It is something royal, rich, heavenly, exotic, erotic and sensual. The word
brings to imagination all these ideas and more. The qualities of silk have no
parallel. Other fabrics pale in comparison to the soft, smooth and fluid silk.
This century has witnessed the invention of many a manmade fibers and
artificial silks, but there is nothing which can be compared to the exquisite
beauty of the original silk.
Silk is a natural fiber, which does not absorb moisture. It is
cool in summer and warm in winter. But silk has the quality of absorbing dyes,
thus making it possible for weavers to experiment with different kinds of
shades, designs and finishes for silk fabrics.
Silks in India
India has a rich silk-ruled heritage. This is one of the most
precious gifts of the nature. This has a very ancient history. This was used as
early as 1725 BC., which is supposed to have been discovered by a Chinese
princess and sponsored by the empress. It was quite for a long time the
manufacturing methods were unknown to all till about 2500 to 3000 years BC.
Japan is the major silk producing and exporting country. No other fabric is as
soft as silk is and as such its fall on the body is also alike exotic and
sensual. It has various uses, from to saree to carpets, furnishings and
embroidery. The isothermal properties of silk are the reason to keep warm in
the winter and cool in summer. Its hosts of other qualities are the reason for
its much demand. Its strength and fineness enable intricate and delicate
embroidery and also to be used in operational theatres for stitches. Silk is
still respected in Japan and is put into use by all. China exported silk to
other countries at this time and there after it had been expanded to other
places that have also learnt the art of manufacturing silk for commercial
purposes. Silk carpet making was not a Chinese tradition but it was born of
wool weaving of nomadic tribes. The Kimno is the most important Japanese
garments works with lag, widely cut lose trousers. The colors used were given a
India is a store house of indigenous silk moths, the cocoons of
which are suitable for weaving. Customs surrounding the care and gathering of
wild cocoons are probably being practiced with little or no change over the
years. The 'silk forests' are considered to be sacred and the locals protect
the caterpillars from predators and later harvest the cocoons. It is not clear
who brought the techniques of silk-reeling to India . While some believe that
Buddhist monks or missionaries are responsible for this, there are some who
feel that the Bodo tribe of Assam, who originally migrated from Central Asia,
are the ones who brought the reeling technology with them.
Sacred for Hindus
Fine, tightly woven silk was valued not only for its beauty and
luxury, but also for its purity. Hindu's treat silk as a pure substance - so
much so that they feel that there is no need to wash silk fabrics before
ceremonial use. One of the reasons why Hindu's treat silk as a pure substance
is that it is produced from the cocoons of moths which have completed their
cycle and have broken out of the cocoons. Hence no killing is involved for the
production of silk, and thus it becomes sacred and unpolluted. Not only for
ceremonial use, Hindu's and Jain's use silk to make the ropes which are used to
pull the sacred processional chariots and also for the garments of the deities.
Assam is one of the seven sisters of the North East India. The beauty and
elegance of Assamese range of crafts has its own charm. The Muga of Assam to
the world is the golden silk fiber 'Muga' which is available only here
throughout the world. It is derived from the worm known as 'Antheraea assama'.
Muga silk is sumptuous royal, heavenly; it is exotic, erotic and
sensual. But most of all, it is simply sheer beauty with ample strength and
durability. Besides this, muga is washable at home and is free from the
dry-cleaning hassles, unlike other silk fabrics. The muga silk filament due to
less porosity cannot be bleached and hence cannot be dyed. All that glitters is
not gold but all that is golden and shimmering is muga silk. The qualities of
muga are unrivalled by any other fiber or fabric, and any comparison to muga is
flattering to the compared.
Handloom weaving is Assam's largest and oldest industry. Weaving
has been a way of life in Assam since time immemorial. Tradition has it that
the skill to weave was the primary qualification of a young girl for her
eligibility for marriage. A soldier was sent off for battle with a dress
material made overnight. And one that was considered as important as his
weapon. This perhaps explains why Assam has largest concentration of handlooms
and weavers in the country. Handloom of Assam is not confined to a particular
group of people or to a particular region. Assam was one of the first places
where the practice of rearing silkworms and using heir thread came into vogue.
The practice is one that has survived the downfall of the Assam Raj and the
alterations in the economic conditions of the people that is entailed, and
inspite of the attraction of imported silk and cotton Muga silk 'Mekhala
Chador' is still the national dress of Assamese and forms the common costume of
the woven of the Assam valley. Weaving has been in Assam an age old affair
descending down from generation to generation through the pathway of centuries
old history. Assamese literature and scriptures bear ample testimony to this.
Types of silk:
Tussar / Eri / Muga: These silks are of coarser variety
because they are produced by insects which feed on leaves and trees other than
mulberry. These are produced in WB, Orissa, MP, Bihar, Assam, and Maharashtra.
Motifs woven into fabric are local legends and patterns like houses,
palanquins, birds, flowers, domestic scenes which are depicted on the pallavs
as well as the main body. Mekhala silk is worn in Assam . These Sarees are
small motifs woven into fabrics.
Uses of Silk
Silk can be used to make tapestry, carpets, embroideries,
furnishings and costumes. There is no time in the history of ancient India when
silk was not honored as the symbol of the best, the rich, the royal, and the
holy. Silk can be put to varied uses as its strength and fineness can withstand
a lot of pressure. Right from using silk threads for intricate embroidery
designs to putting stitches on human body, making bicycle tyre-tubes to strings
for musical instruments, silk threads have been used for all.
Silk fabrics were given an enhanced aesthetic value with the use
of gold thread to weave the 'zari' or border. Gold threads are new to Indian
culture. Vedic scriptures composed some three thousand years ago mention gold
fabrics worn by gods and goddesses. In the epic, Ramayana, there is a
description of the demon king, Ravana, wearing golden fabrics. Though, we have
no idea how gold threads were made in those times, in the recent times however,
gold threads are fine, and flat strips which are interwoven with silk or cotton
threads. Long silk unsown cloth with a gold embroidered 'Pallav', i.e. a Saree,
has become an internationally acclaimed Hindu feminine dress. While, the entire
length of the Saree has a thin border, which may be sewn or woven into the
fabric, the 'Pallav' is one end of the Saree which has a wide border. The types
of decorations in the border vary from region to region.
One of the distinctive types of Saree decorations is the 'chinai
work' where the knot stitch is used. Gujarati weavers use the tie-dyeing and
ikkat techniques. One of the most intricate of these methods is the Gujarati
double silk ikkat which is used for patola which are characterized by a bold
grid pattern with intricate geometrical and figurative motifs. Elephants, which
are considered to be symbols of wealth by Gujarati's, are supposed to be
auspicious for weddings and are thus frequently used for the borders while
weaving patola Saree's.
Bengali silk Sarees
They depict the sun, moon and stars in their patterns. Phases of
the moon, radiant rim of the sun are some of the common patterns; Chanderi
Sarees use silk warp and cotton weft. They are bright but subtle and have rich
gold borders. Colored flowers, and green parrots are some of the patterns used
in these Sarees. Silk Sarees from Murshidabad in Bengal use natural tussah with
broad red borders. Baluchari Sarees, developed some two hundred years ago, use
palette of dark red, yellow, green, purple, chocolate, cream, white and blue.
Their borders are patterned with compartments containing repeating pictorial
themes, which range from figures smoking or merely conversing, and holding
flower sprigs. Some times trains, aeroplanes and steam-boats, are also