Stupa Shawl Analysis

The Stupa Shawl

Kashmir shawl, 17th century Mughal India, wool: fine pashmina; weave: twill tapestry woven all in one piece; size: 52 inches by 129 inches.

This long shawl, known as dochalla, is woven with a large open, undecorated field of light brown, very fine pashmina. The decorated extremities (pallas) are patterned with a unique design of two distinct types of highly unusual geometric floral ‘structures’ that alternate in a connected fashion across the width of the shawl. The first is composed of a three tiered base supporting a large yellow, fan-like serrate leaf. Stacked above this is a bold, almost plain red, (except for a thin yellow outline) horizontal thick form with a centrally rising protrusion flanked by two erect yellow flower stalks on green stems, each with a large squared-off leaf. The structure continues its rise with a blue stem perched atop the red protrusion which supports a large red, stacked six-layer ‘flower’, each layer delineated with a white line and with a sharply pointed ‘leaf’ end. Below this stacked ‘floral’ structure is a small group of hanging green bracts. The stacked red layers are further decorated at the center with a triangularly shaped cluster of 33 white dots. The complete structure, which repeats 12 times across the palla, terminates with a finial type device, a yellow circle rising on a thin red stem.

Just as interesting and unique is the second structure of this palla pattern, which, like the first, also begins with a three tiered blue base. Rising from this we encounter also a large serrate leaf but less fan-like and more tree-like. It appears decorated with yellow horizontal lines, eight on one side and nine on the other, of a yellow dividing line. The summit of the tree supports two horizontal blue ‘slabs’ with sloping sides. Sprouting from this slab base is a tripartite design consisting of a large conical, radar-like, yellow dome with four tiny blue dots, resting on a triangular blue shape of plain blue with three yellow dots. Flanking this strange central ‘flower’ are two similar but diminutive flowers of the same ilk, though more bulbous or bud like in shape. The dome gives rise to a ‘superstructure’ of a stacked array of six horizontally placed yellow flowers, the first two of which rise directly from the dome, the second two sprout from a blue bowl-like device attached to the rising stem, and the last two emerge from the continuation of the same stem that ends finally with a large yellow flower. This structure also repeats in full 11 times across the field but with two halves at either end. Because of this, it would appear that the red one dominates to some degree over the other.

Although both exhibit similar ideas of geometry their themes appear quite different. They pattern the pallas in tight formation, in some places touching each other. Indeed they are unusually interconnected with a type of bridging ‘cable system’ that appears anchored at their tiered bases. The ‘cables’ join between each of the structures, enclosing the large serrate base leaves in a rectilinear fashion.

The hashias, exhibiting a flower bud meander, are more typical of the Mughal period and indeed their free spacing and soft palette are indicative of very fine 17th century contemporaneous shawl weavings. In fact, by the turn of the 17th century shawls no longer appear to use this type of hashia pattern. Unusual also are the few threads of white silk warp used to strengthen the guard borders of the lengthwise hashias. (1) The Calico and Bharat Kala Bhawan Museums both contain 17th century shawl with this type of Hashia. (2). The backside of the shawl displays an extremely clean nip-and-tuck type of superb weaving finesse that is quite typical for fine shawls of this period.

By placing the two pallas next to each other, slight but distinct differences arise in the way the patterns were woven from one end to the other. Four dots instead of three are found on the dark blue flowers; 11 lines instead of the 8 on the serrate blue base leaves; the double slab’s sides slant up instead of down; the leaves of the yellow, erect, flanking flowers hang down instead of up; two yellow dots instead of three decorate the large red horizontal device. These differences may be due in part to the reversal of the talim (the coded warp/color card used by the weavers) when the weaver has returned to the other palla end of the shawl, as well as to the personal inclinations of the master weaver.

The over all style of the shawl pattern is one of an abstraction of the pagoda or more likely the stupa, which would reflect the tiered timber buildings of Western Tibet. (3) Carpet patterns from the region of Xinjiang come to mind when comparing similar ideas of motifs, especially those carpets from the Kashgar, Yarkand, or Khotan oasis regions. Kashmir shawls woven with Himalayan design influences are extremely rare (4). Kashmir shawls woven for kingdoms of the Himalayas or points further east are completely unknown, as well as those with two completely different floral structures patterning the same palla. For that alone, this shawl is extremely rare. 16th century India carried on a brisk commerce and trade with China whose ships plied the Indian Ocean. A century later Thomas Roe wrote how much Jahangir’s minister’s coveted the rarities of China and Japan. All this to point out that this shawl, obviously very expensive at the time, could have been for all intent and purposes, a royal gift destined for a potentate of any one of the Eastern or Far Eastern kingdoms.

Footnotes:

(1) see Il Cachemire, Collectione Antonio Ratti, 1995 pages 26-27 for a similar hashia, though the shawl, obviously of the late 17th early 18th century, has been wrongly dated
(2) see pp 275 and 278 of F. Ames, The Kashmir Shawl, 1997, 2003)
(3) This has been corroborated wtih Dr. Pratapaditya Pal. email correspondence of 10/10/06.
(4) See for example the shawl’s flaming nimbuses of the type usually seen in early Buddhist art, in the dust cover shawl of The Kashmir Shawl, 1997, 2003

    Stupa Shawl Analysis