“It appears that the only hope for a future for mashru lies in a reversion to the quality and materials of the nineteenth century and a determined targeting of the garment and furnishing fabric market, both in India and abroad."
-Dr. Rosemary Crill
Raw Mango’s relationship with Mashru is deeply layered. Our re-interpretation introduced a new development of the textile in Benares; namely working with solid colors and a return to pure silk (which had been replaced by rayon), and a subsequent renewed interest amongst the weaving community, one which has been growing over the last decade.
Not quite silk, and not quite cotton, Mashru is a brilliant, highly skilled inventive textile that presents a blurring of binaries, being both silk and cotton. With roots in the Arabic word 'Shari'a' meaning 'permitted by Islamic law', Mashru’s warp-faced satin weave allowed silk to be visible on the surface, giving the fabric its lustrous shine. Given the prohibition of wearing pure silk fabrics- citing sumptuary laws in the Quran that restrain luxury in their lifestyle- Mashru broke a rule within a system and emerged as a ‘permitted’ fabric for Muslim men to wear.. Mashru is a mixed fabric composed of smooth silk surface and soft cotton backing, thus making it possible for silk to be worn.
Mashru came to India through the silk route. It was originally woven in three parts of India: Gujarat, The Deccan and Uttar Pradesh. Mashru woven in Uttar Pradesh was called 'Mashru Purabi' or 'Eastern Mashru'. The colour palettes used to weave Mashru were mostly bright, often striped, and the textile was commonly dotted with motifs. One type of Mashru even used ikat. Despite its versatility, Mashru showed its deep Ottoman and Mughal influences.
Gujarat was the first weaving centre for Mashru in India, brought to India from the Ottoman Turkish Empire through commercial and cultural contacts during the Sixteenth century. Historical records of the textiles of the 14th and 15th century Gujarati textile merchants had several textiles with the word ‘misru’ in their names. The Gujarati mashru had characteristic bold stripes and dotted patterns bearing strong resemblance to Turkish and Syrian mashru.
On the other hand, Mashru made in the Deccan (Andhra Pradesh, Tanjore and Tiruchapalli in present day Tamil Nadu) had ikat patterns, as the area is also an ikat-weaving region. Mashru purabi were woven in the later nineteenth century and in comparison to the other weaving centers, these were more densely woven, less boldly patterned and coloured than the south Indian varieties. Today, most of them are housed in the V&A Museum, London and in the former royal collection of City Palace, Jaipur.
Some of the typical designs of Mashru include stripes, tie dyed ikat patterns, and woven patterns of small dots, between stripes or over a plain ground. It was also used for canopies, horse covers, torans and decorative door hangings. Mashru thrived on the economic well being of royal patrons of the society but suffered a loss of demand with the fall of the Indian Royals and the establishment of the British Empire. Consequently, pure silk was replaced by artificial silk (rayon), largely created for local communities of Gujarat.
At Raw Mango, the idea of working with mashru materialized in 2010 after coming across a heavy satin fabric called ‘Gyaser’, made for Tibetan monks in Benares. Regular silk is a plain weave whereas Gyaser is a densely woven heavy satin. Its base fabric is very similar to Mashru and led to the re-exploring of weaving Mashru in Benaras, which had been stopped for decades.
Raw Mango’s design process opened up the possibility of creating new patterns as a result of working with the limitation that patterns can only be added as a result of weft floats. It also marked a return to Mashru’s pure silk and cotton weave, which had long been replaced by rayon and cotton. Mashru is woven on narrow 28” width looms. Because it is a warp faced sateen, it becomes too heavy for weavers to lift on a longer loom. Our stoles are woven on an even narrower width than ever before ~14”, with a beautiful selvedge-to-selvedge finish.
Our Mashru has been woven alongside a soft cotton body, thus making it easier to drape, and also includes a re-purposing of the textile. By giving it a renewed context of use, it has been adapted to be used in dupattas and, for the first time, as stoles and saris. The traditional backing has been replaced with wool, khadi and zari, making the two layered fabric appropriate for multiple purposes.
Raw Mango’s endeavors to explore and innovate on textile can be seen by our development of Mashru. Our first book on Mashru was dedicated to Suraiya Hassan Bose (1928-2021), and our current studio developments of Mashru Ikat were instigated by her enthusiasm. Through this, the textile and weave from Varanasi has retained tradition and also opened up a new dimension with raw materials, colours and patterns. In the past, craft traditions have been affected by changes in religious, socio-economic and political conditions. Varanasi started out with fine muslin weaving tradition and later transformed into a pioneering silk weaving center so much so that it cannot be imagined without the weaving of silk in today’s time. Mashru is at a similar point in time where it will be transformed by the concerns of the age.
Raw Mango presented its first Mashru collection in 2014. Since then, the textile has been at the cornerstone of our collections- loved and recognized for its depth of color, sumptuous tactility and otherworldly lustre.