Pheran is a Kashmiri traditional attire used by both men and women. It is a loose attire which extends to below the knees and is worn generally in the winter season as protection from cold. Pheran is made of seven rectangular pieces of cloth which are stitched together to form a robe. Pheran allows people to carry a kangri, an earthen pot encased with wicker and filled with burning charcoal to keep warm. It is believed that the pheran is extended under the knees to retain the heat from the kangri in accord with the traditional way of sitting on the floor in Kashmir.
The term pheran originated from a Persian word, ‘pairahan’, which means garment. It is believed that the pheran was introduced in Kashmir under Mughal Emperor Akbar in the year 1586. Pheran as identity and representation of Kashmiri’s culture has witnessed its own ups and downs through times. Earlier, the main aim of pheran was to just keep warm in chilly winters, but now with the modifications and innovations in its stitching, it is also worn as a fashion style statement. In older times pheran used to be unisex, but gradually it has become distinguished not only sex wise but also religion wise.
“Decades ago, pheran used to be very simple, with simple stitching and the fabric used was less diverse. Although the attire was worn with full confidence and pride,” said a 95-year-old lady, Saja Begum. “When I got married, my father gave me a pheran in my bridal trousseau which was embroidered with real silver threads. When I got my daughter married I gave her that pheran,” she added. With the passage of time, different modifications of pheran embroidery came into existence. It used to be tilla work and arikaam with simpler designs at first, then gradually bihari tilla, glass work, thread work and mukhta work. The employment has also increased in different areas of pheran making, from designing to stitching, embroidery, fabric, etc. Rubiya Bashir, who embroiders tilla work at her home, said, “It gives me immense pleasure to see how much the idea of wearing a pheran has changed. It used to be just a few shops in one locality dealing with tilla work but with the modifications, the demand from customers has increased and as a result the number of people engaged in tilla work has also increased.”
These days, pherans come readymade in a variety of designs and sizes, designed from small children to elderly people. In Kashmir, a well-embroidered pheran is given to a girl on her wedding which is usually made of velvet (Makhmal), wool, pashmina or rafal. Years ago there used to be a myth that pheran symbolises rural people; now it is worn as much by urban people. “During the days I was taking coaching in Srinagar, I used to wear a pheran to the coaching centre and people used to look at me as if I had committed a fashion blunder. I used to wear the pheran because it was in my comfort zone and I used to remain warm throughout the day in it,” said Insha Ali.
“Today, when I visit Srinagar city, I can see people wearing pheran with confidence and pride. It is today worn in universities, colleges, international conferences and convocations,” she added. Despite the availability of many moderns attires in the market, pherans because of their stylish appearance are in great demand. Some of the tailors have achieved fame because of their excellent stitching quality. From wearing it in winter to wearing it at various functions like weddings and parties, the pheran has gained its popularity back.
Walter R. Lawrence, the British settlement commissioner in Kashmir, wrote in his book, “Some patriots go so far as to assert that the introduction of the kangar (kangri) and its auxiliary, the gown, was an act of statecraft on the part of the emperor Akbar, who wished to tame the brave Kashmiri of the period.”
The writer is a student of Journalism and Mass Communication at Islamic University of Science and Technology. [email protected]