Siva-Parvati Woven Namavall Shawl

Micro-history, Art History

Siva-Parvati Woven Namavall Shawl

Pathak, Anamika

Namavali shawl is the term used for those shawls, which illustrate the names of Hindu deities
as repeats all over the field. The namavali shawls were the part of daily ritualistic textile tradition especially in the eastern part of India in the second half of nineteenth century. Intricately woven or artistically printed these shawls are like a chanting mantra appeared on its surface. The few famous mantras or names appeared in these shawls are ‘Jai Sri Ram’ ‘Jai Sri Ram’, ‘Jai Durga’ or different names of Durga. National Museum of New Delhi has several woven and printed Namavali shawls in its collection. The most outstanding one is the woven shawl, which illustrates the image of Siva-Parvati on both the end panels and an inscription all over the field.
What are these Namavali shawls? Why are these made? Who are the users? These are some of the questions, which have been discussed in this paper.This woolen light green colored woven Namavali shawl depicts the inscription, Siva-Parvati image and an additional woven tape, which is stitched on vertical edges of the shawl.

The field of the shawl has three rows and each row is further divided into thirty-two small squares, which makes all together ninety-six squares. These small squares illustrate repeated inscription in Devanagri script which reads, ‘Sri Kashi Visvanath Ganga’. Both the end panels depict the figure of Siva -Parvati sitting on lion skin against a masnad (bolster) under the tree. Siva sits cross-legged and wears only logata (under garment) and has ornate himself with a snake and mund-malaa (garland of skulls). The stream of the river goddess Ganga issuing forth from the matted locks of Siva and the crescent moon is on the right side of his head, He holds a damaru (drum) in one hand while the other hand rests on Parvati. She is dressed in peshwaz style tunic and covers her head with odhani (head covering) and wears the usual ornaments like: nose-ring, earring, bangles etc. Deities’ vehicles Nandi and lion are sitting around them and depiction of trishul, fire, chimata (tongs), beggar’s bowl and stick makes the scene very interesting. The image of Siva-Parvati has been worked in rectangular panel, which is surmounted by two types of woven borders. The first border is a narrow inscriptional band while second border depicts the floral creeper in contrast colour. Besides woven band on the horizontal side an additional band is stitched on vertical edges of the shawl and both the bands read ‘Sri Kashi Visvanath Ganga’ verse in running. Composition of Siva-Parvati scene on the end panel of shawl reminds of Pahari miniature paintings of eighteenth-nineteenth century A.D. This was the phase of Shaivism in and around Himalayan courts and rulers like Sidh Sen and his grandson Raja Shamsher Sen of Mandi preferred to be painted as devotees of Siva. “Different forms of Siva and Holy family have been found in miniature paintings of Mandi, Guler, Gadhwal school.” The study of line work in these paintings reveals a lot of similarities between the Siva-Parvati Woven in the namavali shawl of National Museum (Plate-Z) and the Guler style paintings.”

A line drawing of Siva Parvati done by the Nainsukh is most important in this regard. Painter
Nainsukh was the native of GuIer and used to work for his patron Raja Balwant Singh of Jasrot. He went to Haridwar along with the family members of royalty for immersion of Balwant Singh’s ashes in the holy Ganges. At that time Nainsukh went to his own family priest and made entry of his visit as well as drawing of Siva-Parvati before starting his entry in the bahi of Sardar Ram Rakha, Haridwar. The drawing work has been apparently made with the coarse reed-pen that the priests carry and offer their clients to write with and is dated Samvat 1820/A.D. 1763.'” In another bahi of Sardar Ram Rakha, Haridwar, the entry made by Ranjhi and Gurshai, son and grandson of Nainsukh, depicts the Siva Parvati) along with tree, fire, mountain and Nandi. This bahi is dated Vikram Samvat I884/A.D, 1827′ 5′ Both the bahis, has a lot of resemblance of the Siva Parvati with National museums Namavali shawl some of these are: Siva Parvati sitting on ling skin: their costumes are same, river goddess Ganga is depicted issuing forth from the matted locks of Siva and goes down on his left side. It interesting to observe the way Siva’ s head is slightly tilted towards Parvati shows his love for goddesses and on the other hand river goddesses coming out from his lock, shows his act balance for both the goddesses.

Besides line drawing appeared in the bahis of Haridwar and miniature painting on paper, a Pahari embroidered coverlet (popularly known as chamba rumal ) of early nineteenth century also illustrates the subject of Holy family, Here as well, depiction of Siva-Parvati has the touch of Guler artists.

All the evidences:- embroidered coverlet of Holy family, the Siva paintings of Guler school and
the line drawings of Nainsukh and his successors in bahis‘ ; support the view that composition of scene and line work of Siva Parvati woven on the namavali shawl has been done on the lines of Guler school and probably the designing as well is done by the Guler artist.

The Namavli shawl illustrating inscribed field became popular in around fifteenth-sixteenth century A. D. During this phase number of silk or cotton shawls, odhani’s, gamchasand garments were made in Orissa, Bengal, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Himalayan region , which depict woven inscription all over the field , Silk patka/odhani woven with ikat technique illustrating Gita-Govinda, the sacred text Krishan, were produced in Orissa in Oriya script. A Lot of silk woven shawl or chaddar (drape covering) with repeated invocation of the names of ten Mahavidyas of the Goddess in Bengali script have been found in Bengal region. In Assam, cotton gamusa depicting woven inscriptions with Vaisnavite mantra were used to decorate the religious alter where sacred books of Vaishnavite tradition were used woven in Assami script. Such fabrics were popularly known as Vrindavani vastra. Apart from woven technique, such clothes were also made through printing, especially in the northern region. A Guler miniature painting dated c. 1800 A.D, illustrates chippa (name used for block printer in the Western India) busy in printing line after line of the words ‘Shri Ram’ on yellow cloth by the wooden block. The words are in Devnagri script. Banarasi silk and zari fabric woven with ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and Jai Shri Devi Durga’ in Devnagari script has been used for creating garments like mirzai and kurta. The priest or the ritual performer uses such namavali shawl, gamusa, and garments during the ritual ceremonies. A beautiful example of a priest, who wears namavali shawl and turban depicted an eighteenth century miniature painting from Raghogarh style, central India. In the painting priest is worshipping Rama –Sita in the presence of Raja Balwant Singh ( r, I770- 98) and his son Jai-Singh (Plate- 3) This was the phase of Bhakti movement, which inspired the creation of such namavali vastra for Vaishanava, Sakti and Saivait cult of Hindu pantheon .

Such namavali shawls are also used in tantrik tradition. According to tantrik tradition every ritual has its sets of appropriate mantras, which must be spoken in the right order at the right time. It is a belief that by uttering the mantras ‘ Devatas and Cosmic forces can be evoked. Each mantra creates its own special kind of vibration or resonance (known as Nada) in space. In fact there are tantras which are devoted almost entirely to the science of sound.

Like this particular namavali shawl two more namavali shawls have been noticed so far. Both these woolen shawls are in private collections. Entire of both the shawls is woven with ” Sri Kashi Visvanath Ganga” verses within small squares. One shawl depict a row of damaru and trishul on both the end panels, while other depicts a floral border as National Museum shawl has. However neither of the shawl has a beautiful end panels as National Museum shawl has. One shawl is of saffron colour and woven in maroon colour while the other is of deep yellow colour and woven in the red colour. Saffron shawl’s big field is divided into ten rows subdivide with seventeen sections; this makes all together one hundred and seventeen small squares on the entire field. Deep yellow shawl is divided into seventeen rows, which is subdivided into twenty eight small squares which makes all together four hundred seventy six squares on the entire field. These two shawls are completed, while National Museum appears to be half from the width side.

Although National Museums namavali shawl is only a half part of the full length, but still it has a special significance; as it depicts the rare scene of Siva- Parvati on the lines of Guler school of painting: inscription all over the field and use of additional woven tapes etc. This shawl is made of good quality pashm wool and woven with twill technique, which was prevalent in the Himalyan region. Kashi is the ancient name for Varanasi, and Visvanath is the famous temple of Lord Shiva in the city of Kashi, which is situated on the banks of river Ganga. Appearance of Siva- Parvati and ‘Sri Kashi Visvanath Ganga’ verse on the National Museum’s Namavali shawl suggests that most likely Guler artist had designed it and probably it was especially made for the wealthy Saivaite devotee of Varanasi in around early nineteenth century.


Goswamy, B.N., and Fisher E.. Pahuri Masters. Switzerland, 1992. p-333: Mathur, N.L., Indian Miniatures, 1982, New Delhi, pl-190.

Archer. W.G., Indian paintings Form The Punjab Hills. Delhi, 1973, vol-II. pl- Iti; 19:25:34;39:57 & 60.

ibid, pl-l3.

ibid. pl-l3.

ibid. p-269

Pathak. A. ‘ Holy Family Embroidered on Chamba Rumal’. Purtuan, No-7. Bhopal. 1989-90. pp- 136-138.

Crill. R.. Vaishnavate silks the figured textiles of Assam. in The Vol’ell Silk of India. (ed) Jaslecn Dhamija.
Marg , Mumbai, 1995. p- 46.

Rawson. P., Tantra. Arts Council of Great Britain. 1972. p-24.

Crill. Op. cit pp-46-47.

Goswamy, Op. cit p-353.

Mirzai is an upper garment like a waistcoat, which is tied with the help of tiecords . National museum has a silk zari brocaded mirzai, which depict ‘Jai Durga’ in repeat. For kuns. see -Pathak. A.. Indian Costumes, Delhi. 2006. p-77.

First published in Kala: The Journal of Indian Art History Congress Vol: XIII, 2007-2008

Your views


Access 70,000+ practitioners in 2100+ crafts across India.


10,000+ listings on arts, crafts, design, heritage, culture etc.


Rich and often unfamiliar vocabulary of crafts and textiles.

SHOP at India inCH

Needs to be written.