Mashroo is a woven textile craft form with a purpose stemming from religion. ‘Mashroo’ meaning ‘permitted’ in Arabic lends credibility to the textile since wearing pure silk was prohibited. The Mashroo method made it a fabric ‘permitted by the sacred law of Islam’. Mashroo fabric has a silk facade and a cotton layer on one side keeps the silk from touching the skin. The satin weave gives it more sheen and bold stripes run across this fabric in various contrasting hues.
Mashru fabric is made using satin weave by interlacing silk and cotton yarns. Cotton makes the weft, or the horizontal yarns while silk is used for the warp, or the vertical yarns.
Mashru means “permitted” in Arabic and it is believed to be the source of the name of this textile.
It is commonly seen in the attire of the Kutchi nomads because of extreme heat in kutch areas during summers; the fabric absorbs sweat because of the cotton layer underneath it and keeps the body cool.
Kutch and Patan
Traditionally, stripes of contrasting hues are woven across but other patterns like little dots and motifs are the commonly seen design.
150 cms Length x 112cms Width
The fabric is traditionally used in garments such as shirts and trousers. The usages spilled over to cushions and quilts later. Mashroo textile is available as yardage (2) and also as products like shawls, stoles, cushion covers, quilts, bags (4) and apparel. It is commonly seen in the attire of the Kutchi nomads.
It is commonly seen in the attire of the Kutchi nomads because of extreme heat in kutch areas during summers; the fabric absorbs sweat because of cotton layer underneath it and keeps the body cool. Women in Palanpur use striped Mashroo for the yoke of their Ghagras, People in Anjar prefer dotted patterns. Stripes are preferred all over India.
Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 8.253A -“He forbade us to drink from silver utensils, to wear gold rings, to ride on silken saddles, to wear silk clothes, Dibaj (thick silk cloth), Qassiy and Istabraq (two kinds of silk).
Working around religious sentiments has given birth to this innovative woven textile. Islam forbade the use of silk derived from insect cocoons. Mashroo was spun such that it was the thread of cotton, which touched the skin while the silk floated on top. This enabled the ruling Islamic nobility to flaunt royalty in this lustrous garment. Mashroo due to this very feature became a favored item of export to the gulf and the Ottoman Empire.
Its uplifting vibrant colors make up for the monochromes of the desert landscape. The allowance for more yarns makes the fabric very strong and long lasting. These lustrous compositions also have a practical utility. While the silk on the outer surface has a beautiful, glossy appearance, the cotton yarns in the back soak up sweat and keep the wearer cool in the relentless desert heat.
The name is also said to be derived from the colloquial Gujarati word ‘Mishru’ meaning a mixture. Wealthy Hindu merchants in Patan were also smitten by this fabric and added a local flavor while adopting it. Even today Mashroo is an important part of the bridal trousseau of a variety of Hindu communities.
Mashru find its recognition in the excerpts from ‘Dastan-e Amir Hamza Sahibqiran’. The story illustrates the characteristics of the protagonist Amir Hamza, a composite character of righteousness and fearlessness, vaguely based on the personality traits of Prophet Muhammad’s uncle by the same name. The story narrates his adventures while coming face to face with warriors, kings, fairies, and mysterious creatures. When Emperor Akbar heard this tale at the age of 16, he commissioned artist of those times to create an illustrated version of the story. The version was presented to the emperor in 14 volumes, the parts of which survive till now. Later, it was re-written in one volume at the end of nineteenth century by Gharib Lakhnavi and Abdullah Bilgrami. In the chapter of the Emperor’s visit to Alqash’s Bagh-e Bedad, and of the festivities held in that heavenly abode, it has been mentioned that on the arrival of the Emperor, Alqash welcomed the Emperor with an elaborate procession:
“Alqash, escorted by his sons and aides-de-camp, came out with the throne to welcome his sovereign lord. By his side were forty elephants clad in sheets of brocade, and fitted out with bejeweled howdahs and litters worked with gold-inlay. There were two equerries for each bridle who led the horse from halters woven of gold thread. The grooms wore golden bracelets, and silken cords with fringe round their heads. They were dressed in drawers of Gujerati Mashru, jerkins of broadcloth, and all the while keeping watch on the animals, they whisked right and left, and fore and aft, with massive fly-flaps, of which each strand was strung with pearls, and the handles were worked in gold-inlay; Then were brought thousands of bolts of Brocade, Damask silk, Chanaboot, Mashru and Gulbadan.-
(Translated from Urdu by Musharraf Ali Farooqi)
The tradition of Mashroo weaving in India is age old and flourished with the trade relations to the Arab countries. Ikat was the precursor of Mashroo. The earliest centre of Ikat was in Yemen and the production rose as a direct result of its trade with India. The technique of Ikat and mordant dyeing was already practiced in India at Mohenjo Daro by around 2000 BC. It is believed that these thicker and more luxuriant textile forms were brought to India from the Ottoman Empire, from 16th century onwards and formed the basis of Indian Mashroo production. The spread of Islam took this craft along with it and gave it various other forms.
Mashroo fabric was very popular among Muslims and was traded in considerable quantity to Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and African countries from the Gujarat ports since the Shar’ia (Sacred Muslim law) forbade pure silk but this mix was granted permission.
Mashroo has different names based on their pattern, colour, weave or place of manufacture.
Varieties like Sangi, Galta, Gulbadan and Gusi were produced in Uttar Pradesh and Patiala. Other centers of prolific Mashroo production were Bengal, Tatta in Sindh, Coromandel Coast, Tanjore, Trichinopoly, Madurai in Tamil Nadu, Aurangabad, Varanasi in North India. Gujarat was famous for its Alacha and Qatni variety. The production started going down after the 19th century. At present the production of Mashroo is limited to Patan, Mandvi and Surat in Gujarat. Mashroo fabric is being fast replaced by mill-spun fabrics.
Mashroo is a mixture fabric of cotton and silk. It is woven with bold colors and Ikat patterns. Traditionally, stripes of contrasting hues are woven across but other patterns like little dots and motifs have been developed over the years.
Several patterns are achieved on Mashroo fabric with contrasting colors:
Khajuria – It is a type of chevron pattern, with series of conical lines throughout the length of the fabric.
Kankani – This pattern involves hatched lines, it seems as if series of dots has been laid on the fabric.
Danedar – This pattern involves floats of cotton weft, with carefully chosen colors of warp and weft; it gives a sublime touch to the fabric.
Mamul – Mamul pattern combines Straight stripes with hatched lines at periodic spacing.
Khanjari – This pattern involves wavy lines attained through Ikat dyeing of weft.
Mohini – this pattern involves various different colors with combination of all above mentioned patterns.
New techniques are being used in the design of Mashroo. The craftsmen now blend other traditional methods like ‘Bandhani’ and ‘Batik’ for the patterns.
The various categories of Mashroo fabric are distinguished on the basis of the patterns laid on them. While the small dotted pattern is preferred in Anjar, Kutch, the striped ones are liked all over the country.
The craftsmen who ardently follow this craft are in their 60s and work hard for almost 8 hours a day. The present generation is slowly moving away to the cities in search of stable jobs with better pay, as the craft produces low returns for the craftsmen. Majority of weavers work for the local merchant, the merchant sells the fabric and pays daily wages to the weaver. The weavers themselves don’t make the initiative to deal in raw materials and then selling off their products themselves to gain better income, hence the wages are meager and craftsmen are decreasing generation after generation.
Also natural dyes can be rarely seen nowadays as synthetic dyes are readily available; this results in poor durability of fabric in the long run. Even pure silk has been replaced by viscous rayon, though it attains the finish of the silk but bonding with synthetic dyes makes the fabric weak and non-durable.
Mashroo weaving has a distinctive satin weave with silk for the warp and cotton for the weft. The weaving is a multifaceted and skill intensive process, involving weavers, designers and dyers.
Fibre : For Mashroo weaving, silk and cotton fibers are taken into account. However, traditional usage of silk in Mashroo has been slowly replaced by a cheaper substitute called Filament Rayon. Inexpensive materials like staple cotton, mercerized cotton and staple rayon are also used in the warp. Rayon yarn is sourced from Surat and cotton yarn from Surat and Ahmedabad.
Colour : Traditionally, natural colors are used in Mashroo weaving. Artificial colors are being preferred as they are cheap and readily available.
Glaze : Rice flour paste has been used as glazing agent since centuries, it is easy to obtain and gives fine results. It is applied on the folds.
Water : It is an integral part of the process. Fiber is washed and dyed; even the fabric after the completion of weaving is put to wash. Hence the artisans rely greatly on local water resources.
There is no waste involved in Mashroo weaving except for a bit of fabric and water. The water is then again used for irrigation purposes after a little treatment and fabric water is sent to be recycled.
Shaal: It is a type of pit loom that has been used since ancient times. The whole structure is installed in a pit, the artisan sits on the wall of the pit and operates the treadles with his feet.
Puchado: These are small brushes to keep the warp threads on track and prevent entangling.
Shuttle: This is a streamlined pointed wooden apparatus, to throw the moist weft across the warp spread across the loom width. The shuttle has a reciprocating motion throughout the process.
Yarn winder: Yarn winder is an automated equipment to prepare fiber from yarn.
Charkha : A charkha is used for making the rolls of thread. In case of warp, it is a big motorized one, which prepares big silk rolls. In case of weft, it is the smaller wooden one which prepares thin rolls called bobbins. These are put inside the shuttle to form the weft.
In Gujarat, during marriages in some communities, Mashroo fabric in bride’s attire is mandatory. Mashroo is flaunted by Muslim men and women in festivals; the fabric is believed to exude prosperity and wellness.
Mashroo has characteristic satin finish, which is achieved through interplay of silk and cotton, the silk constitutes warp (tana) and the cotton constitutes weft (bana). Mashroo weaving is carried out with skip and pick technique, one cotton weft thread passes over 7-8 silk warp threads.
Role of Taniawalla : The Taniawalla starts preparing warp with an average length of 63 yards. Several spools of silk thread are arranged on the ground, the silk threads from each one of the spools are individually led through the rings fixed on the rods suspended from the ceilings, these threads are then passed through fixed iron heddle shafts and wound on a reel about two meters in diameter.
Role of Rangrez : The warp and weft is handed over to Rangrez for dyeing. Dyeing process is carried out through tie-dye method, in accordance with the design conveyed to Rangrez.
Role of Rajbharra : While warp is being dyed, Rajbharra installs the white threads into the heddle of the loom as per the design; these threads will be connected to the warps threads afterwards.
Role of Weaver : The dyed warp is brought into the loom arrangement by attaching each individual warp thread to a particular white thread, according to the design. The weft comprises of plain cotton thread, which is transferred on bobbins for the shuttle.
The treadles are located in the pits; the warp is stretched horizontally, covering the length of the room. When weft arrangement is pulled, the moistened weft runs out of the one eyed shuttle made of wood, whizzing through the warp in the traditional pit loom. The shaft and treadle arrangement depends upon the nature of the pattern in the design.
To prevent the slacking of the threads, the weaver sprinkles water on the warp; even weft is moistened to prevent the slacking of the fiber. The moistening of fibers also helps in the precise and snugly arrangement of fibers in the fabric.
Role of Sandhniwala : In case the threads are broken or tangled up during the process, they are sent to the Sandhniwalas for rectification.
Role of Kundiwala : Once the fabric is woven, it is washed in cold water and folded. The Kundiwalas take over from here and beat the cotton side of the moistened fabric for about ten minutes. This method is called ‘calendaring’ and helps the warp threads to appear evenly on the other side of the cloth. A paste of wheat flour or glazing is applied on the folds; the fabric is then beaten and compressed in a hand press. Mashroo is now ready to be passed on to a master weaver who might want to work it according to his design or to a wholesaler.
List of craftsmen.
Interview ~ Janaklal Jesanglal Khatri (Patan) (03/12/2010)
Interview ~ Shrimati Vasumati Khatri (Patan) (04/12/2010)