A Treasure Box full of Priceless Memories: The Presence of Erstwhile Feudal Families in Kashmir


Once one of the most influential communities of Kashmir, what is the fate of the Zalidars, or the Feudal Lords of Kashmir in these turbulent times? Read more to find out.


Elegance, royalty and grace have been hallmarks of Kashmiri ladies. Begum Zainab Drabu is a figure worth mentioning among these Kashmiri women. Born to a wealthy landlord, Raees-e-Kashmir or the Zaildar-i-Bov or the Feudal Lord of Bov (a village in Rajpora ), Aziz Mir, who had four daughters. Among the four daughters, the eldest one was visually impaired. Zainab Drabu was the third daughter of Aziz Mir, and was married to Ghulam Hassan Drabu. As a lady, she is still remembered as a humble, jolly and hardworking woman who fulfilled all her responsibilities as a daughter, a daughter in law, a mother, a mother-in-law and as a grandmother. She is very fondly and well-remembered for excelling in every role.


On taking over his father in laws property and fame, Ghulam Hassan Drabu now came to be known as Haslal-i-Bov (Haslal is a nickname for Hassan in Kashmiri). Zainab Drabu and Ghulam Hassan Drabu gave birth to 12 children (4 daughters and 8 sons). "‘My mother was a perfect daughter in law", says my Daadi (my grandmother and her daughter). Although she came from an affluent wealthy family, she was highly skilled and could perform all the household chores including the odd jobs.




Here, Begum Drabu is wearing a kasaba (traditional headgear) with taeveez, (now called a Mang tikka). The taeveez is made of pure gold and is finely shaped in a leaf-like structure, with delicate droplets covered by pearl enamelling. The taeveez fits inside the kasaba and is rather stitched into it which is called ‘murun'. Over the taeveez are worn strings of gold coins called the 'pound raz ' She has also worn talraz (a pair of earrings which start from left ear, go over the head and then are fixed near the right ear just like a mathapatti) in a graceful manner, while wearing a balhor, or 'bale', a modification of then called kanveaj. Her neck is beautifully covered with a beautiful and an antique halqaband, full of pearls. The beauty of the halqaband is further enhanced by a round shape thick pendant called the 'chrot ', These pictures, although silent, speak volumes about the time gone by and the prosperity the family had witnessed during those days.




This is one of my favourite pictures of my grandmother, Ghulam Fatima, daughter of Begum Zainab Drabu, at her wedding. Her bridal ensemble included a 'Taj ', or a crown with a peacock feather delicately carved in gold. Her forehead was adorned with a 'Damein ', or a mathapatti, which had three tikkas in it. She wore seven necklaces including a golband with stones in red and white, a Kashmiri necklace, a haar with small animal figurines in gold with colorful gold carving called Mahina . She also wore three small necklaces; she was the only bridewho wore a Taj during those days.

Unlike the brides today, back in those days brides didn't wear lehengas, but opted for elegant shalwar kameez of ' zarbaaf ' material (brocade). My grandmother's entire trousseau was stitched very carefully by renowned tailors of those days. While talking about her wedding, she became very emotional and recalled the times when A - john , a renowned tailor at the Bund had stitched everything with so much of delicacy and made her look like a beautiful bride on her big day.



The photograph above portrays one of the most beautiful and delicate attires that belong to my maternal home. This dress is an achkan made of velvet fabric, with delicate and exquisite Zardozi embroidery. The most fascinating thing about it are the threads of pure gold and silver that are used in the embroidery. The dress originally belonged to my great grandfather Ghulam Mohammed Drabu , who wore it on a traditional childhood function called ' khotna ' or circumcision. In those days, Khotna was celebrated with huge pomp and show and on a very large scale. The dress also includes a headgear called a Rumi fez, full of Salma work in gold and has exquisite pearls adding to its charm. The workmanship of the dress is highly praise worthy, continuing the legacy of this dress. It has been worn by many family members of my maternal home and will now be inherited by me, and would continue to be passed on among the next generations.



This picture is of Jaleela Begum, the eldest daughter in law of the Drabu family, lovingly called Boba by everyone. She was 10 when she got married as per the old traditions to my great grandfather Ghulam Mohammed Drabu who was 12 at that time. It is said the procession was so grand that almost hundreds of Baratis had been escorting the groom. - I had this privilege to ask Boba about some of her wedding stories, where I remember she had told me that her husband being a child and only 12, had fallen asleep while waiting for her to come. Luckily, Boba has always lived a life of luxury and joys.


Being the eldest daughter in law , she was just like a second mother to her sisters and brother in laws. She even held my grandmother ( her sister in law) in her lap when she was born. Boba passed away last year at 100 on March 17. She did not go alone but a piece of our hearts went away with her – the place she lived in is completely deserted now and no one likes to walk that path again.


In the picture above, Boba is wearing a Kasaba, which is a beautiful and an antique headgear. In summers, a plain white piece of cloth, now called a chaddar, was used as a kasaba and in winters it was replaced by a beautiful tilla pashmina shawl with tassels. (Image attached below). The beautiful workmanship of the shawl made it a unique piece which is today very rarely found. The shawl had Jaal borders.




Along with the Kasaba, Boba wore taveez, antique earrings called 'balhor ' and a talraz, which is a piece of jewellery and is joined to each other, talraz actually bears the load of the balhor. Brides of that time also used to wear jewellery embedded with gold coins called pound maal . The pashmina shawl is a family heirloom, treasured and preserved by generations. It is homemade, done on a ‘charkha ‘or a spinning wheel which was worn in winters over a kasaba, with tilla and thread work together, and is now in possession of the family, carefully and diligently preserved to be passed on to the next generation to keep the heritage and old times alive.