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Assam Silk

Assam Silk

Assam is the home of several types of silks, the most prominent and prestigious being muga, the golden silk found exclusively in this state. The main centre in Assam for silk-weaving is Sualkuchi. The texture is delicate, with dainty designs and natural colours. Sualkuchi is a medieval town and was perhaps the first urban settlement in Assam. Sualu is the tree from which the leaves are fed to the Muga Silkworm Antherea assama; and Kuchi means cluster. Every household in Sualkuchi is involved in the silk trade. Before the advent of cheap calico textiles, silk (either raw or wrought) was an important article of production.Women of all strata of Assamese society (even today) from the Queen downwards used to weave at their loom.

The weaving tradition in this village can be traced to the 11th century when king Dharma Pal, of the Pal Dynasty, sponsored the craft and brought 26th weaving families from Tantikuchi to sualkuchi. The village took shape as a weaving village when the SHAMS occupied Sualkuchi defeating the Mughals in the 17 th century. Assam silk denotes the three major types of indigenous silks produced in Assam; golden Muga, white Pat and warm Eri silk. The Assam silk industry, now centered in Sualkuchi, is a labor intensive industry.

Muga silk is the product of the silkworm "Antherea assamensis" endemic to Assam. The pupa of these silkworms feed on "som" ("Machilus bombycina") and "sualu" ("Litsaea polyantha") leaves. The silk produced is known for its glossy fine texture and durability 

Due to its low porosity the Muga yarn cannot be bleached nor dyed and its natural golden color is retained. This silk can be hand-washed with its luster increasing after every wash. Very often the silk outlives its owner. Assam has received a geographical indication for the production of Muga. Pat silk is produced by silkworms which feed on mulberry leaves. It is usually brilliant white or off-white in colour. Its cloth can dry in shadow. Eri silk is made by "Philosamia ricini" which feed on castor leaves. It is also known as Endi or Errandi silk. Due to the fact that manufacturing process of Eri allows the pupae to develop into adults and only the open ended cocoons are used for turning into silk, it is also popularly known as non-violent silk. This silk is soft and warm and is popular as shawls and quilts.

Sualkuchi is still special place to visit as even today every household in this town has a loom working. Extraction of the silk yarn from Muga cocoons using traditional methods can be seen in Sualkuchi. The cocoons are brought from Upper Assam and the Garo hills.

The state of Assam is one of the striking regions of India. There is hardly any other state which has greater variety and colour in its natural scenario and in the cultural treasures of the people that inhabit it. Sualkuchi combines the ethnic setting of weaving skills in white and golden Assam silk, indigenously called Pat and Muga, together with agriculture and fishing in the neighbouring villages.

Handloom Weaving is a way of life and intensely linked with Assamese Culture and Heritage. Handloom Industry of Assam is known for its rich tradition of making handloom and handicraft products. It also plays a very important role in the socio-economic development of the State. Assam is a proud owner of more than 13.00 lakh looms out of the total 28.00 lakh looms in the country. In spite of being intensely connected with the culture of the State, the Handloom Industry has not flourished in commercial sphere to the required extent. At present about 2.80 lakh looms are being utilised for commercial weaving in the true sense. About 5.70 lakh looms run semi-commercially and earning subsidiary income. Rest are domestic looms and are run to meet the domestic requirements.

The cooperative coverage is about 33 percent of the State’s weaver population which is far below the National coverage. In the Eleventh Five Year Plan period the cooperative coverage has been targeted to increase to 45 percent.

Sualkuchi, a village in the Kamrup district has been developed over the years as a major centre for commercial production of these indigenous fabrics especially the Pat and Muga silk. Sualkuchi is famous as the ‘Manchester of Assam’ and was established by Momai Tamuli Barbarua, a great administrator of the Ahom kingdom during the reign of Swargadeo Pratap Singha (1603-1641). Shri Barbarua set up this weaver’s village by shifting a large number of master-weavers from all over the region to that village. This patronage led to the advancement and development of sericulture in Assam.

This picturesque village on the banks of the river Brahmaputra is about 32 kms from Guwahati. Sualkuchi has a population of nearly 50,000 people, most of who are engaged in weaving magic on their looms. This village has an estimated 25,000 handlooms and produces nearly six million metres of white and golden Assam silk annually.

Sualkuchi an ancient craft village-having silk-rearing and weaving communities, potters, goldsmiths and oil pressures. While silk-rearing vanished long time ago, the gani industry perished during the early the part of the last century as the ‘Mudois’ of Sualkuchi used to sell mustered seeds to the mill of Guwahati. Pottery and gold-smithy have also vanished and the ‘Kumars’ and goldsmiths have undertaken more income yielding weaving besides other professions. The history of Sualkuchi was traced elsewhere by this writer to the 4th century BC on the basis of Kautilya’s reference to Suvarnakudya of ancient Kamrupa where the best quality of Patrorna (pat) was produced. This Suvarnakudya of Arthasastra was probably known later on as Swarnakuchi- a village naow in the bed of the Brahmaputra after the angle like bent of the river at Agiathuri was straightened towards Hatimura by Chilarai in 1562 (and the river by side of Hajo gradually dried up) and the name Sualkuchi /Soalkuchi is guessed to be derived from Swarnakuchi which in turn might have been derived from Suvarnakudya mentioned by Kautilya. The antiquity of Sualkuchi is also proved by the Asam Buranji by Gunabhiram Barua according to which the Basarioya (Basattar Gharia) Brahmins of Sualkuchi were granted land by one king Dharmapal probably of the 10th century AD. Three chronicles also testify that three was a Tanti community who were weaving silk cloth and Momai Tamuli Bezbarua and some other Ahom officials were punished by the Ahom King Pratap Singha for removing some Tanti families in 1636 to other places during the second phase of the Ahom-Mughal war.

Eri Coocon to Cloth

Also known as Endi or Errandi, Eri is a multivoltine silk spun from open-ended cocoons, unlike other varieties of silk. Eri silk is the product of the domesticated silkworm, Philosamia ricini that feeds mainly on castor leaves. Ericulture is a household activity practiced mainly for protein rich pupae, a delicacy for the tribal. Resultantly, the eri cocoons are open-mouthed and are spun. The silk is used indigenously for preparation of chaddars (wraps) for own use by these tribals. In India, this culture is practiced mainly in the north-eastern states and Assam.

Muga Coocon to Cloth

This golden yellow colour silk is prerogative of India and the pride of Assam state. It is obtained from semi-domesticated multivoltine silkworm, Antheraea assamensis. These silkworms feed on the aromatic leaves of Som and Soalu plants and are reared on trees similar to that of tasar. Muga culture is specific to the state of Assam and an integral part of the tradition and culture of that state. The muga silk, an high value product is used in products like sarees, mekhalas, chaddars, etc.

Mulberry Coocon to cloth

The bulk of the commercial silk produced in the world comes from this variety and often silk generally refers to mulberry silk. Mulberry silk comes from the silkworm, Bombyx mori L. which solely feeds on the leaves of mulberry plant. These silkworms are completely domesticated and reared indoors.

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