Apart from being known due to its geographical location that provides an enchanting tourist destination, Himachal Pradesh is also popular for its handicrafts. And a popular one among them is the Kullu Shawls. Kullu Shawl is a commodity and has its roots grounded in the tradition and culture of the region.
These Shawls are known across the world for their manufacturing quality and warmth. Though popular all over the world as mostly a fashion statement, these warm and fine shawls are an important clothing article for the Kullvi people of Himachal.
Let us take a closer look.
Kullu shawls were initially made, before industrialization and outside influence, for just the purpose of covering the body of the Kullvi people living in the mountainous region of Himachal Pradesh and protecting them from the harsh cold that is common in the climate of the region. This was made possible due to different fur animals like the ox, sheep, etc., in the region.
These early shawls had dimensions that were required to cover the upper body and came in very minimal designs, mostly geometric patterns.
This was before the arrival of craftsmen from Bushahr in the 1940s. With the arrival of these craftsmen, this handicraft was turned into art. New, captivating designs and patterns started showing up on the shawls. The colours used became more vibrant to emphasize the shawls, though dull pastel shades are also popular.
These Shawls are worn by both men and women of the region. The shawls worn by men are typically called “Loi” or “Pattu”. They differ from the ones worn by women as they do not have any designs on them nor only have a few geometric designs on edge compared to those worn by women with beautiful floral patterns.
Authentic Kullu Shawls are all handcrafted in handlooms using natural raw materials. The three main raw materials used for these beauties are Marino Wool (soft, long, and strong wool obtained from the sheep of the same name), Angora wool (made by combining sheep wool and angora rabbit hair), and Local Sheep wool. More different varieties are made by mixing these three.
They are also made from yak’s wool and Pashmina at times. Though, the local people mainly use these.
Handlooms and pit-looms are common in the houses of the people who make these shawls a part-time job or are full-time craftsmen. There are around 10,000 people who work part-time and 20,000 who make their livelihood by making these shawls.
Pit-looms were used at first for manufacturing Kullu Shawls, but after the rise of British rule handlooms were introduced into the community and many started to shift to this. Consequently, major production started taking place in handlooms.
Apart from being used for making shawls, the handlooms, and pit-looms in the houses of the locals are also used for their own requirements are producing some other commodities.
Role in the Local Economy
Kullu Shawls play a major role in the local economy of the region, as a vast majority of people who have inherited the skills from the past generations earn their daily bread from this craft.
The contribution of this handcraft is so seminal to the economy that the State Government provides many benefits to the craftsmen so that they do not face any difficulty in earning their livelihoods and can keep propelling the tradition forward.
The craft recently has to face a great challenge that is threatening the tradition and the people involved by giving them stiff market competition. One might wonder what is wrong with market competition.
Well, here is the deal. Kullu Shawls, as stated before, are handmade in handlooms or pit-looms, but recently some manufacturers, mainly from Ludhiana, have started manufacturing these shawls in factories. And as expected, these are not at all authentic Kullu shawls.
They sell them at the marketplace for lower prices with huge discounts, and people who don’t know any better, mainly tourists and online shoppers, are falling for such traps. As the authentic handmade Kullu shawls are often very expensive, with prices that can exceed 10,000 or even higher. But the more expensive ones are hard to find.
To prevent the negative impact this false competition is having on the local tradition and consequently the economy, the State Government has taken several measures.
But the most crucial among them is the introduction of something called the Geographical Indicator (GI). These are similar to hallmarks on gold and can only be used on those shawls manufactured in the valley itself and produced in the handlooms.
One can avoid falling for such traps by following some simple steps
- Do not be lured by huge discounts and low prices as authentic Kullu shawls are rarely sold at discounts and are not cheap. If you are buying one at a cheap price, chances are it is not original.
- Do not take the advice of your guide or driver if you are a tourist. This is because these people are paid large commissions from the fake manufacturers so that they lead the tourists to their shops. Better to ask the residents and local shops or vendors for the right place.
- Avoid making online purchases entirely or buy from well-renowned sites run by the original manufacturer’s guilds or cooperative welfare societies.
- Many authentic shop owners are part of legitimate societies, particularly dealing in such traditions and trades. Ask the shop owners if they are part of one.
- Ask the shop owners about the GI. But remember that only a few societies hold the GI, so it might not be a foolproof method.
As evident, Kullu Shawls are not only a commodity manufactured in the Himachal region for the profit of the people living there. These shawls are a part of their almost pristine culture, with each thread imbued with a rich tradition passed down the generations and will be for the generations to come. It is a mark of the Kullvi people, a speciality, something that sets them apart.