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Live Cultural Heritages


Jasleen Dhamija

INDIAN SHAWLS: MANTLES OF SPLENDOUR; INDIAN CARPETS: A HAND-KNOTTED HERITAGE
By Asha Rani Mathur
Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2004, pp. 96, Rs. 495.00 each

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 4 April 2004

These two well illustrated slim books on the living cultural heritage of India are easy to handle and priced modestly. Asha Rani Mathur writes with felicity. In her book on the Indian Shawls she covers some of the major shawl making areas. Kashmir shawls get the maximum coverage, which is followed by a detailed study of the Phulkari and Bagh and the Naga shawls. The final chapter covers all the other areas, which does not do justice to the shawls of Himachal, Rajasthan and Gujarat, which have a rich and distinctive tradition.   The author’s research is based on published materials. The Kashmir shawl chapter gives a detailed history of the subject, showing the evolution from the early subtle shawls with richly woven cross borders, fine side borders and plain surface, to the moon shawls, patkas and the later elaborate square and long shawls. The commercial importance and the resulting influences are given in detail. However, no mention is made of the dhussa, the man’s shawl with a woven small border and edging, which is the earliest shawl mentioned in pre-Islamic texts and is possibly the precursor of the patterned woven shawl. The weaving of borders and edgings of the shawls were the speciality of a separate group of weavers and these were attached to the dhussa as well as to the end borders of the kani shawls, which became known as Kashmir shawls. There is also no clear classification of terms used in the shawls terminology, for instance Jamevar is mistakenly applied to shawls, but it is actually patterned yardage woven for making clothes worn by the royalty, thus the name jam-e-var, the yardage for the jama. Another aspect which needed to be emphasized is the importance of the talim for creating complex patterns.   The history of the shawl though given in great detail confines itself to Kashmir and fails to link up with the termeh bafi of Persia and the shawl weaving of Turkey with which it has close links. Scholars often fail to see the linkage with other traditions nearer home, though they certainly wax eloquent about influences from the West. The book could have perhaps given more information on the later shawls about which not much is written. The dou-rukha shawls combining woven spaces and embroidery were woven to reduce the labour costs, this created another style of shawl patterning. There were also a range ...


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