Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Silk Roads, Other Roads: Textile Society of America 8th Biennial Symposium, Sept. 26–28, 2002, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.


Copyright 2002 by the author(s). Used by permission of TSA.


A weaver in Benaras sits at his pit loom meticulously creating a textile piece of Mahakala. the god of protection for Buddhists.

A lama at the festival ('cham) at Hemis monastery performs the religious dance, the Mahakala image on his apron (pang-kheb) gazing out at the devotees as he pirouettes around the courtyard.

The two descriptions given above demonstrate the beginning and end of the journey of silkbrocades from Benaras to Leh. This paper looks at the historical context of the trade in silk-brocades from Benaras to Leh, and discusses how this trade first started. It presents how these fabrics are made in Benaras and discusses their various uses in Ladakh. Finally, it examines the contemporary status of the trade and the continued importance of silk-brocades in the lives of Buddhist Ladakhis.

Silk-brocade in Ladakh

Ladakh lies embedded in the mountains of the Karakoram in the north-west, the Himalaya in the south-west, and the Trans -Himalaya at its core. From the tenth century the Namgyal dynasty ruled over Ladakh, till the country was annexed by Zorawar Singh in 1834 and came under the jurisdiction of the Dogras, the Hindu rulers of Jammu. Ladakh was ruled by the Dogras up to 1947, and was never directly governed by the British. After India's independence, Ladakh became a part of the north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The two main towns of Ladakh I are Leh and Kargil. Buddhist Ladakhis are concentrated in Leh District, Muslims in Kargil District.