A blend of Art, Culture & Heritage

Sunny Dua
Persistent campaigns against leather products only to save extinct animals and not harm them for pleasure or products while have forced international clothing brands to stop killing or harming crocodiles, snakes, rabbits including Chiru goat for producing leather or extracting Shahtoosh respectively, it has also opened avenues for Pashmina – a fibre which is produced without harming any animal but is globally appreciated and is in big demand. This is the reason Kashmir as well as Basohli Shawls in Jammu and Kashmir are among the most exquisite textile ever woven that display exemplary skill and artistry.
World’s most delicate fibre, Pashmina is basically a fibre that grows in between hair of a particular goat that’s found in high altitude regions of China, Afghanistan, Mangolia, Ladakh, Tibet, Nepal, Iran and other central Asian republics during extreme winters to protect the animal. This when sheered is de-haired, made into looms, then thread and finally women into fine Pashmina Shawls. From here onwards, art lovers and textile designers like Varuna Anand begin their journey of promoting art of doing embroidery on Pashmina shawls and showcasing finished goods around the globe.
Pashmina shawls have been worn by the royals and elites for centuries. Unless hard work and craftsmanship of breeders, weavers, combers, spinners, dyers, tracers, pattern makers and embroiders that goes into making of a masterpiece is not marketed well to reach end users, products woven out of a fibres that’s as fine and thin as 12 to 15 microns is just an artwork waiting for its admirers. To simplify this task, Varuna Anand has put in her best efforts to not only float ‘The Splendor of Kashmir’ (SK) but also made it a brand to reckon with around the globe.
It was towards this end that Varuna was recently invited at St. James Court, London by the Indian High Commission (IHC) to showcase curated art pieces and speak on the ‘art of making Pashmina shawls’ where Indian High Commissioner, Ruchi Ghanshyam also delivered welcome address and had all praise for J&K artisans for not only weaving delicate fibre but also doing intricate embroidery on finished product. Varuna’s top line brand ‘Heirloom’ has even made her won “Creative Women Entrepreneur” award by Business World Magazine.
Crediting weavers and artisans for creating masterpieces, Varuna was chivalrous enough to speak at London where she said, “The art of Shawl making comes down from generation to generation by skilful craftsmen, who take great pride in the pieces of art they create. Each shawl is a piece of art created by these talented artisans and weavers who work painstakingly, with utmost dedication and devotion, converting them into splendid wonders cherished by collectors and textile enthusiasts all over the world”.
While Kashmiri Shawls are famous for their complex craftworks, the uniqueness of Basohli shawls lie in a combination of factors that have made it virtually impossible to duplicate anywhere else in the world. Both Basohli and Kashmir handcrafted shawls have won worldwide acclaim for their exquisite designs, craftsmanship and functional utility in their own way but Varuna is into promoting particular craftwork that goes on to the shawl for months together in Kashmir to make it a praiseworthy art piece.
Having displayed her premier collections of authentic Pashmina shawls world over through her exhibitions, she sells her unique collections through an online portal as well. Having sold her hand woven, hand crafted and hand embroidered shawls in Australia, London and even Varuna Anand in an exclusive interview to The Daily Excelsior said sky is the limit when it comes to maintaining quality and marketing ‘The Splendour of Kashmir’. She said, ‘though Pashmina comes from Changthang Plateau in Tibet and parts of Ladakh region but weaving and doing embroidery on it is an expertise that wrests with weavers of Kashmir alone’.
Worn earlier by people during Indus Valley civilisation, Varuna explained that these are documented facts. Historians say that people somewhere between 3rd century BC and 11th century had found this fibre and used to weave it to make shawls. She said raw Pashmina from Ladakh reaches Kashmir where after de-haring it boards line of spinning, weaving and finishing all done by hand. Embroider through their artwork make Pashmina more expensive and most wanted possession, she said.
Launched in November 2011 Splendour of Kashmir is in its 9th year now. A qualified textile designer, Varuna revealed that Pashmina shawls designed in Kashmir are most sought-after textiles in the world but lack of knowledge makes many end up buying either fake or entirely a different product. Late Dr S S Dua who had established Upshi Pashmina farm in Ladakh region during his stint in sheep husbandry department also used to say that buying authentic Pashmina is itself an art and not everyone’s cup of tea.
His simple household test of Pashmina fibre was to burn a thread and tell its authenticity by its smell. Wool, synthetic and Pashmina residue all smell different after burning, he used to say. The Splendor of Kashmir, according to Varuna also believes in wining trust of its prize possession holders by providing them with traditional hand-made and hand-woven shawls on which doing embroidery takes even one or more year.
Describing a well crafted Pashmina shawl as a ‘piece of art’, she said that expert hands weave them and expert designers trace patterns on them before they are handed over to skilled craftsman or women to use multi-coloured threads for doing embroidery. “The cost of one Pashmina shawl in terms of money may be high but the value it adds to one’s wardrobe which is also passed on to generations is priceless”, Varuna Anand asserted.
Erstwhile kings and queens, she said wore Pashmina and Shahtoosh shawls as robes to display their royalty. Pashmina in fact is a prize possession for its art, cultural and heritage value, she said adding it’s because of her grandfather was into textile she chose to become a textile designer as well. Now when she is promoting ‘art of shawl making’, crafted and curated works of Kashmir have found their admirers in London this year making J&K UT blink on textile maps of the world.
“Pashmina is an integrated textile of India and the way we market it for professional gains, it automatically generates employment besides helps weavers and breeders indirectly. The more buyers we get for the product, craftsmen create more such masterpieces’, she informed. The negative story attached to this is that several half-baked and not so well versed with the subject people have jumped into the business of shawl making and market fake products as well. Several such people who claim to be so called champions of Pashmina products have even made several unsuccessful attempts to grab Padamshree.
According to Varuna, after Banaras and South Silk that promote their respective states, Pashmina has always kept flag of India unfurl by being most sought after possession of Jammu and Kashmir. Art work done on shawls intricately here not only finds admirers around the globe but also makes people inculcate a desire to own this piece of ‘art’ at whatever cost.
Giving credit to Naqashdars (embroiders) and those who give finishing touches to the final product, she said Rafugars (Repairers) are also an important link in entire chain of shawl making. During Mughal era when Pashmina shawls were taxed, people started making them in small pieces and then Rafudars sewed them together to make a one piece shawl which was unable to be detected with naked eyes. Having held exhibitions at Delhi, Jammu, Haryana, Mumbai, Udaipur, Chennai, Lucknow and now in London she is continuing with her tirade.
Narrating an anecdote she said, ‘once a man from USA’s Napa Valley from Grace Family Vineyard bought a Pashmina shawl only after conforming that Varuna doesn’t deal in Shahtoosh shawls only to ascertain that Splendor of Kashmir is not into banned articles, products or promotes animal killings. That’s the reputation we enjoy’. While displaying curated collection to ‘The Art Effect’, she revealed that SK is into Kani and Jamavar besides other geometric patterns that have been done very intricately with silk, wool and even tilla besides other threads to add vibrant colours to them and make them more acceptable.
Varuna at the London event while addressing the guests had said, “These shawls developed over 300 years ago through four periods of foreign political rule over Kashmir. It was successfully ruled by the Mughals, the Afghans, the Sikhs and the Dogras where each culture brought its unique contribution to the ‘Art of Shawl’ making in Kashmir. These changing royal patronages show the influence of the various cultures this Art form was exposed to”.
“History stands testimony to the fact that nothing could eclipse the raw material and techniques used by these highly skilled craftsmen of Kashmir, be it a woven or a hand embroidered shawl as they transcend any other imitation or its equivalent. The delicacy & softness of the Kashmir Shawl have been a focal attraction to this venerated textile from time immemorial” she had informed a select gathering at Indian High Commission, London.
Varuna connects this ancient handcrafted textile to not only politics, business and fashion but also believes that it symbolises romance and fashion in a big way. Imitations have abounded for centuries, but none has succeeded in producing the inimitable delicacy of warp and weft, of material and design that comprise the legendary beauty of the Jamavar shawl. The woven wonders of Kashmir are called Kani shawls. They are woven on looms with the help of Kanis. Kanis are small eyeless bobbins used instead of the shuttle. These wooden spindles work most while weaving a shawl on the loom.
The weaver actually possesses no copy of the design except in this notation. The manuscript or Talim of a melody lies in front of him, and from this he weaves the pattern that we see. Kani shawl Weaving is meticulously regulated by a coded pattern, known as the Talim drawn by the Naqashdar for guidance of the weaver. It’s an extremely difficult and time consuming procedure done by specialized weavers.
Each Kani shawl can take anything from 10 – 16 months to weave depending on the intricacy of the design. The Sui Kaam Jamavars are virtually a piece of Art where needle and thread interlace in almost a symphony to form motifs (IRI-DEH-SENT) iridescent on the soft Pashmina fabric, firmly creating the pattern yet upholding the strength of the fabric.
The art of shawl making from Kashmir is the impeccable way in which a fine fabric like Pashmina is extensively Hand embroidered or Handwoven. From the timeless Kani shawls intricately hand woven on the looms to the extensive hand embroideries done on fine Pashmina shawls, an art which requires high skill and an incredible amount of dedication, commitment and whole hearted devotion.
“These shawls are an integral part of the rich textile heritage of our country; it is living heritage one buys only to pass on to ones loved ones as ‘Family Heirlooms’, Varuna asserts.