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Indian Shawls and Wraps

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Pashmina Shawls

Fashions come and go but the Indian habit of shawl wearing never goes out of style. Come winter and people root through their trunks for these colorfully woven and embroidered lengths of material. Traditionally, the shawl has been the mark of elegance and refinement (with the added benefit of warding off the chill). Even today, connoisseurs would go to any lengths to buy an authentic woven Naga or a Pashmina shawl. Rare and beautiful, embroidered or painstakingly woven, each region of India offers its own version of this versatile garment. Though the machine made product is readily available in the market, shopping for these handcrafted shawls of Kashmir, Himachal and Nagaland offer the best excuse for a trip to these regions.

» Srinagar - Jamavar and Pashmina Shawls

The shawl weaving tradition in Kashmir dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries. It was during the reign of the Mughals that it became a ‘high fashion’ garment. The emperor Akbar is rumored to have owned hundreds of Kashmiri shawls. No other Indian textile has as wide-known international reputation as the Pashmina.

Kashmiri Shawls

Pashmina shawls are woven from the wool of the rare Indian goat Changthangi or Pashmina. Every spring, the goat sheds its winter coat. The hair collected from the fine ‘inner’ coat of this goat is woven into the cashmere wool. The fact that one goat sheds only 250 to 270 gm of wool in a year will give you an idea of the rarity of this material.

Jamawar is actually an intricate form of weaving which involves the running of ‘shuttles’ or ‘kannis’ of different threads across the width of the shawl to create the design. While this might not sound very complicated, craftsmen could take up a whole day to weave an inch of the shawl. Because of the labour involved, traditionally only the two ends of the shawl sported any design.

The designs of the Jamawar shawl were inspired by Persian motifs. Over a period of time, the ‘ambi’ or paisley pattern came to be inextricably linked with this shawl. Some of the conventional colours of the Jamawar shawl are yellow, white, black, turquoise, green, purple, crimson and scarlet. The modern cashmere or pashmina shawl comes in a range of colours and contemporary designs.

The best place to hunt for these shawls is Srinagar. In 2008, the shawl was also awarded the GI certificate – a Geographical Indication mark that assures that buyer that the garment has been produced in the Kashmir region.

Check out driving directions to Srinagar from New Delhi

» Kullu, Himachal Pradesh – Kullu Shawls

We are all familiar with the colourful Himachali cap. A lesser known gem but no less beautiful, is the Kullu shawl. Woven from undyed wool, these shawls have a neutral ground and vibrant borders. The Kullu Shawl is a more simplified version of the Kinnauri shawl. The latter features small sized but complex motifs and detailed patterning. The Kullu shawl both enlarges and simplifies these designs. Since the labour involved is now less, this shawl is less expensive than its Kinnauri counterpart.

indian shawls wraps

What makes the Kullu shawl really stand out are its vibrant, geometric patterned borders. They might be the only textiles in India who are influenced by weaving traditions from Central Asia (especially Tibet and Mongolia). While the ground colours are subdued – grey, black, brown and white – the patterns are woven from red, orange, pink, yellow, blue, black, white and green yarns. The yarn used for weaving the shawl varies from wool, to angora, pashmina or handspun material.

Traditionally, two pieces of woven cloth were joined together along the width using elaborate hand stitching to make a complete shawl. Also, the large shawl worn by men was called a ‘loi’ or ‘chaddar’. Craftsmen also weave a long blanket made of coarser wool called a ‘dohru’.

With the advent of cheap, machine-woven shawls (from Punjab), the weavers of the hand woven Kullu shawl are facing stiff competition. Especially now that this garment has been awarded both the GI certification and the Woolmark, travelling to Kullu for its hand woven textiles does not seem so foolhardy an adventure.

Bhuttico or the Bhutti Weaver’s Co-operative Society was established in 1944 and now operates its own weaving sheds. Since they act as a bridge between the weaver and the seller and make sure that the profit reaches directly to the seller, it is a good idea to seek out their shop in Kullu. You will be also assured of the quality and authenticity of the woven shawl. Bhuttico has two retail outlets in Kullu – one in Akhara Bazaar and the other in Sarwari Bazaar (near the Bus Stand).

Check driving directions to Kullu from New Delhi

» Dimapur, Nagaland - Naga Shawls

Traditionally the Naga society has consisted of a loose federation of 12 tribes. Shawl weaving has been one of the native textile customs of the Nagas for generations now. It is the women of the house who weave these elaborate woolen shawls and at one point, the looms and yarn were part of every household. Distinguished by their bold colours and typical striped designs, these shawls used to denote the status of the wearer within the tribe. Also, each tribe had its own particular design so that the wearer could be distinguished from a distance.

Some of the more popular Naga shawls today are that of the Angami and Lotha tribes. The Ao, Yimchunger and Chang tribes are known for their huge warrior shawls. The Angami weave their shawls on a type of black cloth called ‘Lohe’. Traditionally, these shawls were woven in a pattern of red and yellow, though modern interpretations of the traditional motif are now increasingly being woven in green.

The Lotha shawls denote the status of the wearer in a very marked way. The social status within the Lothas increases with the feasts offered to the community. Those who have yet to offer any feast to the community wear the shawl called ‘sutam’. It has thick horizontal stripes of a dark blue colour on a white background. After the first feast, they can wear a shawl called ‘phangrhup’. Those who have given two feasts wear a shawl with thicker stripes. After the third feast they are allowed to wear the ‘ethasu’ shawl. Within the Lothas, the ‘lungpensu’ denotes the high status of its wearer. This shawl has a dark blue background with 5 light blue stripes. The same design is repeated in narrow strips on the borders.

Naga shawls are usually woven in parts that are later stitched together. An authentic shawl can be identified by the long horizontal joints running across its length. Till date, shawl weaving has remained a female enterprise within the Nagas. If you are feeling adventurous, you can hunt out the weavers in their workshops and buy the shawls directly from them. Within town, the Toluvi village and the shops at the Supermarket are good shopping haunts for the bold Naga shawls.

Travel Tip:

The entry of non-Naga citizens within the state is restricted. Dimpaur is the entry-point within Nagaland and tourists need to obtain an Inner Line Permit to venture beyond the limits of this border town.
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