Kashmir, situated on the old Silk Road in spite of being nestled by high mountains, has been exposed to cultural influences from various lands. The famous Silk Route which began to be used from about the first century BC not only carried traders, raiders and armies but also immigrants, philosophers, thinkers and men of artistic talent acquainted with religious philosophies. This route also carried cultural influences and ideas across the borders. Kashmir that occupied an important place on the cultural map of Central Asia is up to this day famous for its richness of culture and beauty of its arts and crafts. She maintained close relations with different parts of Central Asia since ancient times. The Buddhist missionaries from Kashmir were the first to spread the Buddhist philosophy in Central Asian territories across the Hindukush in Afghanistan, in China and Tibet as a result of which a new religion took roots in these lands. Many Buddhist scholars from these lands traveled across the deserts and mountains for their schooling in Kashmir. As a result the ancient arts of Kashmir, be it sculpture or architecture, show many similarities in designs, in iconography or in skills of production with the centers of excellence that existed outside Kashmir at that time. The exchange of ideas placed Kashmir at a very high pedestal in such productions and was known all over the region for such artistic creations. These connections were further advanced by political relations, matrimonial alliances and employment of Central Asians in Kashmir establishments.
With the foundation of Sultanate in AD 1339, Kashmir became the magnetic attraction for the Muslim missionaries, sufis, saints and ulemas (Muslim theologians) from Central Asia, who propagated the message of Islam in the region. Most of the time they comprised men from all walks of life to introduce Central Asian skills and technologies as well. Tradition says that Syed Ali Hamdani, the learned saint from Central Asia visited Kashmir in the late 14th century for the purpose of propagation of Islam in Kashmir and brought with him over seven hundred disciples, some of whom were said to be skilled craftsmen. These missionaries also brought with them their own life style, language, dress pattern, food habits etc that subsequently got disseminated among the local people. The influx was such that it was feared then that all these new cultural waves shall engulf the inhabitants, which subsequently did happen.
The Sultan was himself a symbol of these introductions and put on such dresses that were regarded excellent, beautiful and colourful. These were in silk as new technology was introduced when the use of weavers brush and loom for the weaving of silk in Kashmir was attempted. It can be deduced with a fair degree of accuracy from Pundit Srivara?s account that Zain-ul-Abdin introduced multi-heddle looms from Central Asia or Khurasan in which circular plant designs were weaved besides animated figures. In the reign of Sultan Zain-ul-Abdin art, culture, fine arts and literature flourished in Kashmir, particularly that of Bukhara and Samarkand. Besides the multi heddle looms for silk weaving, wood carving, enameling, stone cutting, stone polishing, bottle making, window cutting (tabadan-turash), calligraphy and book binding, carpet making and a number of other arts and crafts, which sooth the eye with their intricacies flowered under the impact of Central Asia. The local people started working on the original models from Iran and Central Asia, and in many cases they experimented with new models that led to the evolution of new forms and movements. The fresh introductions must have taken roots deep even after the death of the Zain-ul-Abdin, as seventy years latter Mirza Haidar Dughlat records the glory of these crafts in these words: ?in Kashmir one meets with all those arts and crafts which are in most cities uncommon. In the whole of Mavara-u-Nahr except Samarkand and Bukhara these are now here to be met with while in Kashmir they are abundant. This is all due to Sultan Zain-ul-Abdin?. A further boost to the crafts of Kashmir may have taken place when the Central Asian noble Mirza Haidar invaded Kashmir and his subsequent ten year political domination of the country contributed significantly to the technological and cultural transfusion from Central Asia to Kashmir. His personal and perspective patronage gave a renewed boost to these industries and commerce, the benefits of which were later enjoyed by the Chak rulers who followed him. The valley henceforth experienced its second cultural resurgence whose impact lasted long enough for Mirza?s illustrious nephew (Jehangir) to appreciate as he introduced various types of musical instruments, new types of windows and doors, and also made innovations in dress and diet. As a result of such close relations, the arts and crafts of Kashmir show exuberant influences of Central Asia.