THE RAFUGARS OF NAJIBABAD
Najibabad Emerges as Centre of Shawl Restoration
Najib-ud- Daulah portrait
Najibabad Palace Gate
Master Rafugar Naeem Mirza
Najib-ud-Daulah, the legendary Pakhtun commander of the Mughal army, was also put in charge of Delhi after Abdali won the third battle of Panipat. He established the town of Najibabad in the Rohilkhand region of U.P., near the Ganges. He built several grand monuments including a fort, canals and orchards, and opened a direct trade route from Kashmir towards Bengal for the safe passage of Kashmiri shawl caravans. After his death, the soldiers settled down in Najibabad, but became impoverished.
They started accompanying the Kashmiri shawl traders as helpers to various Princely States on the way to Calcutta that had started to emerge as the shawl capital of India. In due course, they learnt the tedious art of invisible darning or rafugari from the Kashmiri rafugars and taught it to their neighbours, siblings, children and grandchildren during summer months. Sometimes they got some business tips, and especially after the advent of the trains, started visiting the nawabs and rajas to restore and remodel their shawls and to source worn and torn kani and embroidered jamawar shawls. Slowly Najibabad became synonymous with rafugars and rafugari and Kashmiris started employing them to repair shawls.
As there was little or no money to be earned for years while learning the difficult and meticulous craft, the older stalwarts turned to selling these restored masterpieces to wealthy Marwaris, elites, landed families, bureaucrats, Kashmiri shops, museums, collectors and foreigners. They had no idea of the value of these priceless treasures. Nor did they value their own time and skills and sold them off cheaply. Today, these unsung heroes, for lack of decent wages, are fast disappearing as is rafugari, an art they perfected over two and a half centuries. There are still countless shawls that are crying out for a new lease of life, the magic touch of a caring rafugar!
Master Rafugar Ishrat Ali
Rafugar Kalbe Ali's sons