Silk in the Indian subcontinent is a luxury good. In India, about 97% of the raw silk is produced in the five Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Jammu and Kashmir, Mysore and North Bangalore, the upcoming site of a US$20 million “Silk City”, contribute to a majority of silk production. Another emerging silk producer is Tamil Nadu where mulberry cultivation is concentrated in Salem, Erode and Dharmapuri districts. Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh and Gobichettipalayam, Tamil Nadu were the first locations to have automated silk reeling units.
History of Silk:
Recent archaeological discoveries in Harappa and Chanhu-daro suggest that sericulture, employing wild silk threads from native silkworm species, existed in South Asia during the time of the Indus Valley Civilization dating between 2450 BC and 2000 BC, while evidence for silk production in China back to around 2570 BC and earlier. The Indus silks were obtained from more than one species Antheraea and Philosamia (Eri silk). Antheraea assamensis and A. mylitta were widely used. It is widely believed that silk process techniques of degumming and reeling were purely Chinese technology. These findings were published in the journal Archaeometry by scientists from Harvard University who examined the silk fibre excavated from two Indus valley cities of Harappa and Chanhudaro. The fibers were dated to around 2450–2000 BCE and were processed using similar techniques of degumming and reeling as that of the Chinese. Scanning electron micrograph of the fibre revealed that some fibers were spun after the silk moth was allowed to escape from the cocoon, similar to the Ahimsa silk promoted by Mahatma Gandhi.
The brocade weaving centers of India developed in and around the capitals of kingdoms or holy cities because of the demand for expensive fabrics by the royal families and temples. Rich merchants of the trading ports or centers also contributed to the development of these fabrics. Besides trading in the finished product, they advanced money to the weavers to buy the costly raw materials that is silk and zari. The ancient centers were situated mainly in Gujarat, Malwa and South India. In the North, Delhi, Lahore, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Varanasi, Mau, Azamgarh and Murshidabad were the main centers for brocade weaving. Northern weavers were greatly influenced by the brocade weaving regions of eastern and southern Persia, Turkey, Central Asia and Afghanistan.
Gujrati builders and weavers were brought by Akbar to the royal workshops in AD 1572. Akbar took an active role in overseeing the royal textile workshops, established at Lahore, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri where skilled weavers from different backgrounds worked. Expert weavers from those distant lands worked with the local weavers and imparted their skills to the locals. This intermingling of creative techniques brought about a great transformation in the textile weaving industry. The exquisite latifa (beautiful) buti was the outcome of the fusion of Persian and Indian designs. Brocades produced at the royal workshops of other well-known Muslim centers in Syria, Egypt, Turkey and Persia were also exported to India. Under the Mughals, sericulture and silk-weaving received special encouragement and silk cloth produced in the Punjab came to be prized throughout the world. Lahore and Multan developed into major centers of silk industry. The tradition continues.
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