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Home > Profile> Prespective > Silks


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 hazy landscape.

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 depicted.



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