The Wool Road
Although the Silk Road has been one of the most popular trading routes that connected Central Asia, China and India, there have been other lesser known trade routes. One such trade route, known as the Wool Road passed through the Kullu and Kinnaur regions of the Himachal. Several groups of artisans practice their crafts in these regions.
The Kinnauri Shawl
The beautiful natural landscape of Kinnaur and its cultural mix of Hinduism, Buddhism and native shamanism find expression in the colours and patterns of a Kinnauri shawl. The preponderance of religious symbols as decorative devices on the Kinnauri shawl, lead one to look at the profound significance of these forms. Besides being a work of great beauty and skilful labour, it is a recording of influences that travelled to the Trans-Himalayan region via the Silk Route.
While the body of the shawl is in the natural colors of wool, the patterns in the borders consist of symbols that are executed in five colors, namely, red, blue, white, green and yellow, which represent the 5 elements, in accordance with Buddhist beliefs. While all the five colors are used in the ornamentation, the overall predominance is of a nostalgic brick red color. The ‘Kinnauri shawl’ registered as a Geographical Indicator of the region has curbed unauthorized production and misuse of the brand name. Also, the high economic index allows the craft to be highly priced, thus ensuring a healthy sustenance for the craftsperson.
Women and men in Kinnaur adorn the shawls and stoles, during special occasions. The Dohru (woollen sari), however, is worn by older women as an everyday garment.
Moving northwards, towards the regions of Lahaul and Spiti, the pattern becomes profusely intricate. Here, the shawl takes the form of a shoulder-wrap, known as a ‘Lingchay’; which is secured in place with a beautiful silver brooch. The predominant colors are red and purples.
The Kulluvi Shawl
Kullu – the popular haven of shawls, produces a great variety, and at reasonable prices. The weaving is mostly carried out by the Bhutia tribe. Prior to the forties, the region produced plain weaves. With time, constructive alterations in design were introduced through the influence of the Kinnauri weaves. Borders became geometrical and colorful, and the shawl body acquired the twill weave, checks and plaid. Though Kinnauri and Kullavi weaving styles are almost identical, weavers from Kullu have, over time, developed their own style, simplifying the motifs that originated from Kinnaur. The Kullu shawl has brighter, almost fluorescent colors and bold graphic patterns which are definitely unique and separate from those of Kinnauri weaving.
The Kullu borders are known as ‘phool’. So, one would find shawls with ek, do or teen phool. Teen phool being the most ornately decorated. A Pattu is the traditional wrap dress of the local women of Kullu. The textile is heavier than shawls and it is worn as an over-garment. Women secure it in place by pinning both ends on the shoulder, with a local silver brooch called ‘bumni’, joined with a long chain.
Types of Wool used in the regions
The yarns traditionally used in the region are:
1. Deshkar (fleece from local, lowland sheeps)
2. Bihang (fleece of sheep from high altitudes)
3. Merino (wool from imported Australian sheep)
4. Pashmina (fleece from Cashmere goat)
5. Angora (fleece from imported Angora rabbits)
6. Pashm (fine quality wool obtained from local sheep)
7. Trsos-Khul/Tosh (It is the finest of all types of fleece found in the Himalayan region. It is obtained from the under-belly of wild sheep and goats, either by killing them or gathering the soft fibres left on rocks and shrubs. This is known as Shah Tush, which means ‘king of fleece’; and is believed to be warm enough to hatch a pigeon’s egg.
8. Yak wool
Most Kullu and Kinnauri shawls produced for the market are nowadays made use mill-spun merino, and brightly colored acrylic yarn for the border motifs.