The Amazing World of Indian Silk
The Wondrous Fibre of India
Silk is the most revered and valued fibre of all the textile fibres in India. In India, silk is considered to be pure and holy, and no religious function is complete without the use of silk. All religious scriptures of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity or Buddhism do find a mention about silk, connecting this holy fibre to their eschatology.
India has been the land of ancient civilizations and has contributed many things to the world, silk being one of them. Silk is a glorious gift of nature. With its rich heritage, assorted influences and a dynamic legacy of art, culture and traditions, Indian Silk has inherited some of the most finely crafted marvels of the world. Indian Silk has a global appeal because the soul and warmth of the culture is wrapped within the Indian designs. Indian Silk, with the perception of ‘looking good & feeling great’, undoubtedly is the nature’s performance fibre.
Some believe that Indian Himalayas is the homeland of silk, which was on the fabled silk route which stretched 6000 miles across the heartland of Asia from China to the Mediterranean. In the later days, princely rulers like the Tipu Sultan of Mysore encouraged silk cultivation in India. Bengal region of India saw a boost in silk production during the British era due to the increased demand from parachute industry during World War II. India’s rich and versatile silk culture is deep rooted, closely blended to the ethos and heritage of each silk producing cluster. The marvel of Indian Silk handcrafted by the traditional artisans of the respective clusters is unique and simply unmatched.
India, the Biggest Consumer of Silk
India, besides being a silk producer, is also an importer, exporter and consumer of silk. India is the second largest silk producer and is also the largest consumer in the world. The demand and supply position is tilted to such an extent that India needs to import sizable quantity of raw silk to meet the domestic requirement. The saree industry consumes the lion’s share of the country’s domestic production of silk that is almost to the tune of 75%. While the traditional sarees are woven in handlooms, there are a few light weight varieties, plain and printed, being woven in power-looms. Other items in production are dress materials, made-ups, ready-made garments, scarves and stoles, carpets and home furnishings.
Indian Silk – Embraced across the World
Indian Silk has aroused global interest since decades. This has swayed the design and fashion industries where elements of stylized motifs, colours and intricate designs have been an inspiration. Over the years, Indian Silk has carved out a niche market, the principal buyers being US and Europe. Although the traditional designs and value-added embroidered items form the thrust area, the export basket includes, dress materials, sarees, scarves, made-ups, ready-made garments and carpets. Dupions of Bangalore, Matka silks of Malda, Tasar silks of Bhagalpur are the sought after silk materials for the European market. With global fashion influencing India and India influencing the global trends, one can see a reciprocal movement of fashion trends that is only going to become stronger in the current globalised environment.
Indian Silk with a Humane Face
Silk cultivation called sericulture is practiced as a cottage industry in India, spread over to 59,000 villages covering over 25 states. As the developed countries have almost withdrawn from the active silk production due to industrialization and urbanization, India continues to encourage sericulture as a tool for rural employment and poverty alleviation. This labour intensive industry provides gainful employment to more than seven million people, women constituting over 60%. Sericulture is finely blended with the country’s heritage and plays an important role in the socio-economic growth by providing millions of jobs to the weaker sections of the society.
Indian Silk – Unique in it’s Diversity
India is the only country that produces all the four commercially known varieties of silks viz: Mulberry, Eri, Tasar and Muga, each one distinctly different from one another in terms of texture, feel and colour. India is home to some of the most exotic and wide ranging silks in the world, thanks to the endless varieties of handspun yarns available in each of the above four varieties of silks.
Of all the silk varieties available in India, mulberry is the most popular and most commonly known form of natural silk. Mulberry silk is light with a natural sheen and a smooth feel constituting about 85% of the total silk production in the country. Silk is light but strong, smooth and soft, and superbly adaptable. When worn or draped, its fluidity is spellbound. It can be dyed subtle or bold as it is rich in affinity to dyes and hence is a dyer’s delight. The special magic of silk comes from its interaction with light, which it refracts in a way similar to objects found in nature like pearls and sea-shells.
India’s Wild silks, Tasar, Eri and Muga, now being branded as Vanya silk, reflect the exotic and untamed spirit of wild silk worm in texture, feel, sheen and colour. The silk that is closest to the nature has inspired designers to create distinct fashion statements in clothing and home décor.
Vanya silks portray the rich crafts, culture and folklore of the North-Eastern and tribal zones of Central and Eastern India. Collecting wild cocoons from the forest, reeling silk threads from cocoons and hand weaving of silk clothes have given the source of livelihood to the tribal and other weaker sections of the society.
The Tropical or Indian Tasar silks are highly textured and has a dull, uneven sheen and can be dyed in a number of colours and easily blended with other fibres. An array of handspun yarns like Gicha, Katia, Jhuri besides the reeled silk goes in the making of a spectrum of fashion fabrics and finds its way to the export market. Among the Vanya silks, Tasar silk tops in the export basket.
Eri silk rearing is purely a traditional and a leisure time avocation of the tribal population of Assam numbering around 1.30 lakhs. Eri having very high thermal properties, the culture is practiced to meet the partial need of warm clothing. Moreover, eri pupae are a popular delicacy among the tribal population of Assam.
Muga, the shimmering golden silk of India is used in its natural colour. This magnificent, exclusive silk of India which no other country possesses is cultivated mostly in the high humidity regions of Assam and Cooch Behar areas of West Bengal. With its limited production, Muga is hot with the home décor and fashion designers across the globe and commands highest premium amongst all silks.
Silk Weaving Clusters
Indian Textiles have a range of techniques and design variations distinct to each of the weaving clusters determined by geographical factors, cultural influences, climate, etc.
Silk Weaving Clusters at a Glance
||Silk Weaving Cluster
||Popular Silk Products
||Plain silk, dupion, crepe, organza, hand woven zari sarees, printed sarees
||Crepe and printed sarees
||Plain fabrics and handloom sarees
||Hand woven zari sarees
||Hand woven zari sarees
||Hand woven zari sarees of wedding and festive class
||Typical style of pochampally sarees of wedding and festive class
||Venkatagiri handloom sarees
||World famous zari woven sarees, dhotis and angavastras, wedding and festive styles
||Zari woven sarees
||Zari woven sarees
||Renowned banarasi zari woven sarees of intricate designs, wedding and festive class
||Hand woven zari sarees similar to banaras sarees
||Plain silk fabrics and sarees of lighter weight
||Mulberry silk sarees
||Wide range of tasar and mixed silk varieties
||Renowned paithani sarees of golden zari with floral and animal motifs
||Tasar and mix-silk fabrics of all range
||Plain silk fabrics and sarees
|J & K
||Tabby silk fabrics and printed sarees
||Handloom mulberry silk sarees
||Classic maheswari handloom sarees
||Tasar silk varieties
||Export varieties of tasar and matka silks
||Tasar silk varieties
||Traditional handloom silk sarees and chaddars with typical colour scheme of eri and muga varieties
Banarasi Sarees – Epics Interwoven
Banarasi saree, acclaimed the world over, is famous for its royal look and rich feel. Woven with intricate designs using jacquard looms with pleasing colours and contrast borders, Banarasi brocades become the natural choice for wedding and festive occasions.
Kancheepuram – Alluring & Exotic
A typical Kancheepuram silk saree is known for its distinguishable characteristics of heavy silk with classic colours and rich zari woven pallu and border using koruvai technique. Woven on heavy lustrous filature silk in warp and charka silk in weft, usually with contrasting borders and fabulous pallus of intricate designs, the Kancheepuram sarees with its rich golden ornamentation is made to last a life time or more.
Paithanis – A Poetic Marvel
The very name conjures up reminiscence of Mugal art. For centuries, the paithani saree with its golden zari formed part of the bridal trousseau. Beautifully crafted, this nine yard wonder with an exquisite pure gold zari border and pallu boasts of ‘Karigars’ specializing in weaving the lotus and other motifs inspired by murals from nearby Ajanta.
Baluchari – The Bengal’s Pride
The origin of Baluchari saree is stated to be in a small village called Baluchar situated in the bank of river Bhagirathi in Murshidabad district of West Bengal. Baluchari sarees are known for its fabulous pallu with large flowing Kalka motifs in the centre surrounded by narrow ornamental borders depicting ancient stories using silver zari.
Nakshi Kanta – Amazing Handcraft of Bengal
Nakshi Kanta is a part of the cultural heritage of rural Bengal and is a centuries old tradition of folklore embroidery art. These sarees are embroidered with Kanthas along with motifs taken from folklore and mythological stories using elaborate running stitches producing enchanting designs.
Champa – Awesome Tassar
Champa is one the biggest centre for weaving of tasar silk fabrics in the country. Dress materials, fashion accessories, home furnishing made-ups, sarees, scarves and stoles in tasar silk from here are very popular.
Pochampally Sarees – Delight of Fine Craftsmanship
Pochampally sarees are handcrafted to perfection by skilled artisans who are endowed with critical skills in intricate designs based on Ikats. These sarees are perfectly reversible with the same appearance of the design in the same intensity. Weaving of intricately designed sarees can take up to three to four months.
Chanderi and Maheswari – Ethnic wonder
Chanderi Sarees are known for transparency, translucency because of kora silk in warp and weft, usually Ashraffy buti. Famous traditional designs are: Hazaar buti, Ashraffy saree, Jangla design saree, Addedar saree, Ugata Suraj saree and Mehandi Rachi Hath saree.
Bhagalapur – DazzlingTassar
The major product mix being produced in Bhagalpur include silk dress material, sarees, salwar suits, dupatta, bed sheets, scarves, runners, etc. The tasar silk sarees and furnishing materials produced in Bhagalpur are popular both in the domestic as well as in international markets.
Sualkuchi – Jewel in the Crown
This cluster specializes in the weaving of the golden muga silk and eri fabrics. Mekhla Chadar sarees and dress materials are the most sought after silk products of Sualkuchi.
Dharmavaram – Spectacular Weaves
Dharmavaram silk sarees are famous for its broad solid colored borders with contrast pallu woven with brocaded gold patterns. Simpler patterns for everyday use have the specialty of being woven in two colours which give an effect of muted double shades accentuated by the solid color border and pallu. The muted colours, the double shades create a total different effect that adds a striking appeal to the saree.
Central Silk Board – The Apex body for silk in India
The Central Silk Board is the apex body for the development of sericulture and silk industry in the country and is in the forefront of development of these sectors for over 65 years. The role of Central Silk Board encompasses Planning & Monitoring the developmental schemes in the country, Research and Development, encouraging scientific, technological and economic research for improving the production and productivity, creating greater opportunities for gainful employment and improving the levels of income of sericulturists and silk manufacturers.
India Takes the Lead with Silk Mark
The high demand of silk has led to serious distortions and malpractices in the silk value chain. Adulteration with lookalike fibres like Nylon, Rayon, Viscose, Polyester, etc., which may be hardly 10% of the cost of pure silk, is rampant. It is very difficult for the consumers to detect the same and therefore these products are passed on as pure silk, thus depriving the consumers the real value and the livelihood of the stakeholders. This menace continues unabated in all silk consuming countries. The absence of a quality mark for silk either from the international organisations or by the silk producing countries was felt for a long time. India took the lead by launching Silk Mark Organisation of India (SMOI) in 2004 with the twin objectives of Consumer Protection and Generic Promotion of silk.
Silk Mark Organisation of India (SMOI) is a registered Society under Karnataka Society Act 1960 is an initiative by Central Silk Board, Ministry of Textiles, Government of India. SMOI has competent Textile Technologists, who are well experienced in Silk Industry and Trade. SMOI is headquartered in Bangalore and has thirteen Silk Mark Chapters located strategically in and around the silk clusters of the country.
Over the years the institution has evolved and spearheaded awareness among consumers. There are more than 2800 Authorised Users of Silk Mark and more than 22 million Silk Mark labelled products are already in use.
The Silk Mark operation is monitored by a two-tier surveillance system – one by the in-house surveillance team of Silk Mark and another by an independent third-party surveillance team. The Silk Mark team takes up series of surveillance measures by visiting the Authorised Users and conducting on the spot purity tests on the Silk Mark labeled products. The team conducts tests on silk mark labeled products through their testing laboratories in major cities and silk manufacturing and marketing clusters throughout India. On the other hand, an Independent third-party team makes surprise checks and conduct surveillance audit on the Silk Mark operation. Consumers are thus assured of the credibility in Silk Mark products.
Silk Mark – The Label of Purity
The Silk Mark label is provided only to Authorised Users, who are manufacturers and Retailers of pure silk and are authenticated to use the tag only on genuine silk products. The Authorised Users are given extensive training in identification of pure silk, use of Silk Mark and in accountability to the label usage.
Silk Mark Expos – Epicenter Unleashing the Silk Mark Potential
In order to enable consumers to source pure silk products from different silk clusters of the country and also to provide a platform to Authorised Users to promote their pure silk products, the SMOI conducts series of Silk Mark Expos in various cities across the country. These expos provide an opportunity for the silk lovers to get a range of silk products of different weaving clusters under one roof. Thus, Silk Mark Expo has come to establish as an excellent platform for the manufacturers and weavers to showcase and sell their products directly to the consumers besides being a powerful tool for the promotion of Silk Mark.