The crown jewel of Kashmir's textile industry, jamawar is made from an enchanting mix of fabrics. According to historians, the fabric traveled from Persia to Kashmir, reaching its peak during the Mughal reign. Zain-ul-Abidin, the ruler of Kashmir, brought weavers from Turkistan to the valley and built the foundation for Kashmir Shawl Industry. Jamawar is believed to have been derived from the Persian or Kashmiri words 'jam', which means a shawl or robe, and 'war', which means a chest.
Court officials and members of royal Mughal families wore the regal jamawar shawl with great pride and pomp. Emperor Akbar is believed to have brought skilled jamawar weavers from myriad Arab nations to Kashmir. During this time, jamawar enjoyed a high stature, and was endorsed greatly by not just Mughal emperors but also by historic heavyweights across the globe, such as Sikh kings, French monarchs, British aristocrats and members of Iranian nobility, among many others.
Jamawar fabric is the oldest form of woven art. The fabric is a blend of cotton and wool, making it an adulterated form of silk. It is made by hand with needles. It doesn’t involve any work, no machines work at all, only needles. Many shawls are made over a period of several years and months. Jamawar shawl made with weaving sticks and intricate patterns is Kanika Jamawar, the high end variety. The shawl has been precisely stitched on both sides so that the front and back are identical. Pashmina Jamawar shawls are made with goats' Pashmina yarn mixed with cotton and wool, but the main attraction is the skilled embroidery work and flawless weaving. Originally, Jamawars were made from silk. It was exclusively the aristocracy and the royals who wore these shawls. Today, Jamawars are available to everyone thanks to advanced technology and faster looms.
Given the generous use of colors and motifs, the finished weave is highly iridescent. Jamawar is characterized by its intricate weaving, which makes its front and back look alike with no stray threads visible. Paisley, a popular design element of the weave that derives its inspiration from Persia, is a dominant element of the fabric, along with motifs of flora and fauna. Jamawars also include a great deal of hand embroidery, which is done with meticulous attention to detail. The most common colors used to weave jamawars are white, mushki, ferozi, gulnar, and uda (violet), among others. A single piece may be woven with up to 50 different colors.
Owing to the elaborateness that goes into the making of the weave, it takes months on end to craft a finished jamawar piece, and sometimes, even years, depending on the level of intricacy involved. Jacquard looms, however, were introduced to the market in the 1800s and initially served as a catalyst for this process. While this move may have allowed this weave to reach a larger consumer base, it also caused the original, handmade jamawar to lose its appeal.
Aside from this, the onset of industrialization meant cheaper fibres became more readily available. All these factors conspired to cause jamawar to lose a solid customer base, and with the introduction of machine-made counterparts, it began to vanish. Today, to reach a diverse audience base, jamawar is woven to craft a multitude of products from shawls, kameez and lehengas to curtains, sarees and blouses. As winter descends, shawl merchants, colloquially known as ‘pheriwallas’, who are not originally from Delhi or Kashmir, migrate to these regions to sell handmade, painstakingly crafted jamawars. Considering its back-breaking and time-consuming process, it is highly imperative to find a worthy buyer for these weaves.
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