As the sun casts early shadows on the Himalayas, the family is fed, the dishes are washed, and the laundry is hung on the line to dry. The cattle lazily graze on sown fields. The Himalayan woman’s daily morning routine is complete, and now it’s time to sit back, relax, and get to work.
She sits down at her loom, a large, wooden machine handcrafted to weave a very special piece of clothing: the pangden.
A pangden is a vibrant striped apron worn around the waist. It is a custom they have been following for more than 600 years. In almost every Himalayan household, women spend their free time weaving and designing these important pieces of clothing. They are woven with wool thread that has been sheered, spun, and dyed in the Himalayas. They are decorated with horizontal stripes and patterns of alternating colors. Every pattern tells a different story, every color palette sets apart different tribes. But the centuries’ old tradition binds together the stories of all Himalayan women: their strength and commitment to hold up their families and better their communities.
Because of its fabric and texture, pangdens keep Himalayan women warm against the mountains’ icy winds. But it also has several other uses that help them with their housework. It’s a multipurpose fabric! They are used to wipe their children’s faces, pick up hot pans from the stove, and keep their dresses clean.
A pangden is not merely just an item of clothing for the Himalayan woman. Each thread tells a story. It is their identity.
If you look closely, the colorful stripes and patterns woven into the apron are distinctive to the region a Himalayan woman is from. You can distinguish different tribes and regions by pattern. Even the lengths of pangdens vary and are dissimilar between different parts of the Himalayas. This means a pangden from Manang, a village at the Gandaki province in Nepal, is different from the ones woven in the Nubri Valley of Gorkha!
A pangden can also symbolize a woman’s marital status. Traditionally, only married Tibetan women would wear a pangden. But as time has progressed, pangdens are worn by women and girls of all ages regardless of their marital status, especially during festivals or celebratory occasions.
The rainbow that wraps around Himalayan women is close to their hearts. Some have been passed down from woman to woman for generations, carrying with them the stories and cultures of the wearer. That is what a pangden is: a piece of history, a cloth with a story woven through every thread.