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 and also as products like shawls, stoles, cushion covers, quilts, bags 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.
Myths & Legends
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.