Traditional Weaving in Indian Civilizations
The discovery of a small shred of cotton cloth stuck to a pottery shard indicates that weaving was part of craft production for early Indus Valley civilizations (dated from the Harappa and Mohenjodaro settlements of 2600 B.C.). Clay and metal seals from the Indus Valley sites depict human figures clothed in shawl-like draped garments and loincloths. Historical events of the period from 3000-1800 B.C., as analyzed by scholars and anthropologists, reveal the trade and cultural exchanges between the inhabitants of the Harrapan and Mohenjodaro region and Babylonia (Mesopotamia). Gold and copper, lead, lapis lazuli stone, turquoises, pearls, shell and bone, fuchsite inlay and jade were probably traded for the products of the Indus Valley settlers, such as cotton textiles, beads, copper tools, timber and precious woods.
Muslin from Bengal has been known throughout history as very fine quality. The Greek chronicler Mesgasthenes, after visiting the court of Chandragupta Maurya (Sandrocottus) in 325 B.C., described the court garments as ‘flowered robes of fine muslin’. There is archeological evidence that Alexander the Great encountered fine flowered muslins and robes embroidered in gold when he and his soldiers travelled to India. There are some accounts of them seeing cotton trees, as well.
The zenith of muslin production was achieved with the patronage of the great Moghuls. Italian traveler Manrique, in his writings of 1628, describes the patronage of the court of Emperor Shahjahan, and later Emperor Aurangzeb, who received annual tributes of these fine cloths from their Governors in Bengal. These cloths were so special that they cost ten times the price of any other clothes in the Empire. We are informed further that, in 1887, muslin merchants protested the East India Company’s monolopy on weavers throughout East Bengal (48,000 persons). Weavers who worked with the East India Company held permits that prevented them from taking on work for private traders, and muslin merchants felt that this arrangement was unfair.
Silk also has a long history in India and has been considered a “pure fabric”. As such, it has been used to produce religious vestments and for special occasions. Wild silk fibers excavated from sites in Indus valley were dated back to 2450-2000 BC, and were apparently processed using methods similar to those used for the production of Chinese silk. Upon closer examination, it was revealed that some of them were spun after the moths had left their cocoon, similar to the way Ahimsa silk (which was promoted by Mahatma Gandhi) was made. Sericulture was, according to legend, smuggled out of China and into India by a Chinese princess, who was married to a prince of Khotan, in Central Asia. She hid the cocoons in her hair, and introduced them to her new home country, thus making Khotan rich and prosperous.
Textile production was initially done by weavers who worked entirely in their own homes, sometimes with the help of their family members. The entire process of ginning the cotton, separating the fibers from the seeds, carding it in order to fluff it up and spinning it into thread or yarn took place in each weaver’s house, using spinning wheels and handlooms which were passed down from one generation to the next.
About the Author
Paul P. Saha is a professional consultant who actively serves 300 government registered NGOs in Bangladesh. The last 30 years, he has been effectively and successfully showing his extraordinary contribution in preservation of human rights to the disadvantaged and vulnerable girls and women.