The Kashmiri Shawl – A Book Review

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From Jamavar to Paisley: Sherry Rehman and Naheed Jafri; Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd., 31 Somnath Road, Usmanpura, Ahmedabad-380013. Rs 3500

Sherry Rehman, a controversial Pakistani journalist who was once jailed for exposing the rape record of a powerful Pakistani politician, in collaboration with Naheed Jafri comes up with a A to Z history of the Kashmiri shawl in their book ‘The Kashmiri Shawl’. Using her superior investigative skills she unveils the minute process that goes in the production of the majestic Kashmir shawl from its origin and history to the inspiration behind the designs. Even though there are hundreds of books written on the same topic, she was disappointed to find that it provided only one sided view, that of the Europeans who were actually not able to tell the difference between a Jamavar and Paisley. This book is thus an attempt of the authors to provide an authentic sub-continental perspective on the topic.

Origin –the origin of the Kashmiri Shawl can be traced back to the 15th century when the then Sultan ZainulAbedin, who was blessed with superior aesthetic sense and love for his people decided to introduce it to them by inviting the Central Asian weavers and Persian painters to pass on their skills to the Kashmiri artisans. Pashmina wool was already available there in plenty and the high sulphur content in the water acted as a natural fabric softener. Inspiration for the designs was derived from the breath taking natural surroundings. Some of the common designs on the shawl were scenes of hunting and martial valour related to 18th and 19th century Afghan and Sikh influence. The local fauna also has great influence on the designs. Some of the common motifs used are  stylised mango, many pointed leaf of the Chinar tree etc. The book also takes you through the technical details of embroidery and weaving and also examines the conditions of the workers, which ironically seems to be unequal to the high price the shawl fetches in the market.

Patronage – the patronage of this shawl can be traced to the regional courts of Hyderabad, the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab, Bengali nobility in the 20th century, rich Parsee businessmen of Bombay, Britain fashion industry in 18th century etc. slowly an imitation of this shawl was introduced in Britain, Europe and America.

This is a book that needs to be read during leisure time as it requires scholarship as well as passion to go through the minute details it presents the reader. Along with the history of various aspects of the shawl, it takes you through the whole world that is associated with it. One of the main criticism of this book is the cumbersome style and over-elaboration of the details which otherwise could have been done away with. Some of the sentences are too long and details too elaborate which requires a considerable amount of patience. Nevertheless it is a great book and perfect source of information for the connoisseur.


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