The Shawl Post

I did a series of posts on shawls on tumblr that started in the early winter. We are past that now but still in winter so rug up for the ride:) Unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere i.e.


In early winter
It’s hard to tell what people like
or even what they hate.
Like the company of good men
Fire forever gives pleasure. Vajjalagga

The early winter of Magh/Pausha is Hemanta or a wet winter while the late winter of Phalguna is sisira or a dry winter (the corresponding Tamil terms are munpani – early dew – and pinpani – late dew).

The use of heavier clothing, staying indoors, oil massages, the replacement of cooling scents like sandal and camphor with saffron and musk and the like are all referred to in old Indian texts.  While the uttariya, the upper stitched drape, is often worn throughout the year a shawl or chaddar is added in winter and can be seen in several miniature paintings like the one today of a early 1800s Kangra lady warming herself before a brazier.

Patterned fine wool or wool-silk mixes or sometimes silk referred to as पत्रोर्ण (patrorn) were used for garments and likely also as shawls in Ancient India though in sculpture the depiction of shawls is more often than not on men.

The Mogols and Indian women as well as men, wear them in winter round their heads, passing them over the left shoulder as a mantle. There are two sorts manufactured: one kind with the wool of the country, finer and more delicate than that  of Spain; the other kind with the wool, or rather hair (called touz) found on the breast of a species of wild goat which inhabits Great Tibet. Jean- Baptiste Tavernier.

In his brocade robes, priceless jamawar shawls, ropes of pearls and jewels flashing from his chest and turban, he was a fine figure of a man and commanded respect wherever he went. Description of Dwarkanath Tagore in Jorasanko,  Aruna Chakravarti.

Shawls are synonymous with Kashmir and words like pashmina, cashmere, toosh and kani still denote luxury. Jamawar shawls have a long tradition (they are tapestry kind of shawls, the technique probably introduced by the Mughals in the 15th century).  The bold, close motifs and the use of gold and silver threads in Mughal and 18th century India gave way to a predominance of mango (or paisley) motifs and the like with the European market,  Their importation into Europe at the end of the 18th century eventually gave way to cheaper imitation versions of Jamawars produced quickly on Jacquard looms (hand made shawls took at least 16 months to make). Both originals and imitations are still around.


Kashmir shawls are mentioned and much valued in Akbar’s time and also seen in later Mughal paintings – often with a fur stole – as seen in the above portrait. However it is the many portraits of the 18th and 19th century that routinely depict Indian men in jamawars. The shawl was however worn by men and women  in India unlike in Europe where it appears predominantly as an article of women’s clothing.

In the pic set:

Pic 1: Bengal Gentleman, late 18th/early 19th century
Pic 2: Jotindra Tagore,19th century
Pic 3: Fragment of a shawl, early 19th century.
Pic 4: Gentleman, Maharashtra, 19th century.
Pic 5: Young man, Lucknow, 19th century.
Pic 6: Presumably 19th century.
Pic 7: Woman wearing Cashmere shawl, presumably late 19th century.

Piece on the craftsmen behind the shawls.

A bit on its European past. Examples of the shawl with Regency and Victorian attire (X and X).

It’s use in  a man’s coat in Qajar Iran.

Chittara-pattu for the body
Sunfe-ra-dhatu for the head
It is the costume of our Kullu
A town to be beholden. Folk song quoted in Textiles, Costumes and Ornaments of the Western Himalayas, Omacanda Handa.

Of course Kashmir is not the only centre for wool products like shawls. Wool products have a long history in Himachal Pradesh – in particular from Chamba, Kullu and Kinnaur. Places like Rampur in Bashahr/Kinnaur (which gives its name to the Rampuri Chaddar) were well known in the 19th century and each region had characteristic patterns and weaves.

The basic costume of the Kulu with the pattu being made of wool has remained the same and is described here. Pattu, described as the local tweed, often tended to be “khudrang” (neutral tones/black, white with chittara being a black and white check) but are also said to be colourful with motifs specific to the region. The colourful version can be seen here, though this is one of the “tourist” ensembles for portraits. The more superior wools were often used for shawls which tended to be coloured with motifs incorporated.

All Kullu pics of 1956/1957 via photodivision.  Pic 4 of Chamba also photodivision.

In Calcutta, Ray is typically dressed in Bengali traditional clothing, pajama/kurta, or dhoti, and a shawl depending on the weather. Bengal Film Practitioners: Art, Intellectualism and Morality, Victorian Maya Mukerji.

The Uttam era, they said, when a spotless white dhoti, kurta and chappals were the epitome of elegance—reinforced, in winter scenes, by a regal shawl—was over.  Mahanayak, Swapan Mullick.

He quickly rang up Rajiv Gandhi to borrow a churidar pyjama, kurta, and shawl. It was perhaps the first time that he had worn the outfit that was to become his favourite clothing. Description of Amitabh in In the Afternoon of Time, Harivanshrai Bachchan (1976).

The Rajiv Look — clean shaven, shawl across the shoulder, Ray-Bans and lots of teeth.  India Today, 2001.

In the early 20th century the kurta-paijama worn with a shawl in colder weather appeared as a gentleman’s dress for anyone who did not want to adopt the Western suit but wanted an updated version of traditional garments. Of course the shawl was not the only warm garment – there was the frock-coat like achkan and the sleeveless jacket. But the shawl had a certain cachet and ranged from the cheaper woollen ones from Punjab mills to hand made pashminas. Alternatively you could use a cotton chaddar sort of garment.

The drape of the shawl differed but the shawl across the shoulder tended to dominate in later decades.

Even standard  woollen shawls were relatively costly, their wearing therefore indicated a well-to-do man. I don’t know the exact date of this estimate but it is useful comparison of costs for middle class attire:
Good dhoti cost 15 annas, medium quality sari 1 rupee and 7 annas, and a standard warm shawl 3 rupees and 9 annas. 

Still from a luxury item in the form of a jamavar that denoted status, in the early and mid 20th century highlight the shawl also denotes simplicity and an intellectual.  The style was particularly associated with Bengal in its time. The ensemble persists in the country and is still seen on politicians, bridegrooms and older gentlemen, of the last Amitabh is probably its most ubiquitous wearer.

Pics: Gandhi and associates in Noakhali, Dharmendra in Anupama, Sardar Patel, Laksmiswar Sinha via ebay; An Associate of Rabindranath Tagore.

Though the wool shawls are famed, there are probably as many shawl types in India as there are regions. Shawls can be anything from simple wraps to enveloping chaddars and depending on the climate thick cotton or wool and everything in between. The country has opulent Banarasi shawls, monchromatic Uttarkhand weaves, distinctive weaves and patterns like in Nagaland and Kutch and coloured acrylic mill shawls seen on India’s streets every winter.  Pattern and motif – and of late paste gems -often appear though plain shawls are not uncommon.

Capes, cardigans, coats and so on are around but there is probably nothing easier than wrapping yourself in a shawl in an Indian winter to keep out the cold.

In the pics: 1)  Girl in Wakro, Arunachal Pradesh who wove the shawl she is wearing 2) Toda woman in 1956, their shawls are quite distinctive 3) Phulkari shawl from the Punjab 4) Dilip Kumar – probably a Kashmiri shawl with a patterned border 5) Smita Patil – this may be a simple Kutchi shawl 6) Woman at Pushkar fair wearing a mill type shawl with motifs 7) Weaving of a dohru shawl 8) Imran Khan of Kashmir Shawl Atelier 9)  Agyesh Madan (this may be a Kullu shawl) 10) Rengma Naga man in a shawl – see more at wearabout 10) weaving of a Naga shawl.

And to end the post a favourite Bendre painting of a Arunachal woman weaving.

About Anu M

A potted history of Indian clothing and fashion.
This entry was posted in 1800s, 18th century, 1940s, 1950s, 1970s, 19th century, 2016 posts, 20th century, Bengal, Costume, Culture, early 18th century, Early 19th century, Early 20th Century, fashion, Girls, historical costume, historical fashions, India, Indian Costume, Indian Dress, Indian men, Indian Textiles, Indian Women, Islamic Dress, Late 19th century, Mughal, North East, photodivision, Politicians, regional styles, retro, Sets, shawls, Vintage, Vintage Dress, Vintage Men, vintage style, Weaving, winterwear and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Shawl Post

  1. Interesting to see men’s traditional clothing too! It’s difficult to imagine the man with the green shawl using his sword while he is dressed in such fine garments!

    • Anu M says:

      🙂 Yes I imagine it is like Generals posing with their weapons!

      I did read an account where a Princess is described as tying her shawl around her waist and then tucking in her sword!

  2. Biker Chick says:

    Your posts are so well researched, informative, and inclusive of all representations. How long does it take you to compile them? This reminded me of my most favorite shawl wearing character in Hindi cinema – Sanjeev Kumar in Sholay 🙂

    • Anu M says:

      Of course Sanjeev Kumar, definitely a classy shawl wearer!

      Thank you for the appreciation! They do take a long time. I do have a general plan though a) changes over a period of time and b) regional variations on the same theme. And I have loads of pics by now though sifting through them and looking at them in detail also takes time. But it doesn’t feel like work because I am really passionate about our clothing history and I love the eureka moment of spotting patterns!

      • Biker Chick says:

        I only began following you a couple of posts ago so have gone back and read some of the past ones. It is so nice to know the many different things that people are passionate about and their articulations in ways like yours. It makes visible so much that we would otherwise not contemplate. Yours are almost like chapters in a book. Looking forward to more.

      • Anu M says:

        Thank you for the kind comments, much appreciated!

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