By: Oct 12th, 2013 12:30 am

 Rajiv K. Phull              (Cover Story)

Kullu shawls have earned a niche globally as one can see every tourist visiting Himachal, especially Kullu, buying these products as a souvenir of their journey to this hilly state. The earliest urban size shawl is believed to have been fashioned by one Sheru Ram of Banotar village in pre-independence era in 1940. He did it on the request of Indian film star Devika Rani who came to Kullu in 1942 after she took interest in looms. On being inspired by Sheru Ram, Pt. Urvi Dhar started manufacturing shawls commercially. The history of spinning and weaving woolen cloths is ancient in Himachal as the area was rich in producing wool. However, the advent of synthetic threads in Kullu also dates back to 1940’s when Bushehras came to the valley. As there weren’t any spinning mills in the valley, weavers started importing yarn from Ludhiana in Punjab and used them in pattus and shawls. Most of these are being imported even today. Established in 1944, Bhuttico has been able to promote Kullu shawls nationally and globally. Kullu shawl protected under Geographical Indication of Goods but the number of weavers engaged in this art is reportedly decreasing over the years.

Other Products

Pattus: Pattus were originally made as an item of practical clothing for women to wear during the winter season. They are larger and thicker than a shawl and worn in the fields and in the home. Pattus with colourful and intricate designs are worn at festivals and for special occasions.

Socks: One can witness local ladies with an endless number of knitting needles and colourful yarns to make famous Kullu socks. Made from local wool, they keep the feet warm during winters. One will never see two identical pairs of Kullu socks.

Caps: Kullu caps are not worn on the head centrally. Instead they are set at a slight angle, adding to the character of man and traditions of the Kullu valley.

Kinnaur Family Developed Kullu Shawl Designs

Satya Mahesh Sharma

It is believed that most of the patterns and designs of “Kullu shawls” originated from Kinnaur where people normally use a design ‘Doru’ (type of a dress) and migrated weavers may have introduced these designs on Kullu Shawls. Some records point that this art of coloured geometrical designing migrated from the Bushehar state. There is a family in Akhara Bazar in Kullu running a shop of Kullu shawls, owned by Ram Singh whose forefathers are said to have migrated from Kinnaur. The family is still engaged in this craft. Ram Singh says his grandfather Sheru Ram had a piece of woolen cloth of ‘Topru-Suthan’ (coloured woolen trouser, lower part of Kinnouri dress) when they migrated from Kinnaur to Kullu. This cloth played an important role in the development of designs and the history of Kullu shawl. Sheru Ram wove these Kinnauri designs of the woolen cloth on the Kullu shawl first time and this fusion of two separate districts was ready to make a history in shawl weaving. Presently this fusion shawl is famous all over the world with the name of Kullu Shawl. Ram Singh claims, his grandfather Sheru Ram was the first person who introduced the coloured geometrical designs in Kullu Shawl.

 Unforgettable Names

There are some other unforgettable name in this field, which made the Kullu shawls famous like Pt. Urvi Dhar and Thakur Ved Ram. Pandit Urvidhar made marvelous designs on shawl and Ved Ram Thakur who is founder of ‘Bhuttico’ established in 1944, is known for commercialization of Kullu Shawls.

Save Weavers to Save Art

At one time nearly 30,000 weavers were estimated to be associated with Kullu shawl weaving but their number is rapidly decreasing over the years. Though steps have been initiated to protect Kullu shawl and interests of weavers yet more efforts are required to promote this craft. According to knowledgeable sources, weavers earn Rs. 3,000 to Rs 5000 monthly, which is less as compared to hard work put in by them to weave shawls on handloom. As a result, this art of weaving is still only a part time occupation for many. In fact, traders are the profit makers while weavers are the sufferers. If the situation continues, good artisans will leave the profession.

Women Dominate Weaving Work

The percentage of female weavers is more than male weavers. Through their hard work, female weavers are playing important role in boosting the economy of the house as well as economy of their villages. Their hard work in the weaving can’t be ignored at any cost and state government should take immediate steps to make data in this regard. At present there are thousands of Kullu shawl weavers involved in handloom weaving and more and more people are getting employment in this field.

Threat from Power looms

Machine production of shawls has resulted in loss of many of the finer qualities of craftsmanship. Prior to “Kullu shawls” getting protection under the GI Act, local weavers were facing tough times from machine made (power loom) shawls manufactured in Ludhiana that were being sold in tourist destinations of Himachal under the name “Kullu shawl”.

Protection under GI Act

This handloom industry gets protection under the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration 7 Protection) Act, 1999.  As Kullu shawl is registered under the Geographical Indication (GI) of Goods Act 1999, the act will prevent manufacturers from outside the state from using the name or tag of “Kullu shawl”. According to the act, the locally woven Kullu shawls with the GI mark could use the description “Kullu Shawl” and any other shawl manufactured from places other than the origin could invite penalty up to Rs. 2 lakh or imprisonment up to three years or both.

My grandfather had a piece of woolen cloth when they migrated from Kinnaur to Kullu. This cloth played an important role in the development of Kullu shawl.

-Ram Singh, Kullu

Weaving being a fine job has adverse impact on eyesight. The government should initiate and implement schemes for the welfare of weavers

-Jyoti Weaver Bandrol village

Handloom sector has provided self employment but it is difficult to compete with power loom sector in a market of stiff competition

-Kama Weaver Bashing village

There is no improvement in the condition of handloom weavers despite various schemes initiated but these have been consigned to papers only

-Sapna Weaver Badai village


Market Leader in Kullu Shawl Industry

A small movement collectively by group of persons in establishing Bhutti Weavers Cooperative Society with initial share capital of Rs. 23.25 only in 1944 has turned out to be sources of employment generation for thousands of persons associated with now. Established by one, Thakur Ram Chand, the working of Bhuttico remained inactive till Ved Ram Thakur joined it in 1956. Due to his visionary approach, the cooperative society transformed from a docile institution into a dynamic business house that has since then maintained its unique position as a market leader in the shawl industry. The institution has grown in stature and its annual turnover is nearly Rs. 11 crore and its products are being dispatched to far off countries like Britain, Sweden, Australia, America, Canada, Russia, Belgium and Norway.

 Livelihood for 1,000 Families

Bhuttico has been able to raise the socio-economic status of rural people by providing them livelihood options. Starting with 12 members initially, Bhuttico is now providing direct and indirect employment to more than 1,000 families. Nearly 200 weavers weave traditional Kullu shawls in many shifts on handlooms at Bhuttico campus located in Bhuttico Colony. In addition, 500 families prepare different products for Bhuttico at their home.

Handloom and cooperative education should be included as a subject in schools, colleges and universities. Kullu shawl has benefited globally but weavers need to be protected to save handloom sector handlooms

-Satya Prakash Thakur Bhuttico Chairman and Former Minister

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