Stylistic Origins of Kashmiri Artistic Traditions

We invite you to read our weekly Cultural Selection articles, which adhere to preselected themes. Knowledge and appreciation of these subjects helps to preserve, disseminate, and promote elements of our common heritage of the Silk Roads.

The Silk Roads have played a significant role in the growth and stylistic development of Kashmiri art, architecture, jewelry, and craftsmanship, since it was at the crossroads of intercultural exchanges.  Kashmir served as an important trading Hub along the Silk Roads for caravans, merchants, artisans, pilgrims, and adventurers that passed through the Karakoram mountain range. They exchanged knowledge, savoir-faire, and artistic techniques, especially in stone, bronze, brass, and copper.  Thanks to the constant exchanges over centuries, Kashmiri artistic techniques have transformed.  They have reflected abstract, calligraphic ornamentation that corresponded to the introduction of Islam in the 14th century CE by the Sufis, or mystic saints of Hamadan and Subzwar, to a more pervasive use of elaborate, botanical realism and floral ornamentation in the 16th and 17th centuries CE.

Products transported between neighbouring regions were varied.  They included Pashm wool from the Central Asian steppes, felts produced by the Kirghiz nomads, Armenian cochineal dye (kirmiz), used in papier mâché and rug weaving, tilla embroidery from Kokand, and white lead from Kashgar.  They also included lavish textiles, carpets, tea, silk, precious stones, and luxurious shawls, amongst others. Conversely, the Silk Roads from West Asia to East Asia served as a conduit for the trading of manufactured goods, especially Kashmiri shawls, which were highly prized during the 16th century.  These shawls were heavily traded in major cities in Central Asia and Europe. Khivan merchants, by way of Orenburg and Astrakhan, eventually traded shawls that left Kabul for Bukhara.  The demand for these shawls, which often reflected intricate weaving and embroidery, increased. As a result, various designs emerged. This synthesis of sociocultural elements, a direct result of external influences, has left a deep imprint on Kashmiri artistic traditions.  Afghan influence during the 18th century, as well as Sikh and Dogra influences during the 19th centuries, later recontexualized and transformed these according to their preferences, thus increasing the number of diverse traders.

The influence of artisans and missionaries from places such as Samarkand, Bukhara, Andizhan, Eastern Turkestan, and Damascus provided intellectual and cultural inspiration.  In addition to the famed shawl weavers and embroiderers, Kashmir was host to a variety of artisans, architects, painters, calligraphers, glass blowers, and silversmiths.  They all contributed to Kashmir’s flourishing artistic tradition.  These types of cultural syntheses have occurred throughout every phase of Kashmir’s artistic periods, serving to highlight the fluidity of intercultural dialogue, exchange, and aesthetic sensitivity amongst diverse populations. Despite regional variations in the Kashmiri shawls, they are a good example of the reciprocity between regions. Although it would have its origins in the Far East, the shawls have continued to evolve, due to various influences. Culturally embedded concepts, continuity of form, ornamentation, design, and craftsmanship all attest to the enduring legacy of a common cultural heritage of the Silk Roads.


See also:

Inspiration and Imitation: The Transformation of Porcelain along the Silk Roads

The Diversity of Cultural Influences in Kushan Art

Sindhi Aesthetic Impulses and Cultural Expressions

UNESCO Silk Roads Project