The word shawl is derived from Persian "shal", which was the name given for a whole range of fine woolen garments. The shawl in India was worn folded across the shoulder, and not as a girdle, as the Persians did.Shawls are worn and used as a warm protective garment all over north India today, Kashmir has become synonymous with shawls all over the world. At the time of Mughal rule in India, Kashmir overtook the North-West Frontier and Punjab, as the center of shawl making. The Mughal emperor Akbar was greatly enamored by the Kashmiri shawls and the way it was worn, folded in four, captured his imagination. He experimented with various ways of wearing it, and found that it looked good worn without folds, just thrown over the shoulder.
There are three fibres from which
are made - wool, pashmina and shahtoosh. The prices of the three cannot be compared - woollen shawls being within reach of the most modest budget, and shahtoosh being a one-in-a-lifetime purchase.Woollen shawls are popular because of the embroidery worked on them, which is unique to Kashmir. Both embroidery and the type of wool used bring about differences in the price. Wool woven in Kashmir is known as 'raffel' and is always 100 per cent pure. Sometimes blends from other parts of the country are used and Kashmiri embroidery is worked on them. These blends contain cashmilon, cotton, or a mixture of both.Pashmina is unmistakable due to its softness. Pashmina yarn is spun from the hair of the ibex found in the highlands of Ladakh, at 14,000 ft above sea level.
Although pure pashmnina is expensive, the cost is sometimes brought down by blending it with rabbit fur or with wool. It is on pashmina shawls that Kashmir's most exquisite embroidery is executed, sometimes covering the entire surface, earning it the name of 'jamawar'. A Jamawar shawl can, by virtue of the embroidery, increase the value of a shawl threefold.Shahtoosh, from which the legendary 'ring shawl' is made, is incredibly light, soft and warm. The astronomical price it commands in the market is due to the scarcity of the raw material. High in the plateaux of Tibet and the eastern part of Ladakh, at an altitude of above 5,000 m, roam the Tibetan antelope (Pantholops Hodgsoni).
During grazing, a few strands of the downy hair from the throat are shed which are painstakingly collected by the nomads, eventually to supply to the Kashmiri shawl makers as shahtoosh.
The woolen shawls of Kashmir have beautiful embroidery work done on them. The price of the woolen shawls depends upon the type of wool used and the fineness of the embroidery. Kashmiri wool, known as raffel, is 100 percent pure and the embroidery done is quite unique to the valley.
Kashmiri Pashmina shawl is one of the most popular shopping items of the state. The shawls are adorned with exquisite embroidery and are extremely soft.
The main types of embroidery done on the Pashmina shawls are sozni, papier-mache and aari. Sozni, needlework in a panel on the sides of the shawl, uses abstract designs or stylized paisleys and flowers as motifs. Papier-mache and needlework is done either in broad panels on either side along the breadth of a shawl or covers the entire surface of a shawl. Motifs consist of flowers and leaves outlined in black. Aari is hook embroidery that makes use of flower design for its motifs.
Shahtoosh shawls are made from the hair of the Tibetan antelope (Pantholops Hodgsoni). It is found in the plateau of Tibet and the eastern part of Ladakh, at an altitude of above 5,000 m. Shahtoosh shawls are extremely light, soft and warm. These shawls are awfully expensive, because of the scarcity of the raw material. The shawls may be pure, made from shahtoosh yarn alone, or mixed with pashmina. Within the pure shahtoosh shawls also, there are many qualities. Shahtoosh shawls are rarely dyed and have little embroidery on them.