Yender, the Kashmiri spinning wheel

Yender, the Kashmiri spinning wheel

Yender is a symbol of our glorious heritage. This old artefact is still socially, culturally and emotionally dear to us. It was regarded as an important possession of every family and was used for spinning of wool or pashmina. The art of spinning was so important that it was regarded as a qualification for a girl to be married. It is also known as “Charkha” at some places which is derived from the word “Charakh” meaning a circle, in Baghdad and Iran, from where it is believed to have reached Kashmir. It is also said that the art of spinning was introduced in Kashmir by Hazrat Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (RA), popularly known as “Shah Hamdaan”, for the economic uplift of Kashmiris. He is believed to have brought artisans from Iran to teach this art here.
Yender spinning was once the sole means of women’s economic empowerment in Kashmir. It is now almost extinct and has been replaced by modern machines. The boom in the textile industry and industrialisation have contributed to the decline of this craft. Moreover, it is not financially viable. This art requires patience and perseverance which today’s spinners lack. The spinners are often exploited by middlemen also, resulting in meagre income and less returns for them. Heavy woolen quilts, blankets, pherans, large coats, trousers and caps were previously made of wool and were used by people during winters to keep warm in winter. This has now been replaced by modern textiles and synthetic clothing. The ban on Shahtoos worldwide also hit the trade and dealt a death knell to it.
Elderly women considered spinning on the yender as worship. It was a common belief that the work of spinning was the legacy of Hazrat Fatima (RA) who was the daughter of Prophet Mohammad (SAW). The piousness was also due to the craft being introduced in Kashmir by Hazrat Shahi Hamdan (RA) of Iran, a highly revered “wali” who visited Kashmir in the 15th century. This art was accompanied by a deep Sufi Islamic tradition and was patronised by the Sultan of Kashmir. Elderly women used to sing Hamad, Naa’t and munqabat and do zikr azkaar while spinning. The profession was inherited by them and was, therefore, sacred. While spinning, the elderly women also told stories to younger ones in poetry and prose. The art of spinning was also adopted by renowned Kashmiri women like Habba Khatoon and Lal Ded. Habba Khatoon has mentioned Yender in one of her famous ghazals ‘Rang yederus tchakar phutmo nender peye mo malino, Ya me deitoo tchakra tchakra nat lakrae haar malino.’
Yender was slightly different for different variants of spinning, i.e., for wool, pashmina and silk. However, its basic construction was the same, for which a special kind of wood was used. The raw material for spinning was generally the local wool, which was homespun by weavers in the villages, or the pashmina brought from Leh (Ladakh) by the Pashmina vendors and traders. The woolen blankets used to be Ekbari, Dubari, white, black, or Khudrang and Jud Pattu. The blanket which was Khudrang and also Dubari was costly as compared to others.
Yender was generally manufactured by local carpenters who had specially mastered the craft. The Yender or the charkha for spinning wool consisted of an H or T-shaped base on which were mounted two drive wheels which were exquisitely made and were run by hand through a handle called “tchaker”. The parts of Yender were first separately manufactured and then assembled. In this process different types of small tools for wood work were used. It consisted mainly of two parts, the front and the rear, the two parts connected by a thick string called “Yuni” that was rubbed with fat or something called “Seuth” to make it extra strong. This acted like a belt and pulley mechanism. There was also a spindle fitted in the front which was locally called as “Tull” or takla. The charkha was operated in a sitting posture. It was an arduous task as it caused a lot of physical stress, leading to backache, numbness in the legs, and several associated problems. To overcome such problems, many innovative types of charkhas were designed. This description is of a primitive type of Yender or charkha. It has over the years gone many changes and the process of making it more innovative is continuing.
Yender or charkha is our national pride. Apart from being a source of livelihood, the artisans acquired a mystique during the freedom struggle when it became the symbol of Swadeshi movement. It was so much loved by father of the nation, MK Gandhi, that he wished to die with his hand at the spinning wheel. He once offered the charkha as a gift to Queen Elizabeth. It is rightly said that charkha charged our freedom movement.
Yender is the friend and solace of widows. Our valley has earned the epithet of “valley of widows”. Let us revive the art of spinning and provide Yender to every widow so that Kashmir is called the “Valley of Yenders”.

The writer is a retired telecom engineer. [email protected]

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