You might have noticed I have had Kashmir on my mind. As an ode to her return to Kashmir, I shared Mama-in-Law’s method of making the ever elusive Koshur aanchar (there were only a handful of recipes when I googled for it online). I’ve been reminiscing about high-school days and assimilation and how one Kashmiri dress transformed my sense of self confidence as a teen.
So, a couple of weeks ago when we had the chance to attend the Kashmiri Gathering of North America 2017 – an annual get together of people identifying their roots from Indian Occupied Kashmir, I very much looked forward to meeting old friends and perhaps making new ones too.
That the people of Kashmir, my own ones included, are amongst the most oppressed in this world is no exaggeration.
This oppression includes cultural appropriation, negation and systemic discrimination. Many of these issues and more were discussed in the gathering. And as Kashmiris who live in relative security we came together to celebrate our loving and generous traditions – made all the more so miraculous because they continue under such brutality. To introduce Kashmir as a place of exquisite taste and beauty is, in fact, a way to honour it. Today I want to share with you just a little glimpse of the gorgeous textile and embroidery that is so unique to Kashmir and Kashmiris.
We’ve talked about pherans before. No Jacket or blazer can compare. THE most prevailing sartorial symbol of the Valley. Worn by men, women and children during the cold winter months it goes over the latest style of jeans just as easily as over a pair of traditional shalwar kameez trousers.
Men’s pherans are mostly plain and made of tweed, but the materials used for women’s pherans vary. The most prized is velvet, with embroidery, stitched from real silver or gold thread called Tilla. The Til or thread is sold by weight and it is this that determines the design. And oh what designs! Look at this gorgeous spade shape on the neckline of this indigo blue velvet number.
This was my mom’s wedding pheran
I totally love the way you accessorised this with sneakers!
Oh yeah, comfortable feet all the way, the colour is jut a coincidence!
This pheran had the full traditional details – look at the pockets and those sleeves! I have never seen sleeves like this outside of Kashmir. They are called Quraab Daar sleeves and they feature an embroidered slit at the inner elbow, through which the wearer can extend their hand. The rest of the sleeve is then pinned back – so it doesn’t flap around. There are so many explanations for this design, ranging from being an archaic status symbol, worn only by the upper classes, to this more poetic reason which fellow Kashmiri Ramisa shared with me:
‘The quraab was used by upper class women to hold rice etc. when giving charity — in keeping with the merit of ” one hand not knowing what the other hand was giving” i.e. good deeds done in secrecy. The longer the quraab, the more charitable the lady. However, as the times changed the decorative element became more prominent in the latter days with the charitable element forgotten’
Also, I adore how this silver thread has taken on the patina of age so gracefully (silver slowly oxidises when exposed to air), giving this pheran its ‘vintage’ look. Click here if you’d like to see more pics of this particular one.
This is an example of the thick and curlish embroidery called aarie kaam in Kashmiri denoting the kind of needle used in the process. Here, not a pheran, but this gorgeous embroidery, in perfect flower blossom colours on a light wool jacket/overcoat is what caught my eye. Ideal for early spring and cool summer evenings.The retro hair, tiny nose stud and those earrings add just the right touch of royal glamour to this beautiful Mughal inspired look.
I prefer taking photos in natural light, but on spotting this lovely Aunty at the evening formal dinner I made a beeline for her and just had to ask her for a photograph to share with you all.
This is a rare sight out side of the Valley itself. The style of head covering is so unique to the matriach of a Kashmiri household. I remember my own grandmother hair wrapped like this, the pockets of her pheran always heavy with keys, a pocket knife or two, an apple, some sweets, and my favourite – chunks of dried coconut!
I’m wearing a pheran almost two hundered years old, it belonged to my grandmother…’
This Antique brocade pheran, embroidered with gold thread had held up amazingly with hardly but a couple of wispy threads of the brocade starting to fray.
This almost painting like pheran is a work of wearable art. The material, a light wool with aari kaam in silken threads.
Although no tilla kaam here, do you notice the silverish thread as an outline to the blue embroidery? Kashmir is also famous for its silk production and we love the way this gorgeous tie-dye silk hijab is framing this lady’s face so gracefully!
Talking of tie-dye, look at this cool mint green pheran made so modern. This one is typical for very casual wear and I spotted this young lady carrying it off perfectly as her choice of Sunday picnic wear.
‘I’m so hot in this! It’s wool, so I prob shouldn’t have layered so much!’
Well we think you couldn’t look cooler! Mashallah! And love that breezy head scarf!
Another great combination is tilla on wool. This lovely lady, doesn’t just have a flair for great pherans (I’ve been privy to her collection!) but another of her passions is reviving the art of Kashmiri songs. You can hear her here if you’d like.
My bestest friend got this made for me, she sent it all the way from Kashmir,it has that cool and trendy look. The neckline is not a traditional pheran design, its rather a ‘kurti’ style, the tilla is not ‘handwork’ though, its done by machine.
So Aiysha thought it important I share the outfit behind the camera! And so here I am. Literally ‘wearing’ a sweet little babe, just three months old (babies are the best accessory right?).
During the event I wore my share of pherans (you can take a peek here and here), but I chose to forgo them for a more casual look at the picnic. This burgundy linen/silk mix shirt completely covered with the most autumnal colours and foliage is so comfortable. I love the Nehru collar -perfect for wearing my hijab in this style without compromising on coverage. I paired it with a skirt I’ve had for more than 10 years (!) and the sparkly nude flats are my shoe uniform! (as soon as the weather allows I wear them with everything)
Image credits for these two photos goes to Mehrunissa Wani Kamili & Faraz Kamili
There were so many more beautiful, elegant and absolutely stunning works of wearable art walking around, but as you can see I had my hands full most of the time!
I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to photograph the ladies that I did and for this to be one of the many communities I am part of! Thank you all.
Top Image, Burgundy Velvet Pheran with Silver Tilla. Modelled by a friend.