High fashion in Amritsar

It might be the undisputed food capital of North India today, but once upon a time, the home to Darbar Sahib was a major textile trading centre. JASVINDER KAUR captures the story for The Tribune

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High fashion: In the 1940s, Punjabi men and women wore a variety of imported material, the kind that was traded at Amritsar. From here, the fabrics made inroads into other towns of Punjab – Photo: The Tribune
By Jasvinder Kaur | PUNJAB, INDIA |

It might be the undisputed food capital of North India today, but once upon a time, Holy City was a major textile trading centre

By Jasvinder Kaur | PUNJAB, INDIA |

Around 200 years ago, as Maharaja Ranjit Singh, aided by his legendary French generals, was consolidating his kingdom, the latter were introducing Europe to rich North Indian textiles. At the heart of this trade was Amritsar, the undisputed food capital of North India today, but a major centre for textiles in the distant past.

Amritsar, for many centuries, has in one way or the other been associated with textiles, either as a producer or as a trading centre. In fact, it became a centre of production of shawls and was at the forefront of exporting them to Europe during Ranjit Singh’s rule.

Kashmir became a part of the Sikh kingdom in 1819 after Ranjit Singh invaded it. Shortly afterwards, in 1822, Ranjit Singh hired men from Napoleon’s army — Jean-Francois Allard and Jean-Batiste Ventura — as his generals. By 1835, these generals were exporting shawls to Europe, and Amritsar had become the centre of the Kashmiri shawl trade.

Weavers and dyers from Kashmir settled in the plains and hills of Punjab during this period. One of the factors that pushed them to do so was famine. As a result, Kashmiri colonies were established in places like Amritsar and Ludhiana in present-day Punjab and Nurpur and Tiloknath in what is now Kangra in Himachal Pradesh.

Shawls made in Amritsar — jamavar or kani and amli — were of high quality. Writing in 1872, Baden Powell mentions that shawls from Amritsar were close in quality to Kashmiri shawls. The striped shawls were called jamavar or kitraz, and were popular in Iran and Turkey. These were made by the complicated kani technique. As these were used to make jamas, the word jamavar was also used for them. The amli shawls, on the other hand, were embroidered Kashmiri shawls.

Read the full story, ‘The lost story of Made in Amritsar’ (The Tribune, 19 April 2020), here.

 

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(Asia Samachar, 24 June 2020)

 

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