can take place. Even after the weaving, it is the unique process of tweezing, clipping and washing in the waters of Jhelum that gives the Pashmina shawl its royal touch. Due to the requirement of high quality skills in each process, the production involves many artisans. Thus the production process is fragmented into various sub-processes. Each type of artisan does their work and then the material is passed on to the next category. The production is controlled by the manufacturers who invest their capital. Earlier the raw material end till the manufacturing of yarn was controlled by Poiwanis (Raw material dealer) and the finished product end was controlled by the big manufacturers. But this distinction has become blurred today, as many Poiwanis have taken up complete manufacturing and the big manufacturers also deal in raw material. Amongst the artisans, the spinners are the largest group, constituting 65-75% of the total number of artisans. The spinning is done completely by women and is one of the most difficult tasks in the value chain.
The cleaning and de-hairing of raw pashm was also earlier done by the spinners but today it has been fully mechanised. The weavers are the next largest in numbers and represent 15-20% of the artisans. The weavers are generally more knowledgeable and enterprising than the other kinds of artisans. Thus many of them graduate from weavers to small manufacturers. Embroiderers are the third in hierarchy of artisans. The present structure of production is described through the diagram below:
All hand-woven Pashmina fabrics are traditionally woven in the twill weave, with different permutations of it. This can be classified into three categories: Saadi - a simple and unpatterned hand woven fabric employing a four shaft twill weave and various combinations Kani- a highly decorative brocade textile, made on exactly the same loom as the one used for plain Pashmina fabric, but with woven patterns Amlikar- usually a plain Pashmina, embroidered upon with very fine Kashmir mulberry silk, Pashmina or cotton thread It takes the wool from four and over 200 man-hours (spinning, weaving, dying and decorating, finishing) to make just one pashmina shawl. Hand cleaning and spinning the wool for a single pashmina takes 15 days, so naturally the labor-intensive production is reflected in the price. An original Kashmiri Handmade Pashmina may cost between Rs.5,000 and Rs.1,00,000 depending on the level of craftsmanship. Though the craft has long been under threat from various spurious shawls in market which are sold in the name of Pashmina at cheap prices, the thousands artisans have maintained their tradition since ages and should be able to protect it even in future, in this globalised world. With the GI status, which remains valid for ten years and can be renewed thereafter, only yarn and products made from the Pashmina goat and in the Kashmir valley can now lay claim to the name. All fine wool is no longer Pashmina. “It will be for the better of the region and people and Pashmina, as there are lakhs of fakes in the market. Now there is exclusivity attached to them,” said Dahlia Sen Oberoi, an Intellectual Property lawyer. The artisans in Kashmir say that Pashmina is Pashmina not because of the material but because of the process. Thus one has to visit the bye-lanes of Srinagar to experience the magic of Pashmina.
Born and brought up in Delhi, India, Mohit Satyanand attended St Columba's High School until 1971. He then went to St Stephen's College, graduating with a BA (Honours) in Economics in 1975. In 1977, he was awarded an MA from the Delhi School of Economics. After this classic education, his full-blown career was a given. His first job was with the Delhi-based corporate giant, Hindustan Lever, in 1977. Four years later, he joined Delhi Flour Mills and helped set up its processed foods division in Delhi. He was the mind behind ‘Crax’. By mid-1990s, he was a management consultant for the company. Aside from his consultancy, Mohit is an observer and an evaluator for the Delhi-based Sir Ratan Tata Trust, a foundation that supports non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the Liberty Institute and Centre for Civil Liberties. In 1987, Mohit and his younger sister, Kanika, started a programme called Nukkad, which organises plays for street children who dwell in and around the New Delhi Railway Station. Now called Salaam Baalak Trust, the program caters to the needs of some 5,000 underprivileged children every year. In 1995, he co-founded Friends of Music, a platform to promote innovative music in Delhi. Between 1989 and 1996, he was a prolific TV producer and documentary film-maker. He is also chairman of Teamwork Films, a production company he and a friend founded in 1989 that today is an arts event management company. He’s the man who originated the very famous Inlingua. Inspired by his love for the mountains, Mohit has also written a coffee-table book, Nepal (Roli Books). HEROES YOU WANT TO KNOW- Mohit Satyanand http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=PwmmRngsdsA
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