The State of Jammu and Kashmir is extremely rich in its art and culture. Being known not only for its beauty but also for its traditional heritage. The craft that has been practiced here for hundreds of years brims with many stories. Kashmiri Shawls and Carpets are world famous. What makes them unique is its intricate designs and detailed needle work. It has given livelihood to many of people living here since ages. But how it all got started? Let’s go back to the era and turn the pages of history to find out.
King Zain-ul-Abidin (A.D. 1420-70), in the late 15th century introduced the art of weaving in the Kashmir Valley. He was also called the Akbar of Kashmir by the historians. The art of weaving was imported from Persia which was then the Asia’s capital of high art. During the time of the Mughals, there was the immense flourishment of the craft and continued throughout the Afghan and Sikh rules.
There were two innovative techniques that were introduced during this time. One was the Tapestry technique and another was the Amli or Needle Work. The former was introduced by the Western textile historians. It was quite similar to some respect with technique traditionally employed in Europe for Tapestry weaving. The Tapestry technique was a bit slow and laborious and it demanded a very high degree of specialization.
The Amli or Needle work was introduced at the beginning of the 19th century by an Armenian named Khwaja Yusu. It was entirely ornamented with the needle on a plain woven ground. A cloth was first placed on a plank and rubbed with a piece of Agate or Carnelian. For the needle-work, stem stitches are used. Needle-worked shawls were made throughout this period and were very popular.
Then with the arrival of British in the same century, there was certain utilitarianism and commercialization. The Transportation and packaging of luxurious squares of fabric was made easy. They were considered fashion statements as they were much more expensive than the regular silk and cotton fabrics. Gradually, they opened factories in Kashmir and production got started. The woven products and Kashmiri carpets and shawls were commercialized and attracted a lot of eyes from all over the world.
In 1989, valley was engulfed in turmoil. The ancient craft of weaving fell into troubled times. Export orders and tourism hit an all time low. Two and a half decades later, things got better. The ancient craft was again revived.
But in the age modernization, people tend to shift towards the machinery products; very few are left who knows the importance of handcrafted stuffs. As they say beauty lies in the detailed work. So let’s cherish the amazing craftsmanship of Kashmir and save it from dying.