Where Does The Name Cashmere Come From?
There are few feelings as sublime as putting on cashmere clothing on a chilly winter’s day, with the incredibly soft fibres feeling smooth against your skin, the fine yarn keeping the cold out and the luxury feel emblematic of the intense work that goes into every single garment.
However, whilst cashmere is known to be a particularly fine type of wool, fewer people know where the name originates from, as it links to several places and cultures that span a significant part of the world over thousands of years.
As you might expect, it starts with a goat.
Cashmere originated as pashm or pashmina, a term that is used today for a specific type of fine Indian cashmere wool that was combed from a specific type of cashmere goat known as Changthangi.
Pashm is itself a term that has different meanings depending on where it is asked. In Persian, the term simply translates to “wool” without specifying a type, whilst in the region of Kashmir, it refers to raw unspun wool from the Changthangi goats.
In the latter’s case especially, pashmina had a relationship with nobility, with gold-cloth embroidered pashmina being an indicator of nobility and rank, and by the beginning of the Mughal Empire in 1526, giving robes of honour (known as khilat) made of pashmina had become an important aspect of high society and international trade.
It was here, incidentally that the shawl would be associated with Queen Victoria, who as part of the Treaty of Amritsar in 1846 demanded that the Maharaja of Kashmir send the British Government three pairs of shawls every year, which were given to the Queen.
Kashmir is an incredibly important part of the development of cashmere wool and communities in the region still produce it today albeit in very low numbers (as little as 150 grams per goat) and at exceptionally high prices.
Because of this connection, it is evident that cashmere comes from an anglicised spelling of the region of Kashmir (or Kasheer as it is known in Koshur, the language spoken and written by the Kashmiri people).
Exactly what the meaning of the name Kashmir is unclear to this day and multiple theories have tried to shed some light on this.
The first and most simple is that it derived from Sanskrit as “land desiccated from water”, or land dried from water, which reflects the multiple wildly different climates of the region from the moderate climate of the Vale of Kashmir, the tropical Punjab conditions and the freezing snow atop K2.
Kashmira was the land where the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music and wisdom Sharada was said to reside, and in Kashmir, the ancient temple of Sharada Peeth lays in her honour.
Finally, there is the belief that it derives from the name of the sage Kashyapa who settled people into Kashmir, which itself means “turtle” in Sanskrit and thus Kashmir could be either a contraction of Kashyapa-mir (Lake of Turtles) or Kashyapa-maru (Mountain or turtles).
Cashmere, or Cashmeer, used to refer to the entire region, but now refers to one of the softest types of wool in the world.