It is not easy to trace back the history and roots of Indian textiles. Though the evidence has been found up to the medieval ages where cotton textile industry remains were found in Mohenjo – Daro civilization, the real history might date ages before that. Do you know the famous Kantha work sarees and fabric that is loved all over the world has been mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayan. It states that princess Sita used to do Kantha work to let people know about their stories. However, we will try to take a swift walk through this long but fascinating journey.
As a student pursuing a fashion designing course in Jaipur says that the bigger part of this journey can be dated back to the 17th century, so it can be summed up as a short 400 years old journey. The reason is the destructive monsoons that swept away most evidence of previous textile industries.
In medieval and ancient India, the textile industry was controlled by the rulers. Villages produced fabrics for the masses while the state workshops solely worked for the royal class. The best workmanship was found in temple hangings. From 900-1200 A.D., it became easier to identify the origin of a specific fabric since the names of the places began to get associated with weaving arts, fabrics, and various clothing patterns.
Then came the Islamic era that lasted from 1200 – 1760 A.D. when East India Company arrived in India. Marco Polo has left a vivid description of people and their clothings in the coastal plains of India during the late thirteen century. His descriptions state that the most beautiful and finest cloth in the world were produced around the Coromandel coast and Gujarat. During the reign of Sultan in the 14th Century, price controls were introduced for commodities to fight inflation. People needed permission to purchase silk, brocades, and satin which meant only the affluent class could afford those fabrics.
The Mughals took over in the first half of 16th Century and continued to rule till late 17th Century. The weaving arts and techniques flourished under their rulers/ British ambassadors to the Mogul courts wrote some of the best accounts of Indian textiles. A king never wore a garment more than once. The pillows, elephant trappings, horse trappings, wall hangings, and apparels in the royal houses showcased best workmanship. The era witnessed gold brocades from Banaras, most sheer muslins from Dacca and much more. Muslin, going as long as seventy three yards, and a yard in width, weighed just over a pound.
Even after the British took over, Indian textiles continued to be of great importance to them. They used Indian cotton to barter spices and other precious commodities from South Asian countries on the way to London. This cloth was then sent to the Royal African Company to barter for slaves, sugar, cotton, tobacco, and other precious commodities.
Contemporary Indian Textiles
Though the sense of dressing and taste has changed completely in the last 120 years, the appeal of Indian textile heritage has maintained its charm. This has especially been true in terms of women’s clothing. A teacher teaching at a fashion designing institute in Jaipur adds that women have always been the biggest consumers of textiles. They lead the trends, changes, and perceptions in the textile and fashion industry. Rest everybody, just follows. Embroidery is still very important and still appears in many regional styles. The root arts like Phulkari, Banarasi, Pathani, Kashmiri embroidery, tie-and-dye are still in high demand and might continue to rile the charts.
To conclude, it is not unsafe to say that textile industry has always been an ever-changing industry with a few cultural elements that will always remain a part of it.