from the Persian word for wool, is popularly known in the
West as cashmere wool, from the old spelling of Kashmir.
The fine wool comes from the undercoat of the Himalayan
mountain goat, called Chyangra (Capra Hircus) which lives
in the high Himalayan regions of Nepal and the most remote
regions of Tibetan Plateau. For over a thousand years cashmere
has been woven into shawls and blankets, prized by royalty
and common people alike for its softness, warmth, and long
life. Kashmir was for centuries the only place the fiber
could be woven into shawls, according to treaties that gave
the Maharaja of Kashmir exclusive rights to Tibet's pashmina
While shawls, stoles, mufflers, scarves
and blankets woven from pashmina wool have been adored for
centuries in the far East, the Western world has been slow
to discover pashmina's unique qualities. Today most of the
world's pashmina shawls are woven on hand looms in Nepal's
Kathmandu valley. And most are woven on a warp of spun silk
for increased suppleness and strength. In recent years this
silk and pashmina blend has become the adoring of the western
fashion world. Extraordinarily soft and light, yet exceptionally
warm, be it pure pashmina or silk blended pashmina.
Pashmina wool, also known as cashmere wool
world over is the softest, most luxurious and the best wool
in the world comes from Himalayan region from a special
Himalayan goat Chyangra (Capra Hircus) which lives at the
altitude of 12000 feet where temperature drops below 40
degree centigrade. The goat is blessed by nature with a
unique very thin short inner coat of hair which is the best
insulation in the world and this inner coat of hair is PASHMINA.
The Himalayan goat is survived because of this nature gifted
hair in the coolest weather. Pashmina fiber i s 15 to 19
microns in diameter where as a human hair is 75 microns
in diameter. One Himalayan goat produce s 3 to 8 ounce s
of Pashmina per year.
Origin of Pashmina dates back to ancient
civilization and has been traced back to the times of Mahabharata.
Earlier in olden days pashmina shawls found favor with EMPERORS,
KINGS, PRINCES, RULLERS and NOBLES. This precious fabric
was known as FIBER FOR KINGS.
Origin of pashmina in Nepal started long
back, the mountain people of Nepal had to depend on the
fabric they wove for warmth, for easy travel and for survival.
In many high mountain areas and semi-tropical jungles, they
continued to weave for their perfect protection and comfort
wear. The art of wearing wool products by hand has been
practiced throughout the country remains popular today as
its rugged conditions have not changed. Due to gradual popularity
and commercialization of pashmina there are variety of pashmina
is being offered in the market like: pashmina shawls, pashmina
stoles, pashmina scarves, pashmina sweaters, pashmina mufflers,
and variety of other pashmina products. These luxurious
pashmina shawls are hand woven by traditional weavers whose
families have been in the occupation since ages they inherit
this art from their ancestors, and tradition of pashmina
weaving continues from one generation to another generation.
Nepalese women have traditionally worn
pashmina shawls. Our ancestors have described pashmina as
sensual sublimity. It is they who perfected the skill to
retrieve pashmina up to 95% purity and the skill as such
got passed from generation to generation as a heritage of
Pashmina is the most original and authentic
fibers. The king of all wools originated in Kashmir hundreds
of years ago. The art of Pashmina making in the valley of
Kashmir is believed to be as old as 3000 years B.C. In the
past, only rich and elite had the privilege of enjoying
luxurious fabric. It adorned the court of Caesar and was
the pride of French queen, Marie Antoinette. Impressed with
the unparalleled looks of Kashmir shawl, Emperor Napoleon
presented it to impress Josephine. Until mid-twentieth century,
Kashmir's kings had the sole right to purchase all pashmina
from Nepal, Tibet and other higher reaches of Himalayas.
This resulted in establishment of flourishing cottage industry
in Kashmir and has lead to the perfection of art of pashmina
making. The making of Kashmir Pashmina is labor intensive
and on an average it takes nearly 200 - 250 man-hours to
make a single pure plain pashmina shawl without embroidery.
The beautiful vale of Kashmir has always
been famed for its craftsmanship. The wearing of tapestry
shawls was first introduced into the valley from Turkistan
by Zain-Ul-Abdin, the ruler of Kashmir, in the 15th century.
Production benefited from the patronage of the Mughal rulers
like Akbar and his successors, who wore these shawls, and
also because of patronage of local government.
The collapse of the Mughal Empire left
many weavers unemployed. The situation however, was saved
by the enormous increase in demand from Europe, where the
shawls became popular in the latter part of the 18th century.
At the beginning of the 19th century, foreign
entrepreneurs started to commission shawls especially for
the French market, adapting the designs to suit European
taste. Indeed pashmina became the rage in France after Napoleon
presented a rare shawl to Empress Josephine. With the progress
of the century, the adoption in designs became increasingly
complex. The European market for shawls collapsed in 1870
due to a combination of factors such as changing tastes
and competition from Paisley shawls. The economic prostration
of France when she was defeated by Russia added to the declining
European market. The Kashmir weavers either left the valley
for Punjab or started producing embroidered shawls for tourists,
mainly British officers on furlough in colonized India.
Today Kashmiri shawls are embroidered by
professional men. Lately, the American market has opened
to Pashmina as Americans discovered its plush, soft texture.
Fashion gurus now pronounce it as essential to the wardrobe
as the ubiquitous little black dress.