A coarse, thick, handspun and flat-woven cloth, cumbals are made of wool, cotton or a combination of fibres and dyed in natural colours. Also known as kambalarna and kambalaka, cumbal is the widely used Hindustani term for blanket and derives from the Sanskrit word kambala, meaning “blanket.”
The earliest textual references to the fabric have been found in the Atharva Veda and Mahabharata. In India, different communities have different regional blanket and blanket-making traditions and practices, such as the Ghongadi made by the Dhangar community; the handspun goat fleece blankets made by the Gadarias (goat herders) of Madhya Pradesh; the Chutka blankets produced from Tibetan sheep’s wool by the Bhotias of Uttarakhand; the Gabba from Kashmir; and the Jamakkalam blankets from Tamil Nadu.
The production and usage of cumbals are localised, since the wool is obtained from livestock native to the region, and therefore, are an economical alternative to shawls. After production, cumbals are embellished with floral and figurative motifs made by embroidery, applique and mirror work, and the designs differ between communities. The blankets are commonly sold in local markets and village fairs.
Today, the communities engaged in weaving and producing cumbals have taken up other professions due to the rapid industrialisation of the textile industry, and makers rely on inexpensive synthetic fibres and dyes to produce the blankets.
Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 (GI Act), 48, Section 2.
Geographical Indications Registry. “State Wise Registration Details of G.I. Applications: September 15, 2003–March 31, 2013.” Government of India.
Monier-Williams, Monier, Ernst Leumann, and Carl Cappeller. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1899.
Pal, Mrinal Kanti. Crafts and Craftsmen in Traditional India. New Delhi: Kanak Publications, 1978.
Ranjan, Aditi, and M. P. Ranjan. Handmade in India: A Geographic Encyclopaedia of Indian Handicrafts. New York: Abbeville Press, 2009.