Shawls have a cross-regional origin; the term 'shawl' spread out from the Indian province of Kashmir, but has its roots in the Iranian province of Hamedan. In the 14th century, scholar Sayeed Ali Hamadani - noting the quality of the fleece produced by pashmini goats - decided to knit a set of garments and present them to Kashmir's king, Sultan Qutabdin. The Sultan was impressed by the softness and craftsmanship of Ali Hamadani's textiles and heard out his proposal to begin a weaving industry in Kashmir, primarily producing what we know today as shawls.
The pashmina shawls of Kashmir, intricately woven with beautiful floral designs and rich colour, became a trendy fashion accessory across most of Europe and a staple of the Indian cultural aesthetic that still leaves its impression to this day.
In modern times in the west, shawls are mostly used to complement dresses and other formal women's attire - especially in situations where warmer clothing is desired but something like a jacket isn't appropriate. They're usually a very fun, free-form knit where form and structure are important but not as essential as they are in something like a sock or sweater, leaving plenty of room for your creative muscles to be flexed.