A Walk Down The 'Pashmina' Lane

A Walk Down The 'Pashmina' Lane

Pashmina. Just the sound of this word, evokes a feeling of luxury, timelessness, heritage and craftsmanship. An age old craft, it also brings forth a burst of nostalgia. While in countries other than India, the elite and the nobility wore it as a mark of status, for those in India, it struck another chord. We’ve seen our mothers carefully pull out their glorious Pashmina shawls- delicately wrapped and stowed away in trunks-  to be draped in all its glory for a family wedding or a special occasion. As lovingly as they would be brought out and marvelled at, they would enjoy an equally ceremonial retreat back into the trunk, to be seen again, next winter. A symbol of heritage- revered and respected- throughout the world.

Awe-worthy as it is, the genesis of this wonderous natural fibre is equally enthralling. While the name "Pashmina" has its roots in Persia ( pashm, meaning 'Soft Gold') the craft is specific to Kashmir. This confluence of cultures makes this lightweight and luxe fibre even more intriguing! But, honestly, as much as the beauty of Pashmina lies in the final product like shawls and scarves, it's the process that is the true hero!

 Contrary to the ‘fast fashion’ world that we inhabit,  weaving a Pashima shawl is a journey. An experience. A phenomenon. The idiom “it takes a village to raise a baby”, can easily be applied to weaving a shawl. It involves a human connection, the touch of expert hands, generations of artisans who have dedicated their lives to this craft, the finest fleece, and above all, passion and patience, to create something as revered as Pashmina!

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 Picture this - An altitude of 14,000 ft above sea level. A herd of Changra goats grazing the high pastures of the Changthang in Ladhakh, where temperatures dip to as low as -20degrees! These sturdy, refined and domesticated goats are blessed with a double fleece consisting of the fine, soft undercoat of hair mingled with a straighter and much coarser outer coating of hair- that keeps them warm during the arid cold winters. Had it not been for the Changra goats, there probably wouldn’t be any Pashmina! Or atleast, not the finest!

 The only source of livelihood for the herders, the wool from these goats is obtained once a year, usually in the month of June or July. The hair is usually harvested either by combing or shearing. The herders comb the fine woollen undercoat from the neck and chest of the goat. The resultant 'fleece'  or wool is called 'Asli Tus' and is worthfully sold. 

 It’s no mean feat to weave a Pashmina. It’s an art and can be done justice to, only by a true artist! The skill and expertise is unique to the artisans of Kashmir, the unsung heroes of this age old craft. Other than being rightfully referred to as "Heaven on Earth", the one thing that is a hallmark of the beautiful valley of Kashmir, is its inimitable craftsmanship! With generations of artisans deftly putting their unmatched skill to use, weaving Pashmina shawls has been the backbone of the Kashmiri economy, or atleast used to be so!

 Just like any business set up, Pashmina weaving too involves the entire family, in one way or another. It's mostly the men of the household who traditionally weave Pashmina, while women meticulously spin the fibre into thread. The entire process is done manually, given that the fibre is ultra soft and is prone to breakage if processed on a machine.

 It takes the wool of 3 goats to make 1 shawl. 8 to 10 hours devoted daily on designing and embroidery. Six months to an year to make a shawl. At best, 2 shawls are made a year!

 Who could have imagined, that these heirloom pieces that we flaunt and fuss over, go through such a precise, time consuming and arduous process! We are oblivious to the long months of wait, the harsh weather conditions, the painstaking process and the long hours spent by the weavers and artisans on doing embroidery, in dimly lit rooms. At Mecraaz, we salute the expertise, commitment and unbridled passion of the Kashmiri artisans who have worked against all odds, to keep this glorious craft alive! And it’s our endeavour to proudly keeping walking down the “pashmina” lane!

Pashmina making in Kashmir