The art of weaving in Kashmir was introduced
in the latter part of the 15th century by the king Zain-ul-Abidin, who had
imported it from Persia. In the Central and South Asian region Persia had a
reputation as the land of high art. Kashmiri carpets and shawls still follow
the tradition of intricate geometric and calligraphic motifs and its beauty
lies in the detailed needlework. The art flourished in the time of the Mughals
and the tradition continued even during the troubled times of the Afghan and
Sikh rule. The British came here in the early part of the 19th century and a
certain utilitarianism crept into the art that commercialised the woven
products and Kashmiri carpets and shawls became the cynosure of the connoisseur
all over the world.
The industry suffered a setback when the valley was engulfed in turmoil from 1989 onwards. As the Indian state and local as well as Pakistan-supported separatist forces were locked in a brutal and long-drawn conflict, the ancient craft of weaving faced troubled times as orders dried up with inbound tourism hitting an all-time low. In addition, a lot of artisans fled the valley creating a void. Two-and-a half decades later, the lives of ordinary Kashmiris are threatened yet again. With violence escalating, dreams of rebuilding the craft is fading.
There are other problems as well. The cost of pashmina wool is prohibitive but, most importantly, the young generation is entirely uninterested in mastering the skill. Still, the thing that threatens this beautiful craft is revival of the turmoil that in the 1990s made Kashmir one of the deadliest zones on earth. The people of the valley fear that this centuries-old craft may soon be a relic of the past.