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Tale of a ‘Forbidden’ Textile: The Mashru Story


Mashru, a radiant blend of cotton and silk, is believed to have its origins in the Kutch and Patan areas of what is now Gujarat. The name “mashru” is derived from an Arabic term signifying ‘permissible’ or ‘lawful’. With a history extending back to at least the 16th century, this fabric was initially created to provide a solution for Muslim men aiming to adhere to the Hadith in Islamic law. The origin of this textile’s name traces back to the era when Muslim men, restricted from adorning silk, adopted this unique fabric. By having cotton touch their skin and silk solely on the outer surface, they found a way to comply with the regulations. Over time, its appeal expanded to encompass the Hindu community as well. 

Mashru - MAP Academy
Mashru Fabric. Courtesy: Victoria and Albert Museum

The Mashru Mapping

The art of weaving Mashru fabric manifested in various forms across the nation, spanning regions from Deccan to Lucknow to Bengal. However, at present, this craft is preserved predominantly by weavers hailing from the quaint towns of Gujarat, primarily Patan and Mandvi. Mashru has been exported in Turkey and Middle East as a part of the men’s wardrobe. 

Rare Lahariya Pattern Mashru Mochi Embroidery Ghaghra (Skirt) From Kutch Gujarat-India. India. C.1850.Its size is 93cmX795cm Silk, Embroidered with Silk thread, This Mashru weaving done in Mandvi-Kutch-Gujarat ,Its Silk And Silk Lahariya Pattern which is one ...
Rare Lahariya Pattern Mashru Mochi Embroidery Ghaghra (Skirt) From Kutch Gujarat-India. India. C.1850. Its size is 93cmX795cm Silk, Embroidered with Silk thread, This Mashru weaving done in Mandvi-Kutch-Gujarat ,Its Silk And Silk Lahariya Pattern. Courtesy:rugrabbit.com

Magical Weaving of Mashru

Mashru stands out due to its distinctive floating warp satin weave, where every silk warp thread traverses over six cotton weft threads. This clever arrangement significantly reduces direct silk contact with the skin when the mashru attire is donned. Upon the completion of weaving, the fabric undergoes a cold water wash, followed by a brief one-minute hammering with wooden mallets while still damp. Subsequently, a wheat flour paste, referred to as “glazing,” is applied to the fabric’s folds. Employing wooden hammers and a firm press, the fabric is compressed to attain its final texture. Natural vegetable dyes are then introduced to imbue the fabric with color. fAmong the array of patterns, some include Stripes, Khajuria – which showcases a chevron motif, Kankani – a design featuring dotted lines, Danedar – a pattern with cotton weft floats, and Khanjari – characterised by wavy lines in ikat.

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Women weaving Mashru. Courtesy:deminiles.top

Timeline of Mashru

Throughout history, Gujarat has showcased a predilection for a tricolour scheme featuring red, yellow, and black patterns. It was a fabric which was historically employed for crafting dowry garments within Kutchi communities, has found versatile applications. It forms the foundational canvas for Rabari appliqué and intricate embroidery, while the Meghwal community in Rajasthan employs it for khanjari work. Its common transformation involves becoming blouses and ghagras (skirts) for women, as well as various upper and lower garments for men. Beyond attire, mashru plays a role as a lining within fabric bags and home furnishing textiles, like pillowcases.In the northern and eastern parts of India, mashru’s popularity for attire creation paled in comparison to the west and south. Here, it was frequently woven using a four weft thread setup rather than the customary six. Benaras and Murshidabad served as key production hubs, situated in present-day Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal respectively. Notably, Benaras excelled in producing the locally favoured gulbadan cotton and silk fabric, distinguished by its plain weave.

The fabric, particularly when adorned with an ikat pattern, gained prominence within the Deccan Sultanates starting from the seventeenth century. The earliest visual evidence dates back to 1635, featuring a portrait of Sultan Adil Shah of Bijapur donning a mashru ikat jama. The Deccan Sultanates held robust trade and cultural ties with West Asia. Scholars speculate that Hyderabad, a prominent mashru production center in the southern region, might have initially acquired the fabric from Turkish and Persian sources in the sixteenth century, predating its spread within the Deccan.As the nineteenth century approached, the weaving hubs in the south shifted to present-day Tamil Nadu. Cities like Thanjavur, Tiruchirappalli, and Arcot garnered migrant weavers from Gujarat, producing both genuine and imitation mashru. The latter featured ikat designs but with a plain weave.

Mashru Making Now

Within a modest neighbourhood in Patan, Gujarat, a group of artisans engage in the weaving of Mashru textiles. Interestingly, they opt for chemical-dyed rayon instead of traditional vegetable-dyed silk. This choice is not due to a reluctance to use silk; rather, it’s driven by the higher demand and cost-effectiveness of rayon. Rayon boasts a smoother and glossier texture compared to silk, yet the synthetic dyes used compromise its durability, unlike the natural counterparts that gain depth and vibrancy over time.These skilled weavers, inheriting and perpetuating this intricate art from their forebears, likely represent the final generation to engage in this craft. Now in their sixties, they dedicate eight hours daily within the confines of their homes. Meanwhile, their offspring seek more prosperous and secure opportunities in larger urban centres.

Weaving Process of Mashru in Kutchi Areas. Courtesy: Khamir

Revivalist’s Tryst with Mashru

Many revivalists have come in since to revive and utilise this magnificent weaving technique and make stunnings pieces of textiles, one such example is that of Sanjay Garg, founder of Raw Mango. His collection was based on the fabric in 2015. Sanjay Garg has dedicated the years to revitalising the textile industry in Benaras. “We have ultimately honed the weavers’ skill set to its finest,” he asserts. His current collection embraces the concept of paradoxes. “I’m quite traditional in my design philosophy – if a technique has proven itself over centuries, aligns with our climatic conditions, and serves its purpose, why disrupt it?”He said in an interview to Vogue about his new collection back in 2015. Suraiya Hasan Bose, a renowned textile revivalist has spent a lifetime in single-handedly reviving forgotten weaves like himroo (a Persian brocade weave) and mashru (a silk and cotton weave). Another monumental exhibition that brought about great reverence and limelight towards the Mashru fabric was the Fabric Of India exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, that celebrated Indian textiles. The latest collection ‘Forget me Nots’ by a well-known fashion and sustainable brand Péro, also houses pieces made from the Mashru fabric, interlacing them with other textiles/embroidery/crochet, etc. Mashru has also found its way in UNESCO list of 50 iconic and heritage textiles of India. Such acts of reviving shall definitely help revive and further propagate this textile art form and keep the artisans’ work afloat. 

Mashru Saree by Sanjay Garg’s Raw Mango. Courtesy: Raw Mango

Textiles are interwoven into the very fabric of India’s identity. They command attention in every setting, and across history, travellers have consistently marvelled at their incredible opulence and variety. This is one such fabric that may be on its way to be forgotten but holds great patronage, global and cultural significance. This fabric is not simply beautifully handcrafted but provides us with a glimpse of our great heritage and trade connections and mastery. 

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