Bringing Kashmiri Back

Resistance through fashion.


I’m bringing  Kashmiri back.

Remember when we last talked about pherans ? That is still one of the most read posts on Mamanushka. As I write this I’ve just returned from Los Angeles, the location of  this year’s KGNA (annual gathering of people identifying their roots from Indian Occupied Kashmir)  and after that pheranominal blog post I was asked to help source pherans from new and upcoming Kashmir based designers for a fashion show, (which you can catch a peek of here).

In return for the loan of her gorgeous pherans, designer Iqra Ahmed of Tul palav fame asked me to photograph them for her. Apart from the fact that the mere thought of photographing pherans fills me with more excitement than I ought to admit, I  knew you guys would love to see them too! So of course I agreed.

Look at this show stopper of a red velvet pheran with gold tilla embroidery.  

I already had one of my friends down as the perfect model and we gathered a couple more fellow pheran affectionados who would be up for taking a few photos.

Despite all of us being on a super-tight schedule, taking a few photos turned into a full on outdoor photoshoot  in Long Beach Los Angeles! (Another friend Rahat, lent us this distinctively lovely necklace from her personal collection – isn’t that woollen link so unique?!) 

Having thrown the kids at hubby earlier, with a promise to be back in time to get ready for that evening’s black tie dinner, we quickly donned pherans on top of what we were already wearing.

This is actually one of the best things about a pheran – the fact that they are supposed to go over your comfy outfit and are a one size fits all.

I styled each pheran with traditional Kashmiri jewelry ( with a couple of bohemian add ons), here I wrapped this shawl on Faiqa’s head in what is nowadays considered a very old fashioned style – mostly seen on more ‘mature’ women in Kashmir and even then mostly in villages. I actually think it’s such a lovely and unique way of tying the hijab.

This amazing pure silver headpiece is actually a necklace! It was sourced by a jeweler from Sopore from amongst the Gujjar craftspeople. This nomadic tribe of Kashmir are the only ones who mostly make these now. The necklace is part of a set with the the bunches of hooped earrings worn here by Zairah (in green) underneath her skull-cap type hat ( also designed by Tul Palav -after a traditional topi worn by women in Kashmir called kasaabe’ ).

The earrings are so heavy that they are suspended on some string and not actually in the ear lobes, although I’ve seen many a low hanging ear lobe on elderly women in my childhood!

Here’s a better view of that kasaabe’ and suspended earrings.

I can’t get enough of how cool this looked. On top of the cap, I draped a Kashmir shawl fully embroidered with Sozni stitch work. It’s actually my wedding shawl!  

My vision was  Pherans and the Sea. Kashmir has no beaches of it’s own, since it is a Valley surrounded by the Himalayan mountains so I was looking forward to the incongruity of the ‘look’.  Don’t you think the  photos ended up coming through as wonderfuly  freeing in spirit?   

These women looked so stunning, confident and regal  that, not surprisingly, they turned a few heads. We were spotted by someone who introduced himself as a photographer working with models and makeup artists (probably in Hollywood – who knows? After all this was LA)  he went on to give the pheran clad ladies a few tips and direction in striking just that right pose! Thanks Angel Ramirez – your tips were on point!

It felt like an episode of America’s Next Top Model!  Amongst smiles and waves and many well meaning compliments we were described as ‘Persian Princesses’.

Kashmiri actually, we replied assertive yet polite as ever.

‘Ah Kashmerian’ (came one reply)

We all looked at each other – how many times have we heard that? And I just knew. This is it. We want to take Kashmiri back.

Back from the cultural appropriation by Bollywood, back from the Orientalist narrative of the ‘exotic’ back from the Persian Princess trope …  I want people to look at this dress and know the word Pheran (pronounced fe-ran).  To look at this embroidery and know the word ‘tilla’.  

For someone in LA or London or Lahore to look at this ensemble and say ‘Kashmiri’ (not kashmirian or Cashmere? ‘like the wool?’)  I want Kashmiris who have dismissed the pheran as old fashioned, to see themselves in this and recognise the precious garment they have folded away in their mother’s and grandmother’s trunks (because grandmothers in Kashmir don’t store clothes in closets and wardrobes – they still using their old school galvanized  steel trunks!)

I love the fun twist Iqra Ahmed, the name behind Tul-Palav, has put on the sleeves of this pheran. Traditionally the Quraab daar (or Koraab) sleeve, features 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. Normally quite a formal look and ALWAYS pinned back – on this pheran the Quraab sleeve is lighter and the gold tassels add an element of surprise and modernity.

Pursuing a career in fashion design is not easy for many women in the Asian subcontinent. More so in  a place like Indian Occupied Kashmir where unemployment in its younger generation is at a critical level and parents still have a heavy hand in directing the career paths of their offspring, usually pushing them to pursue vocations such as Medicine or Engineering. The concept of Fashion Design is totally misunderstood. As Iqra says herself – ‘at first people thought I was trying to go for modelling’.  

There are a number of savvy influencers  from Kashmir that I have loved seeing emerge these past few years through social media platforms. One thing that stands out is the passion for Kashmiriat and the preservation and representation of it to the world. Iqra Ahmed is one of them. There are others like Amir Wani (Kashmir Through My Lens), Rumaan Hamdani (The Other Rumii), Bisma Parvez (painter and Artist) and Muheet Mehraj (Kashmir Box) to name a few.

What is it about Kashmir that inspires and fuels this creativity? Decades of political and practical oppression, de facto martial law and military impunity have had a huge impact on health and educational infrastructures and employment opportunities.

It’s an environment in which people are forced to survive – not thrive. Perhaps it’s the paradox of beauty in pain, of  oppression itself, nestled, no, that is too gentle a word to describe the way oppression has torn into some of the most naturally breathtakingly beautiful topography in the world and into the psyche of its people. Maybe paradoxically,  that has given oxygen to creativity. With its language, culture and national integrity under threat, it  is heartening to see the next generation of Kashmiris step up and take on the challenge in ways they know how.

These young people have worked through financial losses caused by frequent internet bans across the region due to political unrest. They keep working through physically and emotionally draining situations to bring Kashmir to the world. Not every warrior carries a sword. Some carry a pen, a needle, a paintbrush, a camera, an idea.


This is my ode to kickass Kashmiris, especially the kool kashur kooris – the women of Kashmir – from the saints and poetesses of past, the multi-faceted- talented creatives of today and to all the women of Kashmir, who on enduring pain and loss still emerge graceful, strong and true torch bearers for their cause. We are a force to be reckoned with.








Here are a couple final pics. Fun times and Maz balai’ x


Thank you to Iqra Ahmed of Tul Palav ~ your pherans are beautiful. Tul Palav is Kashmir’s first online store for designer Kashmiri clothes follow her on instagram and facebook.

Thank you also to –  Faiqa Anbreen, Zairah Sahaf and Maysa Bhat. Maysa is a third year Dental student.  Faiqa is an Aerospace Engineer  (she says, yes, it really is ‘rocket science’)  and Zairah is a Data Scientist currently working on cutting edge AI technology.  Of course you are all so much more than your day jobs, which absolutey rock by the way! I loved working with you!


Also ~ What I wore when I wore ‘Me’












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  • Reply Angelica Thompson October 31, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    wonderful thought behind the article but I’d like to point out that the tilla embroidery done on the pherans shown here are machine made(pure tilla handwork is exquisite and is not that stiff, it lets the garment flow) and being sold at a price of handwork. it is taking away livelihood of artisans who work by hand.

    Also there is no ‘ India occupied Kashmir’ as Kashmir is a part of India

    • Reply Mamanushka October 31, 2018 at 2:33 pm

      Thank you for your comment! The premise and essence of this article was about giving Kashmiri people the agency to express themselves how they want.

      Describing their homeland as “occupied by India” is a part of that agency and is how many Kashmiris view Kashmir. Considering that internationally and by the UN – Kashmir is considered a disputed territory and considering it has the highest density of military in civilian areas compared to anywhere in the world, to describe it as “occupied” is quite logical and justifiable. To consistently critique this description is to silence the voice of Kashmiris and to re-write the terms of the narrative.

      Regarding hand embroidered tilla – I agree, it is exquisite and a craft to be protected. I hope that more international interest from others will lead to greater pursuit of handmade tilla.

      Accordingly, this article does not misrepresent the pherans showcased. It does not state that they have hand embroidered tilla (I have written a separate post featuring beautiful hand embroidered pieces) The designer featured in this article – is always clear that her work is all machine made and the price of the items reflects that of course.

  • Reply Farzana Arif October 14, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    My search to locate traditional Pheran led me to your article. I am not a Kashmirian but am crazy about all things Kasmiri. I wanted to sew them for my daughters, and introduce it in my social circle in Canada.

    From what little I had at home, I stitched one, which looks beautiful, but not similar to the pictures in your post. After reading your article and viewing the pictures, I will now sew similar ones, In Sha Allah.

    Hats off to you beautiful, smart and great personalities mentioned above.
    Keep up the good job, 👍

  • Reply Atia July 24, 2018 at 10:52 pm

    This is such a beautiful post! The photography is brilliant. Loved learning more about Kashmiri culture and these beautiful pherans.

  • Reply Mudasir Yaqoob July 18, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    Can we create a libary of Kashmir art, clothes, books, songs, handicarafts in north america ?

  • Reply Salihah July 16, 2018 at 11:02 pm

    Absolutely amazing pictures and all around way for me to learn more about the beautiful culture!

  • Reply Farah Kathwari July 14, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    Love love love this post. I’ve always been a big fan of the pheran and typical Kashmiri jewelry. Thank you for this. I’m with you – let’s bring Kashmiri back!

  • Reply Faiqa Anbreen July 14, 2018 at 6:32 am

    The expression of thoughts glides so smoothly in this piece of art. It showcases various aspects of Kashmiri culture and situation with eloquence and grace. Sumaya, a cool lady, a mum of three beautiful children, you ooze composure at all levels. Loved working with you:)
    Wish you all the success!

  • Reply Ifat July 14, 2018 at 2:44 am

    My brain is overflowing with overwhelming thoughts. Without any mere exaggeration, this post covers everything about our beautiful/powerful culture so flawlessly. Flawless and powerful are the photos, the girls and the photographer of course. Thanks for putting this together Sumaya <3

  • Reply Zairah Sahaf July 14, 2018 at 12:52 am

    Love this beautiful and intriguing piece of work that is dedicated to our culture, traditions, occupation, struggle, resistance, and survival, and to all the beautiful and resilient Kashmiri women.

  • Reply sabra July 13, 2018 at 9:20 pm

    I love the commemoration to the people of Kashmir from our grandmothers storing heirlooms in their tin trunks to the resilient rise of youth creating and innovating on survival mode. An ode to our strength and vibrant culture!

  • Reply Sehar Aijaz July 13, 2018 at 9:08 pm

    Love love love this! I got my aab sherun pheran to Austin last time I visited Kashmir in the hopes of wearing it in our scant winter. Its deep green with gorgeous gold tilla. This post gives me the confidence that I can pull it off!

    • Reply Sumaya July 13, 2018 at 11:13 pm

      Yes! Of course you can!

  • Reply Ummasya July 13, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    Mashallah! What a beautiful, fun and educational post all wrapped up into a gorgeous delivery. Way to go sis!

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