Date of this Version
Silk Roads, Other Roads: Proceedings of the 8th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 26-28, 2002, Northampton, Massachusetts
Although the “Silk Road” is by far the most famous network of trade routes connecting China, Central Asia, and India, there are other significant, ancient trade routes between these regions of which many may not be aware. One such trade route, known informally as the “wool road”, connected the plains of the Punjab in India to Tibet, Central Asia and China. This route, and several others, passed through the Kullu and Kinnaur regions of the northern Indian state known as Himachal Pradesh. The “wool road”, which was really merely a donkey trail, was the traditional main trade route in the region, and was so important that it was later widened to motorable width to boost trade in the region and came to be known as the Hindustan-Tibet road. Two groups of artisans that can be found along this important route are the weavers of Kullu and Kinnaur. Their strategic location on these routes caused their weaving to be greatly influenced by the ancient trade and traffic along it. Their weaving traditions have a long and intertwined history and their shawls are quite famous throughout India; however, their distinct and skillful weaving is nearly unknown to the outside world.
The “Wool Road”
The state named “Himachal Pradesh", meaning land of snow, is located in the northernmost part of India, sandwiched between the Indian states of Kashmir to the Northwest, Uttar Pradesh to the South and Punjab to the Southwest. To the East, it forms India's border with Tibet and Nepal. It is comprised of hilly and mountainous regions with altitudes ranging from 350 to nearly 7,000 meters above sea level. Although the majority of the population is Hindu, there are a significant number of Buddhists, especially in Kinnaur.
Interrelated History of Kinnauri and Kulluvi Weaving
It is said that weaving has been practiced in Himachal Pradesh for at least 5,000 years. Master weaver Dhuni Chand stated that the art of weaving decorative motifs on wool garments began in the Kinnauri village Shubnam, and that the craft came to Kinnaur from Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, via China and Tibet. The fact that Kinnauri weaving was influenced as a result of their location along this busy trade route is evident in many of their traditional motifs, such as the diwar-e-chine (great wall of China).
One can say that Kinnauri weaving is the predecessor of the style of weaving for which Kullu is famous. The Kinnauri style of weaving was first introduced to Kullu valley in the 1830s when weavers from Rupa village in Kinnaur fled to the Kullu valley to escape persecution by the local king. After migrating to the Kullu valley, these weavers continued their craft and were given incentives to teach their patterning techniques to the Kulluvi people. Decoration in Kulluvi weaving, prior to the arrival of the Kinnauris, was restricted to variations in twill weave, checks, and plaids. Their shawls and pattus were devoid of any kind of motifs. Border patterning, as well as the red selvedge border known as the khanni or khushti first appeared on pattus in the 1920s, about 93 years after the Kinnauris migrated to the Kullu Valley. The intricate patterns decorating the ends of the Kinnauri chhanli, lengcha and dohru were the source of inspiration for Kulluvi motifs. The bright, bold patterns for which Kulluvi shawls and pattus (traditional Kulluvi women’s outer garment) have become famous originated from Kinnauri motifs that were enlarged and simplified over time. Although the weaving techniques of Kinnaur and Kullu are almost identical, the bright, almost florescent, colors and bold, graphic style that have become the hallmark of Kullu weaving are definitely unique and separate from those of Kinnauri weaving.