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“Designed for eternity”: Kashmiri Shawls, Empire, and Cultures of Production and Consumption in Mid-Victorian Britain

  • Chitralekha Zutshi



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1 W. M. W., , “Cashmere Shawls: Of What Are They Made?” Once a Week 12 (1865): 70.

2 Hall, Catherine and Rose, Sonya O., “Introduction: Being at Home with the Empire,” in At Home with the Empire: Metropolitan Culture and the Imperial World, ed. Hall, Catherine and Rose, Sonya O. (Cambridge, 2006), 2122.

3 Joanna de Groot, “Metropolitan Desires and Colonial Connections: Reflections on Consumption and Empire,” in Hall and Rose, At Home with the Empire, 170.

4 Wani, Mohammed Ashraf, Jammawar: Kani Shawl Weaving in Kashmir (Pune, 1995), 2.

5 ibid., 1–7.

6 Mikosch, Elizabeth, “The Scent of Flowers: Kashmir Shawls in the Collection of the Textile Museum,” Textile Museum Journal 24 (1985): 12.

7 This term should not be confused with the pashminas or pashmeres one finds strewn in most clothing outlets in the West during the fall and winter seasons, since these commodities are almost always made of silk with a little bit of cashmere thrown in for softness. The use of the term “pashmina” to refer to these articles is, of course, a clever marketing ploy aimed at invoking a connection to the Kashmiri shawl, with its heady associations of oriental luxury and mystique. There was another related fiber used in Kashmiri shawl weaving, known as shahtoosh, which is the inner layer of extremely fine hair found on the underbelly of the chiru, or the Tibetan mountain antelope, and is referred to by W. M. W. as asuli (or real). Since the demand for shahtoosh shawls resulted in poaching and the near extinction of the chiru, the sale of these shawls is now banned under international law. Mathur, Asha Rani, Indian Shawls: Mantles of Splendour (Delhi, 2004), 23.

8 Wani, Jammawar, 8–12, 26–28.

9 Ahad, Abdul, Kashmir to Frankfurt: A Study of Arts and Crafts (with a Chapter on the Freedom Struggle of Kashmir) (New Delhi, 1987), 9–11, 44–47.

10 See, for instance, Gordon, Stewart, ed., Robes of Honor: Khil’at in Pre-colonial and Colonial India (New Delhi, 2003).

11 Maskiell, Michelle, “Consuming Kashmir: Shawls and Empires, 1500–2000,” Journal of World History 13, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 2765.

12 Mikosch, “The Scent of Flowers,” 12.

13 Until 1871, the government of Jammu and Kashmir derived annual revenues of Rs. 600,000 from its taxation on shawls. See Lawrence, Walter R., The Valley of Kashmir (1895; repr., Jammu, 1996), 440.

14 In a letter to her brother posted in India, M. A. specifically requests him to send her a red or white “cachemire,” which she hopes will be “square, and of the Harlequin pattern, which is most admired in England.” She adds in the next sentence, “Perhaps mamma might think it undutiful, if you were not to send her one at the same time.” See The East India Sketch-Book by a Lady, In Two Volumes (London, 1833), 2:12. In Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (1814), Lady Bertram wants her nephew, who is embarking on a naval career, to go to India, “that I many have a shawl. I think I will have two shawls.” Quoted in Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York, 1994), 93.

15 Reminiscences of an Old Draper (London, 1876), 60–61, 82, 86.

16 Muir, Meta, “The Edinburgh Shawl,” in A Century of Scottish Shawlmaking, Edinburgh 1777–1847, Paisley 1805–1877 (Edinburgh, 1962), 5.

17 Local manufacturing boards and organizations, such as the Board of Trustees for Manufactures in Scotland, handed out premiums and awards to those who produced the best shawls. See ibid. It is important to note that several European imitation shawl centers in Paris, Lyon, Geneva, and Vienna, for instance, had also arisen by the early nineteenth century. Imitation shawls from Paris and Lyon, in particular, were held in high regard and their designs coveted by other imitation centers, especially in Britain. See Mikosch, “The Scent of Flowers,” 17.

18 Rock, C. H., Paisley Shawls: A Chapter in the Industrial Revolution (Paisley, 1966), 9.

19 ibid., 11; Ireland, John B., From Wall Street to Cashmere, Five Years in Asia, Africa and Europe (New York, 1859), 302.

20 See, for instance, Maxine Berg, “In Pursuit of Luxury: Global History and British Consumer Goods in the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present, no. 182 (February 2004): 85–142.

21 See, for instance, Mukerji, Chandra, From Graven Images: Patterns of Modern Materialism (New York, 1983); and more recently, Kriegel, Lara, “Culture and the Copy: Calico, Capitalism, and Design Copyright in Early Victorian Britain,” Journal of British Studies 43, no. 2 (April 2004): 233–65.

22 Aitchison, C. U., A Collection of Treaties, Engagements and Sanads relating to India and Neighboring Countries (Revised and Continued up to 1929), Vol. XII: Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Assam and Burma (1929; repr., Delhi, 1983), 2022.

23 Bengal and Bombay Public Records, IOR/E/4/1026, 10 October 1810, 558–59, Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections (APAC), British Library (BL). See also Bombay Commercial Circular, IOR/E/4/1007, 4 May 1791, 501–4, APAC, BL; Bombay Commercial Dispatches, IOR/E/4/1011, 27 July 1796, 395, APAC, BL.

24 Foot, Jesse, The Life of John Hunter (London, 1794), 242.

25 Organizations such as the Board of Agriculture and the aforementioned Society for the Improvement of British Wool, founded in Edinburgh, were examples of what C. A. Bayly has termed “agrarian patriotism,” a key ideological feature of the second British empire (1780–1830), which utilized ideas of British agricultural improvement to draw together Britain's empire in Europe, in particular Scotland and Ireland, although its ideological reach clearly went far beyond Europe to Britain's emergent empire in Asia. Bayly, C. A., Imperial Meridian: The British Empire and the World, 1780–1830 (Essex, 1989), 121–26. Warren Hastings to John Sinclair, 24 June 1810, Warren Hastings Papers, BL Add. MSS 29,234, fol. 229.

26 Warren Hastings to John Sinclair, 24 June 1810, Warren Hastings Papers, BL Add. MSS 29,234, fol. 230.

27 Governor General to Raja Runjeet Singh, 17 December 1832, IOR/F4/1466/57661, APAC, BL. In the early nineteenth century, the Company's board of control regularly sent consignments of British shawls suited specifically to the India market to its boards of trade in Bombay, Madras, and Bengal, which were instructed to sell the items and obtain reports on their reception by native shawl dealers. See Bombay Commercial Dispatches, IOR/E/4/1041, 12 December 1821, 67–68, APAC, BL; Madras Commercial Dispatches, IOR E/4/926, 5 December 1821, 117–19, APAC, BL; Bombay Commercial Dispatches, IOR E/4/1028, 1 May 1812, 407, APAC, BL.

28 Arnold, David, The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze: India, Landscape, and Science, 1800–1856 (Seattle, 2006), 27.

29 According to Arnold, Indians were rarely seen as repositories of scientific knowledge by colonial officials and scientific explorers who were instrumental in establishing hierarchies of knowledge in early nineteenth-century India. Rather, the “information” gathered from them was considered practical and empirical. ibid., 181.

30 Most of the biographical information on Moorcroft is culled from Alder, Garry, Beyond Bokhara: The Life of William Moorcroft, Asian Explorer and Pioneer Veterinary Surgeon, 1767–1825 (London, 1985), chaps. 1, 4, 5.

31 ibid., 212.

32 ibid., 297–98.

33 William Moorcroft to C. T. Metcalfe, 21 May 1820, Moorcroft Collection, BL Eur. MSS F38, 30.

35 Moorcroft, William, Travels in the Himalayan Provinces of Hindustan and the Punjab, in Ladakh and Kashmir, in Peshawar, Kabul, Kunduz, and Bokhara: From 1819 to 1825, 2 vols. (London, 1841), 2:295.

36 Bayly, C. A., Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870 (Cambridge, 1997), 135.

37 Arnold, Tropics and the Traveling Gaze, 25–26. Examples of travelers to Kashmir include Alexander “Bokhara” Burns, whose three-volume travelogue sold out on the day of its publication in 1834. The travelogues written by Godfrey Vigne, Victor Jacquemont, and Alexander Cunningham, all of whom traveled through northwestern India, including Kashmir, likewise enjoyed wide circulation. See Alder, Beyond Bokhara, 368.

38 Hall, Catherine, “Epilogue: Imperial Careering at Home; Harriet Martineau on Empire,” in Colonial Lives across the British Empire: Imperial Careering in the Long Nineteenth Century, ed. Lambert, David and Lester, Alan (Cambridge, 2006), 341.

39 Moore, Thomas, “Lalla Rookh”: An Oriental Romance (Buffalo, NY, 1850). Clearly, several editions of this poem were also published in nineteenth-century America. Moore had himself never visited India or Kashmir. An exhibition of paintings based on Godfrey Vigne's drawings of Kashmir's landscape were exhibited at the Panorama at Leicester Square in 1849; the accompanying pamphlet began with a paragraph from Lalla Rookh: “Who has not heard of the Vale of Kashmir, / With its roses the brightest that earth ever gave; / Its temples and grottoes, and fountains as clear / As the love-lighted eyes that hang over their wave? / Oh! To see at sunset, when warm o’er the lake / Its splendour at parting a summer eve throws, / Like a bride full of blushes, when ling’ring to take / A last look at the mirror, at night, e’er she goes.” See Descriptions of a View of the Valley and City of Kashmir now Exhibiting at The Panorama, Leicester Square, Painted by the Proprietor Robert Burford from Drawings taken in 1835, By G. T. Vigne (London, 1849), 3.

40 Vigne, Godfrey Thomas, Travels in Kashmir, Ladak, Iskardo, the Countries Adjoining the Mountain-Course of the Indus and the Himalaya, North of the Punjab, 2 vols. (1842; repr., New Delhi, 1981), 2:68.

41 Arnold, Tropics and the Traveling Gaze, 35–37.

42 Descriptions of a View of the Valley, 3.

43 Kashmeer and its Shawls (London, 1875), 9–10.

44 W. M. W., “Cashmere Shawls,” 68.

45 Richards, Thomas, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England: Advertising and Spectacle, 1851–1914 (Stanford, CA, 1990), 23.

46 I would like to thank Simon Joyce and Deidre Lynch for this insight.

47 White, Charles, The Cashmere Shawl: An Eastern Fiction, 3 vols. (London, 1840).

48 Gilroy, Amanda, “Introduction,” and Saree Makdisi, “Shelley's Alastor: Travel beyond the Limit,” both in Romantic Geographies: Discourses of Travel, 1775–1844, ed. Gilroy, Amanda (Manchester, 2000), 11, 240.

49 Makdisi, “Shelley's Alastor,” 252–53.

50 W. M. W., “Cashmere Shawls,” 70.

51 Said, Culture and Imperialism, 58.

52 Kashmeer and its Shawls, 12.

53 Zutshi, Chitralekha, Languages of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity, and the Making of Kashmir (New York, 2004), 4950. As stipulated by the Treaty of Amritsar, three pairs of Kashmiri shawls continued to be presented to the queen in recognition of the paramountcy of the British crown over the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, although the gift of shawl goats had been discontinued by the 1870s. See Kashmeer and its Shawls, 24.

54 The misidentification of Kashmiri weavers as Hindus (as opposed to Muslims, which they actually were) is unsurprising, given that the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was being reframed in colonial discourse as a Hindu entity after its 1846 creation and transfer to Dogra rulers, themselves Hindus with little legitimacy to rule over the largely Muslim population of Kashmir. Zutshi, Languages of Belonging, 46–49.

55 Cohen, Deborah, Household Gods: The British and Their Possessions (New Haven, CT, 2006), xi.

56 McClintock, Anne, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (New York, 1995); Cohen, Household Gods, xii.

57 McClintock, Imperial Leather, esp. chap. 5.

58 See Daly, Suzanne, “Kashmir Shawls in Mid-Victorian Novels,” Victorian Literature and Culture 30, no. 1 (March 2002): 237–55; Alfrey, Penelope, “The Social Background to the Shawl,” in The Norwich Shawl: Its History and a Catalogue of the Collection at Strangers Hall Museum, Norwich, ed. Clabburn, Pamela (London, 1995), 2332. Piya Chatterjee makes a similar argument for the case of tea, a commodity that, she argues, held both material and symbolic significance in Victorian England, where the tea parlor came to symbolize “a safe tranquility, a cocooned interior nurtured by women.” See Chatterjee, Piya, A Time for Tea: Women, Labor, and Post/Colonial Politics on an Indian Plantation (Durham, NC, 2001), 40.

59 As Lara Kriegel's article deftly illustrates in relation to debates surrounding calico production and design piracy, the “paradox of original and copy in an age of mechanical reproduction” was very much a part of Victorian “productive culture and cultural production.” See Kriegel, “Culture and the Copy,” 233–65. The concern with the lack of taste in British art and by extension its manufactures was reinvigorated with the appointment of a select committee of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce in 1835, which attributed the decline in sale of English manufactures domestically and abroad to their lack of taste. See ibid., 240–41; King, Lyndel Saunders, The Industrialization of Taste: Victorian England and the Art Union of London (Ann Arbor, MI, 1985), 2728.

60 The Crystal Palace Exhibition Illustrated Catalogue, London 1851, an Unabridged Republication of the Art-Journal Special Issue (New York, 1970), 55, 103, 157, 254, 308; Cohen, Household Gods, 16–17. See also Greenhalgh, Paul, Ephemeral Vistas: The Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions, and World's Fairs, 1851–1939 (Manchester, 1988), 19, 23–24. The rhetoric of the decline of taste during the Great Exhibition also incorporated a concern with the “democraticization of art,” representing the lowering of aesthetic standards and the possibility of the production of copies of works of art through new technologies, which could then be available to all classes. See Phillips, Ruth B. and Steiner, Christopher B., “Art, Authenticity, and the Baggage of Cultural Encounter,” in Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds, ed. Phillips, Ruth B. and Steiner, Christopher (Berkeley, 1999), 911.

61 Ralph Nicholson Wornum, “The Exhibition as a Lesson in Taste,” in The Crystal Palace Exhhibition Illustrated Catalogue, i–xxii.

62 ibid., vi.

63 Hall, “Epilogue: Imperial Careering at Home,” 342–44.

64 Harriet Martineau, “Shawls,” Household Words, August 1852, 553.

66 Maskiell, “Consuming Kashmir,” 53.

67 Martineau, “Shawls,” 556.

68 Cohen, Household Gods, 19–21.

69 ibid., 26.

70 Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish, The Indian Craftsman (London, 1909).

71 Guha-Thakurta, Tapati, “Orientalism, Nationalism and the Reconstruction of Indian' Art in Calcutta,” in Perceptions of South Asia's Visual Past, ed. Asher, Catherine B. and Metcalf, Thomas R. (New Delhi, 1994), 48.

72 Birdwood, George C. M., The Arts of India (1880; repr., Channel Islands, 1986), 134, 280.

73 For a detailed discussion of the importance of early orientalists’ object/art collections in defining their personal lives and their role as imperial agents, see Jasanoff, Maya, Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 1750–1850 (New York, 2005), esp. pt. 1.

74 William Morris, a major proponent of the arts and crafts movement, captured this nostalgia well: “For so far reaching is this curse of commercial war that … the Indian or Japanese craftsman may no longer ply his craft leisurely, … in producing a maze of strange beauty on a piece of cloth; a steam engine is set a-going at Manchester, … and the Asiatic worker, if he is not starved to death outright, as plentifully happens, is driven himself into a factory, … and nothing of character is left in him.” Quoted in Coomaraswamy, The Indian Craftsman, 106. For a discussion of the emergence of the Indian craftsman as a site of nostalgia for the British and colonial arts and crafts movements, see Dewan, Deepali, “Scripting South Asia's Visual Past: The Journal of Indian Art and Industry and the Production of Knowledge in the Late Nineteenth Century,” in Imperial Co-histories: National Identities and the British and Colonial Press, ed. Codell, Julie (London, 2003), 2944.

75 Zutshi, Languages of Belonging, 3–4.

76 Kabir, Ananya Jahanara, Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir (Minneapolis, 2009), 93.

77 Liberty's 1875–1975: An Exhibition to Mark the Firm's Centenary, July–October, 1975 (London, 1975), 4; Liberty's Catalogue, 1881 (1), 2, Microfiche Collection (MF), Victoria and Albert Museum Library (V&A).

78 Liberty's Catalogue, 1887 (2), 63, MF, V&A.

79 Liberty's Catalogue, 1886 (2), 53, MF, V&A.

80 Liberty's 1875–1975, 4; Liberty's Catalogue, 1881 (1), 17, MF, V&A.

81 Liberty's Catalogue, 1881 (1), 17, MF, V&A.

82 Liberty's Catalogue, 1883 (2), 11, MF, V&A. Liberty's thus also took credit for stimulating the British woolen industry that had, its catalogs claimed, been languishing for years and was in danger of “passing into Continental hands.” See Liberty's Catalogue, 1887 (2), 68, MF, V&A.

83 de Groot, “Metropolitan Desires and Colonial Connections,” 170.

84 A variety of factors, including changing dress styles—particularly the rise of the bustled skirt—which were more suited to shorter mantillas, led to the decline of shawl fashion in Europe in the 1870s, although the Kashmiri and Indian shawl industries continued to supply a growing Indian demand for these commodities. See Pendergast, Sara and Pendergast, Tom, Fashion, Costume and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages, vol. 3, European Culture from the Renaissance to the Modern Era (Detroit, 2004), 627; Watt, George and Brown, Percy, Indian Art at Delhi: Being the Official Catalogue of the Delhi Exhibition 1902–1903 (1903; repr., Delhi, 1987), 346–47.

85 Mrs.Merrifield, , Dress as a Fine Art (London, 1854), 6, 2.

86 W. M. W., “Cashmere Shawls,” 68.

87 Kashmeer and its Shawls, 10–11.

88 ibid., 48–49nn., 13–14. Scholars have argued that Kashmiri shawls held more than merely social value for women in Victorian Britain, since they were also economically valuable and could be inherited. See Chaudhuri, Nupur, “Shawls, Jewelry, Curry, and Rice in Victorian Britain,” in Western Women and Imperialism: Complicity and Resistance, ed. Chaudhuri, Nupur and Strobel, Margaret (Bloomington, IN, 1992), 234; Maskiell, “Consuming Kashmir,” 38.

89 Kashmeer and its Shawls, 55.

90 ibid., 53–54.

91 ibid., 58.

92 The New Cashmere Shawl (London, 1852), 7.

93 ibid., 21.

95 Berg, Maxine, “Asian Luxuries and the Making of the European Consumer Revolution,” in Luxury in the Eighteenth Century: Debates, Desires and Delectable Goods, ed. Berg, Maxine and Eger, Elizabeth (New York, 2003), 228.

96 Harris, Peter, “The Kashmir Shawl: Lessons in History and Studies in Technology,” Ars Textrina 16 (1991): 105; Preiti Sharma Shahane, “Hollywood Stars to Desi Babes Cosy Up to Pashmina,” Economic Times, New Delhi ed., 7 December 2005.


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