What is a shawl? Different types of shawls

Shawls are finished pieces of wool fabric that may be square, rectangle, or even oval in shape and which are relatively long.

What is a shawl? Different types of shawls

In the last few decades, a special interest has been generated across the globe for antique shawls. The term ‘shawl’ is derived from the Persian word ‘shal’, which translates into a fine woolen fabric, alternately known as a drape. In persia, the shal was worn as a girdle, while it was generally carried across the shoulders in India.

The shawl has a long history and its emergence can be traced to the medieval period. However, there are  literary pieces of evidence and archeological findings that point towards its presence right from the Indus Valley Civilization. The 19th century Persian history of Kashmir, Tarikh-i-Hassan, ascribes the production of shawls in Kashmir with the introduction of shawl wool, known as Pashimina by the renowned Sufi mystic, Sayyid Ali Hamadani. As per Hassan, Sayyid Ali Hamadani came across this fine wool while traveling through Ladakh and Turkistan and brought it with him to Kashmir in the late fourteenth century. For late 19th century Victorian narratives, the Kashmiri shawl was recognized as a perfect symbol of the Orientalized East - pre-industrial, close to nature, and at the same time matchless in elegance and grace.

Generally, shawls are finished pieces of wool fabric that may be square, rectangle, or even oval in shape and which are relatively long. They are normally large enough to be covered around the shoulders more than once. Shawls, too, are available in a wide range of styles, from the casual, as worn every day, to the more formal, matching formal attire. Shawls can be merely used as a fashion statement or utilized for prayers as prayer matts. Shawls made from cotton or linen are appropriate for summer, while woolen shawls are perfect for winter.

A formal shawl is usually made of luxurious fabrics such as pashmina or cashmere, and it is the perfect addition to a formal dress. The type of fabrication determines the texture of the shawl and its ability to withstand different types of weather. Cotton and linen shawls are suitable for wearing in the summer, while woolen shawls are suitable for wearing in the winter.

“The shawls are one of India’s best products. It is unique in that while it offers the intimacy of a warm garment, it leaves you free and unencumbered’. - Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay

The past few decades have witnessed an interest in the shawl. While originally used as a way to protect oneself from the biting cold, it has become an item of style as well. Even though these shawls have a rich heritage and reflect their rich past, today there are wardrobe essentials that reflect opulence and add a touch of elegance to any wardrobe. Worn during weddings in winter, it is a sight to behold when women turn up in the most stunning pieces in myriads of colors and exquisite embroidery. Apart from that, they're the perfect gift that combines both elegance and practicality.

  1. Pure Pashmina Shawls

A handwoven Pashmina is characterized by a fluid drape and a soft touch due to its diamond weave. Pashminas, which once signaled exclusiveness and security for Kashmiri women, are the epitome of Kashmiri craftsmanship's glorious history. It is said that if they fell upon bad days, they cut up a shawl length of Pashmina and sold it to the shawl peddler for cash. Pashmina's history reached its pinnacle when it was embraced by European royalty during the Mughal reign. The great Napoleon Bonaparte found the shawl fit to adorn the shoulders of his beloved, Josephine.

2. Kani Shawls

Handcrafted over years, Kani shawls are woven with the aid of wooden bobbins, which are threaded into the weave of the shawl over a handloom to create artistic marvels from simple shawls. In the cold climes of Kashmir, in a village called Kanihama, the lives of a chosen few are spent in weaving a magic spell of warmth and color; the Kani shawl. This exquisite shawl was once covered by Mughal kings, Sikh maharajas, and British aristocrats. In Ain-i-Akbari, Emperor Akbar is described as an avid collector of Kani shawls.

One of the most labor-intensive weaving techniques is used for these shawls. Numerous kanis (little wooden sticks used as spools) or shuttles laden with rich coloured threads are moved around even in a single weft line. It may take several months to complete an intricately designed wrap using as many as 50 Kanis with multiple colors. Two weavers work together to weave a shawl, using a codified design known as talim.

3. Sozni Jamawar Shawls

The eclectic display of warm colors and shades, this shawl has been specially curated for those with a royal taste of luxury accessorizing. These beautiful Kashmiri shawls from the land of beauty loosely translate into a “robe to cover the body”, which comes from the word Jama meaning ‘robe’ and Var meaning ‘chest or body’. Jamawar is woven with the pashm fiber, with the brocaded parts woven in similar threads.

Modern designs often include floral or paisley motifs and accentuate the wearer's style. Traditionally, Kashmiri shawls were a prized possession of aristocrats, who purchased yardage and made their own shawls. Its most famous patron was Emperor Akbar.

4. Tilla Shawls

Embroidered by hand in Zari Kari, the shawl is made of pure cashmere and displays India's proud heritage architecture, particularly in the Mughal period. Originally, Tilla shawls were embroidered with gold and silver threads using a process called Tilla embroidery, which was only accessible to royalty and influential people. Tillas are made of pure cashmere wool that comes from Ladakh, J&K. Gradually, however, craftsmen began embroidering these luxury shawls with metal threads coated with gold to make them more affordable for commoners. Locally known as Tilla Dozi, shawls decorated with this embroidery are an essential part of the wedding trousseau of a bride.

5. Papier Mache Shawls

The exquisite quality of this shawl is only possible because it is handwoven from soft, velvety Cashmere woven into the realms of Pashmina. Paper Mache shawls, usually white in base, are perhaps the most alluring Kashmiri shawls. Over the white base, colorful threads are used for embroidery in such a way that thick strokes bedeck the plush base underneath. As a result, the final product resembles an actual work of art. The name of the embroidery comes from the Papier Mache art, as both look similar in their artistic demeanor.

There is a unique personality to each of these Kashmiri shawls and that is what sets them apart from one another. Winter weddings are the best time to flaunt your collection and make heads turn with your fashion appeal and classy demeanor.

At Hanggul, we are on a mission to revive this dying art by curating pure and handcrafted Pashmina products. We present our range of products, which are luxurious and of the highest quality. We offer the widest range, certified quality, luxurious packaging and free shipping across India.