For a week, the pheran, a garment widely worn in Kashmir, was at the centre of controversy as a government order banned it for visitors to its offices, before being withdrawn last week following public outcry. The pheran, also spelt phiran, is a long robe worn in Kashmir mostly in the winter as protection against the cold.
The unisex garment has long been part of Kashmir’s traditional wear and is associated with the Kashmiri identity as much as the Kangri and the Kashmiri cuisine. In rural parts of the valley, pherans are worn around the year, made with cotton in the summer and tweed or wool in the winter.
The pheran is made of seven rectangular pieces of cloth, stitched together to form a robe. Its shapelessness allowed people to carry a kangri, an earthen pot filed with burning coals carried inside the pheran, to keep warm in sub-zero temperatures.
The pheran extends way under the knees to retain heat from the kangri in the winter, and its relaxed fit allows the tradition of sitting on the floor. In their modern form, pherans have been designed to look more like overcoats. New designs include a closer fit and varying designs of collars.
Before the pheran came to Kashmir, a long robe was worn in Kashmir; this is called the lousch. Sir Walter Lawrence, the British Settlement Commissioner for Jammu and Kashmir, in his book The Valley of Kashmir (1895) credits Akbar and the Mughal rule with bringing the pheran to Kashmir.
“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,” Lawrence wrote.