Kashmir’s pashmina weaves its way into Ladakh

How a book helped in sharing important knowhow between Ladakh and Kashmir

That the pen is mightier than the sword is well acknowledged; that a pen can also build bridges is less spoken about. In a rare accredit, a book propelled leading suppliers of the world’s finest wool to upskill into weavers too, and this from its adjacent state—parent state, you may say.

Though the world knows that the pashmina shawl is woven in Kashmir with the GI or Geographical Index vested with it, not many are aware that the wool for it comes from only one place and that is Ladakh. The wool is extracted from the endangered ‘Changthangi Goat’ which breeds at an altitude of 15,000 feet and above, and while Ladakh today remains the largest supplier of this raw material for the world’s finest shawls, it does not have the wherewithal to weave this much coveted wrap patronised since time immemorial by none less than the royalty.

Why did Ladakh remain just a supplier?

Iti Tyagi, founder of Craft Village and author of INDIA—Good Stories Untold, says she realised this while researching for “my book. When I visited Ladakh the first time, I saw the wool being extracted. But then when I was in Kashmir, I realised that the complete raw material comes from Ladakh. That reminded me of the paradox—despite weaving the finest textile on earth, this knowhow could not be passed on a few hundred kilometres away. Why, for centuries, has there been no exchange of knowhow or synergy between the weavers or artisans of both places?”

“There was a strange silence on this. I questioned myself during the research for my book, wondering why the skill was never shared. I decided to speak to the Mir brothers — Fayaz and Majid. Weaving pashmina for the last 700 years, the Mirs is the only family in Kashmir to have won all the accolades from the Government of India for the finest calligraphy weaving in pashmina shawls.”

Iti Tyagi, Author of the book having interaction with Majid Mir

It is believed that weaving of pashmina was brought to Kashmir from Persia by Syed Ali Hamdani when he came here in the 13th century and brought along 1200 ‘Syeds’. He was an architect, but he started weaving the pashmina from the wool available in the region, and later refined it to the ‘jamavar’ or the finest quality of pashmina shawl. He also introduced on a large-scale papier mache skills in the state and that is how thousands of families got involved in various crafts that are practiced till today.

Tyagi continues: “I was initially very sceptical of sharing my thoughts, but then I did. At the worst, I thought, my idea will be rejected and unless we probe deep we will never know the other side of the story. So, one day when we were sitting together at Majid’s home, I asked the brothers why had they never shared their skill with the people in Ladakh. They told me, ‘no one ever approached us with this question; so, frankly we never thought of it’. And they looked more than willing to share their art with the artisans and craftspeople in Ladakh.”

Incidentally in November 2021, Invest India, the central marketing agency of the Government of India, and the Department of Industries and Commerce, UT Ladakh approached Craft Village to do a workshop in ‘Pashmina Weaving’ at Ladakh. “For the workshop, we chose Fayaz Mir as the instructor to solve problems of the Ladakh pashmina as it is very coarse as a thread. They did not have knowledge of fine spinning and were making mistakes in warping. We provided solutions to deal with all these problems during the workshop.”

And this is how research on a book helped the knowledge of finest spinning and weaving transcend the soft boundary between Kashmir and Ladakh. It was the beginning of flow of knowledge, skills, and an insight into pashmina weaving from one region to another.

Fayaz Mir showing the finest Pashmina Shawl during the interaction

Coming from the experiences of INDIA; Good Stories Untold, a book by Iti Tyagi, Winner of “Nari Shakti Puruskar” by the Government of India.

You can order copy of your book HERE

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