The prosaic definition belies the poetry of the shawl, the romance of this free-flowing mantle that wraps the body in -warmth. For centuries, the shawl in India has had a tradition of versatility, of different shapes and sizes from large rectangles the length of a blanket to smaller squares and delicate elongated bands, a tradition indeed of the uses to which it was put.
In the sophisticated courts of Northern India, it epitomised the luxury of the softest, sheerest wool, elaborately woven and sumptuously patterned. It could be worn like a scarf, wound around the head, or around the waist (patka) or draped about the shoulders to reveal the elegance of its floral designs. Large shawls were laid as carpets in the tented encampments of rulers or hung from their walls to ward off the rigours of winter. In Punjab, at the brilliant height of his power, the 19' century monarch Ranjit Singh carpeted entire outdoor areas with shawls so that horses pranced on their matchless fabric. In villages scattered across mountains and northern plains, rough homespun woollen shawls drawn from the fleece of sheep and goat warmed the chill of starry winter nights. Here too its uses were many: as blanket, as mantle, as head gear, as bedspread.